You'd have to be living under a rock to have missed all the Ancestry.com advertisements out there lately on social media as well as television... "I used to think I was German, but then I found out I was actually Scottish... I turned in my lederhosen for a kilt." After a while, you start to really believe that you'll sign up and those magical little Ancestry leaves will drop onto your computer screen, paving a way into your heritage like Hansel and Gretel's breadcrumbs, only they won't be devoured by birds. I would finally be able to find out if there was an Italian Renaissance painter in my past... I could find out if my mom's side of the family was really Pennsylvania Dutch. I could even add in some info for my husband's side of the family so my kids would know their heritage from that side as well. I knew it was only a matter of time before I gave in my ancestry.com curiousity.
What helped this summer is that it's been hotter than hell on Long Island. What a great time to sit, slug-like, in front of the computer and find out about my family's past? I finally decided to give it a go.
I signed up for my two week free trial. I plugged in some information, and immediately got a few leaves - WOW, addicting! So what if it was listings of my parents' address from about 20-30 years ago - with weird spellings and incorrect phone number digits - I was ONTO SOMETHING!!
I filled in everything I knew, creating a sparse tree, but a tree nevertheless. I called my parents multiple times. I filled in information I had found on the Ellis Island website about 10 years ago. I found out the original spellings of my grandparents' names. I filled in my grandfather's sisters' names that I vaguely remembered (mostly because they were names that were always in the examples we used in Italian class... Pia, Estella, Maria, Josepina, Francesca) - women who, supposedly, had never come over from Italy. If they had lived to adulthood, they most likely had entirely different names that were unknown to me. But I found nothing on them. NOTHING! If I could remember their birth order, I might be able to guess the dates they were born, but I couldn't find the piece of paper that info was written on. My parents remembered that two of them were twins, but which two?? I checked daily for leaves. I went to sleep with weird pictures and names swirling around in my head. I woke up thinking, "let me just see if I got another leaf today..." Nothing.
My dad's grandmother traveled here with her 4 children in 1907. The children were very young, and her husband was not there with her - he was already here, I guess setting up a job for himself so that his family would be take care of when he got here. I looked at the Ellis Island record. They came from a town called "Piano di Sorrento." I couldn't find the passenger list listing my great grandmother, but when I was able to see a PDF file of the ACTUAL list of passengers who arrived. ON that page, she was listed. Mariangela Iaccarino. Ah, there was another woman from Piano di Sorrento listed... Angela Iaccarino. Her sister, maybe? Hum. My dad hadn't mentioned her.
I checked the 1915 New York Census. Living in the household, was a woman named "Angiline Eacgrina."
"Dad, who do you think this person is?" I asked him.
"I have no idea. Melinda, It's lost to history" Come on, Dad, give me a break with that "it's lost to history" excuse.
I pictured an American worker, going from house to house with a clipboard, doing a census in 1915. I pictured a woman answering the door, and trying to answer the questions she was asked in her broken English. I said the words "Angiline Eacgrina" as if I had a thick Italian accent. Ah, the same woman from the boat, Angelina Iaccarino, whose name has been written down by a census taker who doesn't know a word of Italian, and probably can't spell very well either.
Then on the 1920 survey, Angelina Iaccarino is gone. By the way, the names of my grandmother and great aunts and uncle were spelled differently every time I ran across them. My grandmother went from Ersilia at 4 years old to Elsey at 11, and then Elsie at 16. Uncle Pat went from Pasquale on the passenger list in 1907, to Patry at 13, to Patsy at 18 and then to Pasquale at 27. If you think this doesn't make difference in your searching, think again!
I found Angelina Iaccarino when I decided that she must have gotten married between the 1915 census and the 1920. I searched "marriages" in New York City in that time frame and I came up with what seemed to be a good match. A woman named Angelina Iaccarino married a man named Nicolo Ceglio on May 12, 1917. Then that couple showed up on the 1920 census, but I had dismissed this record before because this Angelina was too young. Upon my second viewing, this time of the PDF file itself and not just the ancestry citation, I saw that the husband's occupation was "Pianos" (whatever that means). I remembered that my great grandfather's job on the first census I had found for him was also listed as "pianos." He later went on to own a butcher store. Could this couple have met through my great grandfather, her brother-in-law? Could she have lied about her age to be more appealing to a prospective suitor? I noticed that on on the 1930 census, this same Angelina and Nicolo couple had suddenly aged differently - now instead of on year younger than him, she was 3 years older.
I mentioned this information to my dad. Oh yeah, Iaccarino, yeah, I think that's my grandmother's maiden name. Yeah, I think she had a sister here, but we called her Stazie, but Stazie just means "aunt" in Italian. (It does?) My dad remembered her always dressed in black, with a big gold cross on her neck. He said her husband died first, but now I was starting to believe that his memory was faulty on those long gone details. My dad is still sharp as a tack, but I could picture him as a child not really paying much attention to this stuff. By the 1940 census, Nicolo was a widower. What happened to Angelina? That night I dreamed of Ceglios, passenger ships, small Italian towns and another unknown relative of my grandfather's named Livarata (or was it Liberata? Or Liberato? ah, the joys of early 20th century spelling!
I don't know how anyone finds any records from another country, but I haven't given up hope quite yet. I have a 2000 page PDF file of handwritten birth records from Abruzzo that I have to search through - written in Italian in handwriting that has lots of loops and flourishes.
So, if I haven't finished my Seussical pill berry bush quite yet, at least you know why.
And if anyone has some searching hints to share, I'd really appreciate them!!