Thursday, June 19, 2014

Giovanni Famoso - International Man of Mystery

Now that you have met Brasso, it is time to meet his father Giovanni Famoso. If Brasso is a mystery to me, well then Giovanni is a complete enigma. He was my great grandfather and a musician. That is almost all I know about him. I have no photos of him. I have no idea what instrument he played [I recently found out that he played the cornet] and I don't know where he may have worked while living in Italy or the United States [I have a photo and some information that indicates he may have been in Giuseppe Creatore's Italian Marching Band but this has not been confirmed]. Wait, I do also know that Giovanni was an orphan who was abandoned at the Santissima Annunziata Maggiore in Naples. The Annuziata was famous for their ruota or wheel where unwed mothers would leave their babies. I found Giovanni's original birth record.  It is written in Italian, of course. I think it says he was 8 pounds and 12 ounces at birth. Certainly, that would have been a good weight for a healthy baby.  His birth date was in July of 1853. The document say that he was sent to live with a couple named Carmela Vaccaro and Luigi Cimino in Cardito, Italy. It also says that Luigi was a painter.  It is interesting to note that the Annunziata had a very high rate of child deaths. Giovanni was very lucky because he was sent to live with a couple right away. It doesn't seem like he spent any time at all living at the Annuziata.  The address of this couple is even on the document but I can't make out the street name. All I can read is that it was at No. 613. Even more interesting to me is that Giovanni became a musician. I imagine that Carmela and Luigi must have taken good care of Giovanni and sent him to a music school. I found an orphanage in Naples that also taught orphan children a trade but my inquiry into that orphanage came to a dead end. I would love to know where Giovanni studied music. I would also love to know who Giovanni's birth parents were.  It is interesting to note that on Giovanni's death certificate, his parents are listed as Luigi Famoso and Concetta Armando. Who were these people? I want to believe that they are his birth parents but I have no way of knowing if that is true. These names could be made up or they could be real people.  Here is his official birth record that I obtained from the Naples Archive after then sent me the wrong one which was for a boy with the same name and abandoned at the same place but died shortly after his birth. This second official birth record says something about a church called St. Francis and Matthew in Naples. I don't know if he was baptised there but somehow this church is involved.

The next thing I know about Giovanni is that somehow he grew up.  Against all odds for abandoned babies at that time. He made his way to a town called Marcianise.  Somehow, he met and married Anna Vincenza Sebastiana Pirolli in March of 1879.  How did they meet? Why did they get married? Did they fall in love or was it an arranged marriage?  Anna's story is for another day. I have so many questions about their union. Their marriage record tells me that Giovanni was a "bandista" which meant that he was a musician in a band. I would absolutely love to know what instrument he played but I probably will never know the answer to that question [cornet].  The marriage document also tells me that both Giovanni and Anna could read and write.  Their signatures appear at the bottom of the document. Pretty cool, I think.

I also know that Giovanni and Anna lived in Marcianise at least until 1882.  She gave birth to two sons in Marcianise that I know of.  Their oldest child Domenico and my grandfather Luigi Arturo were both born in Marcianise.  I have documented that with their birth records.  Giovanni and Anna's next oldest son Sossio was born in another town. According to Sam's WWI registration card, he was born in Frattamaggiore on March 24, 1886.  I can't prove it but it is probably true.  In all likelihood, the couple had another child in 1884 that died very young or at birth. I will go ahead and make the assumption that they also had a baby between 1888 and 1890 but the next baby that I have a record of is Biagio who was born on October 1, 1891 in Bari, Italy.  I really don't know why they moved around so much or if Biagio was born while they were visiting or at a temporary assignment in Bari.  It is definitely out of character for them to be living anywhere outside of Campania.  Biagio grew up to be Brasso our WWI hero.  The next baby they had was Alphonso who was born on February 9, 1896 in a town called San Savario in Bari according to his WWI registration card.  I can't find any town by that name in Bari but there are towns called Sanmichele di Bari, Sannicandro di Bari and Santeramo in Calle.  I have not found Alphonso's birth record yet.  Their next child, Colomba Rosa was born in Sansevero in April of 1898 according to her birth record.  Rose was their last child born in Italy (that we know of who lived ~ more on this later).

The story that we have heard from my father and he confirmed with Domenico (Giovanni's oldest son) was that Giovanni decided that Domenico (aka Mimi) would go to the United States to study and play music.  The story goes that Giovanni took Mimi's passport and papers and gave them to his next oldest son Luigi and told the boys that they were to change identities so that Mimi could go to the United States with Giovanni and Luigi would go into the military in Mimi's place.  My grandfather Luigi became Mimi and went into the Italian ski patrol.  The rest of Luigi's story is also for another day. So, Giovanni and Mimi traveled together to the USA.  They either landed in New York City or Philadelphia depending on whether you believe a story told to my cousin by Mimi or Mimi's naturalization papers that I found filed in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1903.  Mimi's naturalization states that he came to the USA through the port of New York on December 15, 1897 (could be 1887 ~ it is hard to read).    I have never found Giovanni or Mimi on any manifest in 1897 coming through either New York or Philadelphia.  I have to wonder if they used false names so that they could get into the United States without problems.  I don't know how easy that would have been but I imagine that they needed passports.  I have also never found any Italian passports for either of them or any of my other relatives for that matter.

