10d-The Serrapede Family in America: Learning about the prejudices Italian Immigrants Encountered

Introduction

This posting was originally entitled “10d-Station Break:  The Trevi Fountain”.  It started out as an informal entry about my visit to the Trevi Fountain in Rome during the Summer of 1976.  Prior to the trip my view about the fountain was shaped by Hollywood movies and the accounts relatives gave of their own vacations in Rome.

At a deeper level, the posting enabled me to present a subject I had struggled with, namely learning about the very strong opposition Americans had towards admitting Southern Italian immigrants to the U.S. from 1900 through the 1920s.  I now realize that I had two purposes in crafting the posting this way.  One was to show how different my personal experience of the Trevi Fountain was from what was presented by the popular culture I grew up in.  Likewise my Great Grandfather experienced a different reality in America than the one he may have heard from other birds of passage.  The discovery of many news articles from the 1900s through 1910s which present in all the immediacy the bias against Italian immigrants was a new experience for me.  It was one I was not prepared for since I had never been taught this in school nor had my grandparents ever complained to me of it.

To honor the memory of Great Grandfather Gennaro, I have changed the title and added this introduction so the reader will get a better idea of the purpose of this entry consisting of various memories and discoveries.  It reflects the changes this family history project is making in my thoughts and life on many levels.

The Trevi Fountain:  More beautiful than I had envisioned

My first view of the Trevi Fountain.  Rome, June-July 1976. 

Grandpa Sam’s niece Italia and her husband Antonio hosted my Grandparents and I when we stayed in Rome during our vacation in Italy in the Summer of 1976.  On a very bright, hot day Italia and her daughter Stefania took Grandma Josie and I out for a whirlwind tour of Rome.  We covered all the major sites including the Vatican.  As the sun climbed higher into the sky the heat and brilliance of the sun increased.  When we came to the Trevi Fountain it beckoned us to draw closer and closer.  This fountain was bigger than anything I’d seen at home, including the fountain in Washington Square Park, Greenwich Village, New York.  The fantastic palace in the background added to the sense that I had stepped into a movie set.  It was everything I expected and more.  I wanted to linger there but since we had a full schedule there was only enough time to take one photo.

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10c-Cousin Raffaele of Wilmerding, Pennsylvania in 1920

Acknowledgement

The research of genealogist Anthony Vermandois has provided the basis for this wonderful journey of discovery into our ancestral roots in the town of Agropoli in Campania province, Italy.  This week’s posting on the Matarazzo, Serrapede, Patella, and Battista families is based on the information at Anthony’s website ImaginesMaiorum-Ancestors from Campania.  Please click on the family names within this paragraph to go to the genealogical charts for the family at Anthony’s website.

We have also used information from the 1920 U.S. Federal Census and Raffaele Matarazzo’s Petition for Naturalization.

Relationship Notes

Our direct line ancestors featured in this posting are Gennaro Serrpaede and Giovanna Battista Patella.

Gennaro Serrapede was:

Sammy’s Paternal Grandfather
EmilyAnn’s Great-Grandfather through her maternal line.

Giovanna Battista Patella was the Grandmother of our Gennaro’s wife Emilia Pappalardo Serrapede.  Her daughter Teresa was Emilia’s mother.  Giovanna was:

Sammy’s Great Great Grandmother along his paternal line.
EmilyAnn’s Great-Great-Great Grandmother

Cousin Rafaelle in Wilmerding, PA

Header of the page of the 1920 Federal Census where Raffaele is entered.

Entry for Raffaele.

In 1920, the Matarazzo family was now living at 148 State Street, Wilmerding, PA.

Census entry for Carmela and the children.

Carmela and Raffaele were the parents of:

Mary, 7 years old
Antonio, 6 years old
John, 5 years old
Gaetano 3 years, 6 months
Andrew 1 year, 8 months
Philip, 5 months

Raffaele was working in the machine shop at Westinghouse Air Brake factory.  It was a big year for him because on December 20, 1920 he was naturalized.  The papers for his naturalization give an arrival date of May 23, 1910.

Another major achievement is that by 1920 Raffaele and Carmella owned their own home.  This is indicated by the “O” for owner and “M” for mortgage in the highlighted columns of the Header for the page on the census on which Raffaele’s name is entered.  He is at the bottom of the page and his wife and children continue of the next page.

The Matarazzos were on their way to achieving the better life in which so many immigrants placed their hopes when they left the hardships of Southern Italy behind during the years of the Great Exodus which spanned roughtly the 1880s through the 1920s.

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10b-Gennaro Serrapede-Trans-Atlantic Commuter, 1913 Trip

Acknowledgement

The research of genealogist Anthony Vermandois has provided the basis for this wonderful journey of discovery into our ancestral roots in the town of Agropoli in Campania province Italy.  The genealogical charts for the Serrapede, Matarazzo and di Luccio families are available by clicking on the name links in this paragraph.

