Have you seen this show on NBC called Who Do You Think You Are? It takes select famous people and traces back their family trees. It is FABULOUS. I just think it’s so interesting to look into the past, at the way life was 50 or 100 years ago. To think about what our ancestors went through to get us where we are, it’s just fascinating to me.
It has got me thinking a lot about my own ancestry and I set up an account on ancestry.com to see what I could piece together.
What I thought I knew was this: My fathers grand parents came over from Italy through Ellis Island. They had three children and eventually my great grandfather was deported back to Italy for petty Mafia crimes (bootlegging!).
I never really knew much from my mom’s side. I know my grandpa was born in a tent and his ancestry is Native American. I also know that a very distant relative on my grandmas side was Robert Fulton, the inventor of the steam engine. I think it would be cool to be able to trace the genealogy back and find where he comes into the picture.
But that was really the extent of my knowledge of my family.
Using the clues and records on ancestry.com has been really cool. I have been able to travel back to my great-great-grandparents. I’ve learned that my great-grandmother was actually born in California and that it was her parents, Pietro and Jovina that came through Ellis Island. Then it seems, my great-grandpa (the Mafia guy) did come from Italy when he was 14, but arrived in Boston with perhaps two sisters.
Going back through passenger lists and census records has been really interesting. All these records are hand written and online you can find the scanned documents. I just imagine someone writing down passenger names as they disembarked from their ship. I haven’t found the passenger lists for my great-great-grandparents yet**, but we have in our possession a certificate showing that their names are on an Ellis Island memorial. So they have to be there somewhere, I just need to keep searching. But, I did find out some information about my great-grandpa Amelio’s voyage to America.
Amelio arrived into Boston from Naples, Italy on February 1, 1921. I was so excited to find a picture of the actual ship SS Canopic (which incidentally was part of the White Star Line of Titanic fame) ! My grandpa was 14 years old and is listed with two other young females with the same last name. Perhaps some aunts? Giovanna and Giuseppa. I know from Boston he traveled to San Fransisco where he eventually met and married Felicia (or Phyllis depending on who you ask…it wasn’t uncommon for immigrants to “Americanize” their names). I haven’t found when he was sent back to Italy, but my mom seems to remember the family having some contact with him until the 1980’s when it is assumed that he must have died.
Amelio is the one I’m fascinated with. He had ties to the Italian Mafia and was an active bootlegger. I know I shouldn’t glamorize a criminal, but I just think that’s really cool. I’m sure he was probably a big macho ass, but he is much more romantic in my mind.
And now that I know it was Felicia’s parents that arrived through Ellis Island, I have a new focus. I don’t think I can find out much more about Amelio without traveling to Italy (someday!), so I want to know about Pietro and Jovina.
I signed up for the free 2 week trial at ancestry.com, but I have a feeling I’m going to end up paying for another month. I’m just having so much fun looking through records, imagining life and thinking about my heritage. Thinking about my children’s heritage. I suppose we will have to go back and find my husbands family tree, too.
Have you ever complied your family tree? Do you know your ancestry? I’m just having a lot of fun exploring my piece of history.
**ETA: After writing this, I was able to find my great-great grandfather Pietro on a New York Passenger list! He indeed arrived through Ellis Island April 12,1906 on the SS Indiana. I can not find record of my great-great grandmother Jovina being on that ship with him…interesting…All this searching just brings up more questions!