The next time we see Giovanni is on a manifest for the ship The Aller in June 1899.  On that manifest, he says he is going to see his son Domenico in Philadephia and he has been in the United States once before. There is an "X" next to his name which I am told means that he was detained.  I can't find any record of why he was detained but he did eventually make it to the United States as we all know.  I don't know if he ever reached Philadelphia to visit his son or where he lived when he first arrived in the USA.  The first evidence of him that I have found is on the 1903 birth record of his youngest daughter Liberata Tosca (Loretta) Famoso. But first, I have to mention that he left his oldest son in the United States by himself while he goes back to Italy and returns to the United States perhaps 2 or 3 years later!  I can't find any record of what Mimi or Luigi or whoever is doing in the Philadelphia area during that time.  Is there a name change involved, probably.  When Giovanni returned to the USA, he left his wife and remaining children behind.  They did not come to the United States until late in 1901.  I can just imagine poor Anna traveling alone on a ship with her four young children.  It appears that they all met up again in 1903 and were living at 13 North Mississippi Avenue in Atlantic City, New Jersey. I found that address on Loretta's birth record as well as on Domenico's naturalization papers. Sadly, that building is long gone and the property is part of a parking lot for a large hotel and casino now.  I have a goal of somehow finding out where Giovanni was in 1900-1902. Was he traveling with a band?

By 1905, I find Giovanni and family living in Harlem, New York at 314 East 101st Street.  It looks like the family is all together John, Anna, Mimi, Louis, Sossio, Biagio, Alphonse, Rose and Lebi (Loretta) but I have also found my grandfather Luigi living in Atlantic City, NJ for this same census.  It is always possible that Giovanni did not understand the questions he was being asked or that a neighbor provided the information for this census.

Sadly, his wife Anna dies in 1908 and is buried at Calvary Cemetery in Woodside, Queens, NY in the pauper (or cemetery owned) section at the very young age of 50 leaving a 4 year old daughter and a 9 year old daughter.  What does Giovanni do?  He promptly moves his family into the same building where his second oldest son Luigi and his wife and family are living.  They are all now living a 322 East 109th Street. Yes, we now have Giovanni the widower along with his young children living in the same apartment building as his two married sons (Luigi and Sam) along with his sons' in-laws!  This is probably a good time to mention that Luigi and Sam married two sisters thereby keeping it all in the family. I guess that wasn't very unusual at that time and in that place for Italian families to all live together in one apartment building. Giovanni probably got free or very inexpensive child care that way. To me, it sounds something like the plot of a 1980's situation comedy.

I have found Giovanni and his family on the 1910 census in New York City, the 1915 census, and the 1920 census. There are definitely mistakes on these census reports but I'm sure they are due to the language barrier. I have also recently found a Petition of Intent filed by Giovanni in 1918 when he was 65 years of age. On that Petition he states that he is 5 feet tall and 190 lbs. and that he is a music professor.  I am starting to think that Giovanni may have married another woman named Anna since  his Petition of Intent states his wife's name as Anna and "she lives with me."  Really?  His wife had been dead for over 10 years at this point. Maybe I should look for a marriage between Giovanni and another woman named Anna.  It is also worth mentioning that there seems to be some sort of rift between Giovanni and his older sons.  If not, then why didn't my grandfather ever talk about his parents?  No one in the family knows anything about Giovanni probably because they had a falling-out over something.  It saddens me that we don't know more about Giovanni's life but I will keep digging.

Giovanni died at the age of 70 on August 27, 1923 although his death record says he is 50!  He was living at 417 East 106th Street at the time of his death.  His final resting place is also at Calvary Cemetery in Woodside, Queens, NY but he has a plot that he eventually shares with his daughter Rose Puzzuto, her husband Pasquale and his granddaughter Mary Ann.

UPDATE 12/18/2015 - I found out that Giovanni played the cornet. I found this information in the military files I received on his son Brasso.

UPDATE 05/25/2016 - I have a lead that Giovanni may have played in Giuseppe Creatore's Italian Marching Band which was a rival to John Phillip Sousa's Marching Band.

Here is a photo of my Dad
at age 6 for comparson.
Could this be Giovanni Famoso playing a
sousaphone in Creatore's Italian Band?


  1. > born on February 9, 1896 in a town called San Savario
    > born in Sansevero in April of 1898
    "San Savario" comes from a records years after the event and there's a sibling's birth record in "Sansevero" which phonetically is very close. Did you look for the 1896 birth in the same place as the 1898 birth?

    1. Good point! I did do that. I checked The only year they don't have is 1896! Therefore, my friend in Italy drafted an email that I sent to the town and to the province. I haven't heard back from them yet.