Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sunday's Obituary ~ Domenico Famosa

Sunday’s Obituary ~ Domenico Famosa

My great uncle Domenico was born in Marcianise in 1880. I have his birth record to prove it.  He was a musician who played the French horn in many Orchestras around the east coast.  His obituary says he came to the United States in the early 1900’s with an Italian Military Band.  I think that is a mistake.  I happen to (think I know) that he came to the United States in 1896 or thereabouts with his father Giovanni.  Now, his father may have come to the USA with an Italian Military Band which would make some sense.  Mimi may have played with an Italian Military Band but I have absolutely no proof of that.  I can prove he played with the Boston Opera Orchestra around 1912 because I have his name in a newspaper article.  It is very hard to read but it is there.  The funny thing about that article is that it is about how almost all the band members of this orchestra are “Boston men” and not foreigners.   I found Mimi and his wife in multiple directories in Boston.  The WWI draft registration I found for Mimi says he played for the Orpheum Theatre, Boston, Massachusetts and his boss was Mr. Marcus Loew himself! The original owner! How cool is that?  

I have never been able to confirm that he actually played with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.  I have tried contacting the Met but they have no record of him.  Apparently, there were not good records kept on the members of orchestras back at the turn of the century.  I did find proof of him playing with the National Symphony Orchestra.  His name actually appears in a book about the National Symphony.  The most interesting thing about Uncle Mimi’s musical career is that he was one of the very first "paid" orchestra members of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, DC. 

My father always told me that Uncle Mimi played with John Philip Sousa’s band because he had seen a photo of Mimi with Sousa many years go and they were both dressed in the band uniform.  This is another piece of family history that I can’t confirm.  I have even been in touch with the Sousa Museum to no avail.  Apparently, hundreds of people had their photos taken with Sousa.  Another strange thing is that he was supposedly a member of the U.S. Soldiers Home Band.  Well, I have read and have been told that the members of that band had to be soldiers. I know Mimi wasn’t a soldier.  The only thing I can come up with is that they let him play in the band because he was good and maybe because his brother died in WWI?  I can’t find any other connection.  I know that he did become a U.S. citizen around 1903 because I have his Naturalization papers or at least some of them. 

Clearly, Mimi had a long and illustrious musical career.  He toiled in the orchestra pit for many years.  I like to think that he enjoyed his work.  I imagine he was a wonderful French horn player but I will never be able to hear him play.  I don’t know of any recordings of him playing the French horn in existence. I'm just proud to be related to him.

On another note, my cousin reminded me of a story Uncle Mimi told her about why he wouldn't eat bananas - because when he came off the boat in Philadelphia (which is why I’m so confused about where he landed) he saw a fruit vendor. He went over to the vendor and the guy convinced him that this funny looking fruit was the latest craze. So, he bought a couple of ‘em.  He took them back to his hotel room.  When he decided to try them he thought they were too tough to eat! Apparently, the vendor forgot to tell him to peel them!

While I am on my soapbox about Mimi, I might as well add that I can’t find him or his father Giovanni on any ship’s manifest from Italy for his only and his father’s first trip to the USA. I have primarily focused on New York City (Ellis Island) and Philadelphia because those ports make the most sense but I wouldn't rule out Boston or Baltimore either.  I just don’t know if they used false names for some reason or if their names are just so screwed up on the manifest that I haven’t come up with the right “code” to find them yet.

I may be worthwhile to mention that I have spent countless hours wondering and researching where and when Mimi and his wife got married.  I currently believe that they got married around 1906 probably in Philadelphia.  I have no proof of that yet.  I hope to have something definitive soon.  I have also spent a bit of time and energy trying to find his wife’s death certificate.  The closest I have come is to have had a request form returned from Washington D.C. Department of Vital Records because I am not a direct descendant and she is not dead for 50 years yet.  Well, they sure do a great job protecting information down there in D.C.  A woman who is dead for only 47 years with no living direct descendants ~ we sure can’t let that information out.  I would like to have her death certificate only so that I could find out her parents’ names.   I am not planning on using that information for anything nefarious. 

You may wonder why Mimi used the name Famosa yet my family name is Famoso.  No one really knows for sure. Few of my relatives ever knew his wife Elizabeth personally but we did know she was a die-hard Irishwoman. The story goes that she wanted to distance herself from the Italians as much as she could; therefore, changing the “o” to an “a”. This was from a conversation with her son Charles but, of course, it is just a story that can’t be confirmed at this point.

Something that really annoys me is that he died the year I graduated from High School so I could have met him and talked with him but I did not develop an interest in family history or genealogy until recently. 

I find Mimi and his entire line of our family tree to be sad, in a way.   Mostly because he had two children who got married at some point in their lives neither of them had any kids.  They both died and their spouses are also gone.  I am feeling selfish when I say that at least if Mimi had heirs we could contact them for information.  So far, the closest I have gotten to talking to anyone who may be remotely related to Mimi is his daughter’s husband’s family.  There are still some of them left.  I have contact with one of them.  I can only assume that all of Mimi’s possessions have been thrown away or sold.  It upsets me to think that all of his records and keepsakes are probably moldering in a trash heap somewhere.  Of course, there could be some O'Donnoghues or Milazzos out there right now reading this blog post and recognizing the names.  If that happens, please leave me a note in the comments! 

At least, Uncle Mimi lived a long life.  He seemed to be happy with his work and his family.  But I find it interesting that his obituary does not even mention his wife.  I guess that is probably because she died 10 years before him but still…  

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