We have also used documentation from Gennaro Serrapede’s 1913 trip to the United States. Citations are provided in the Resources section at the end of this posting.

Relationship Notes

Our direct line ancestor featured in this posting is Gennaro Serrapede.

Gennaro Serrapede was:

Sammy’s Paternal Grandfather
EmilyAnn’s Great Grandfather through her maternal line.  EmilyAnn’s mother Emily Leatrice was Sammy’s older sister.

We will consider how the relationship between Gennaro and his cousin Raffaele Matarazzo provides a good example of Social Captial and Chain Migration at work.  We also take a brief look at how these two forces combined to lead to several of Raffaele’s siblings immigrating from Agropoli to America.

Social Capital at Work:  Gennaro’s Trip to the United States 1913

Although the ship first docked in Boston, Massachusetts, Gennaro’s final destination was Wilmerding, Pennsylvania.  His cousin Raffaele Matarazzo lived there.  Many Birds of Passage went to Wilmerding because the main employer was the Westinghouse Airbrake Factory which was doing very good business at the time.  It is possible that Gennaro may have gotten work there through Raffaele.  Even if that was not the case, Gennaro still had a relative from Agropli who was established in the town.  Raffaele and his wife would provide lodging and introductions to those who could help him obtain employment.  This would be an example of Social Capital at work.

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10a-Gennaro Serrapede, Trans-Atlantic Commuter

Acknowledgements

We have used the research done by Anthony Vermandois of ImaginesMaiorum as the basis for our exploration of our immigrant ancestor Gennaro Serrapede.  He came to the United States as a Bird of Passage.  We have also used the resources at Ancestry for the ship’s passenger list presented and cited in the Resources section at the end of this posting.

Relationship Notes

EmilyAnn’s maternal line on the Pedigree Chart.

Gennaro Serrapede was:

Sammy’s paternal Grandfather
EmilyAnn’s Great Grandfather through her Mom’s side of the family

Gennaro’s Experiences with Social Capital and Chain Migration

So how does our Gennaro’s experiences with Chain Migration and Social Capital compare with the readings we have done about the typical experiences of a Bird of Passage from Southern Italy?

Gennaro’s 1909 trip is very straightforward and not too surprising in terms of his contacts in New York City.  What is more interesting is that a 1913 trip to the United States involved more complex travel arrangements.  In addition, the network Gennaro Serrapede had in the U.S. is wider than first indicated and the ability to get work as a result of his social capital gives substance to what we read.

This is what makes examining the actual records of his travel so important to us:  now it’s not just information about immigrants, it is our immigrant ancestor whom we understand better and can almost touch through the knowledge we gain from our research.

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9-Serrapede Family in America: Birds of Passage, Late 19th-Early 20th Centuries

  • Many of the Birds of Passage were from Eastern and Southern Europe.
  • Some online sources say the birds of passage came here alone.  In the case of our Serrapede, Muro and extended family from Agropoli there was a network beginning to establish itself.
  • From the research so far we know that in addition to the Scotti, Serrapede and Muro families, we also have the Mattarazzo, Di Luccio and Cuoco families coming here. We still need further research to distinguish who came to stay and who came just to work for a certain period of time.
  • The goal was to save as much money as possible and bring it back to the home country.
    • The goal of Italian  Birds of Passage was to accumulate enough money in the U.S. that would enable them to realize an improvement to their life in Italy.  For example, an improvement in the quality of their life would be the purchase of a home or a plot of land.

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8-Serrapede Family in Agropoli: Gennaro and Emilia

Acknowledgements

Anthony Vermandois has conducted extensive research into the families of Agropoli in Campania province of Italy.  The data includes vital statistics for families beginning in the late 18th century.  Our Serrapede ancestors are featured on this page at Anthony’s website Imagines Maiorum-Ancestors From Campania.

We are very thankful for the resources Anthony’s research has led us to.  His findings help us understand the backstory of our ancestor’s lives before they immigrated to America.

Relationship Notes

As we begin our study of the life of Gennaro Serrapede an element enters our journey that is hard to explain.  It’s a sense of closeness despite the distance in time.  For here we now meet one of our own family who made the long trip from Agropoli to the United States.

Neither Uncle Sammy nor I knew that Gennaro came several times to work in the U.S.  We also had no knowledge of the extended network he had in the U.S. that enabled him to travel to many cities as he sought employment.  We are deeply impressed with the help extended to Gennaro and thankful for the spirit of mutual assistance that comes across so strongly as we study the documentation used to create these postings.

Gennaro Serrapede was:

Sammy’s Grandfather
EmilyAnn’s Great-Grandfather

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