At his website Imagines Maiorum-Ancestors from Campania, Anthony Vermandois presents the results of his research on families of Agropoli and nearby towns. Families are organized into charts of descent that provide dates of birth, marriage, immigration and death. We have found Anthony’s research a valuable starting point as a means to get to know our ancestors from Italy.
Links to the articles and public domain artwork used in this posting are given in the Resources section at the end of this posting.
Giuseppa Ruocco Muro is of special interest to us because her Granddaughter Josie was named after her. Josie was one of the important and beloved women in the lives of my Uncle and myself. Josie was his mother and my maternal Grandmother.
–Sammy’s Great Grandmother
–EmilyAnn’s Great-Great Grandmother
We think that if Giuseppa was anything like Josie, she would have been a very resourceful and forward looking woman.
Giuseppa and Pietro: What was their quality of life like?
Pedigree chart for Giuseppa Ruocco.
Giuseppa Ruocco was born in 1844 in Agropoli. She was the daughter of Nicola and Clarice (nee Serrapede) Ruocco. On September 19, 1867 she married Pietro Muro.
Anthony has located information on the births of the following children of Giuseppa and Pietro:
When Giuseppa and Nicola married, Italy had been a unified country for six years. Nicola, like his father before him, supported his family by working as a bracciante.
The word bracciante is usually translated as “day laborer or hired hand”. When we looked for an expanded meaning of the term we learned that it is mostly used to describe agricultural work.
Given that Italian society was highly stratified at this time we questioned if the Unification of Italy had made any improvements to the lives of people like Giuseppa and Nicola. The condition of a day laborer or agricultural field worker would not have been easy in any time. Workers are subject to the weather conditions and have no guarantee of ongoing, long-term work. We wanted to gain some insights into what that life was like.
Since my Uncle and I have very limited time for research, and we do not read Italian, it was a challenge to find material that presented a vivid but concise overview of the conditions of the kind of life Pietro and Giuseppa lived.
We took a creative approach by examining the depiction of Italian agricultural workers in the art of two 19th century Italian painters. We then compared that to the factual information gleaned from two very well written and informative articles about the difficult lives of Southern Italians and Sicilians which the Unification of Italy did little to address.
The artwork that we found depicts the contadini (country people, farmers). Since they, too, were agricultural workers we used these paintings as a way to get us thinking about the lives of agricultural workers in general during the Post-Unification period of Italy. We were unable to find paintings of the bracciante.
A romantic portrait of agricultural life? Not when you look twice
“Contadina a Montemurlo” circa 1861
by Vincenzo Cabianca (1827-1902)
Vincenzo Cabianca painted “Contadina a Montemurlo” about 1861 which is one year after the unification of Italy. He is described as painter who depicted the “effects of the sun”. There is a sense in this painting of an organic connection between the Contadina (meaning countrywoman or peasant) and the earth. She seems to be at one with the green of the fields. Her attire is muted and there is a sense that she sprang up from the earth and will return to the earth. Her world is defined and sustained by the fields.
““Bambocciata, Festa di contadini nella campagna romana”
by Paolo Monaldi
Upon first viewing the painting by Monaldi appears almost idyllic. The contadini are enjoying a meal during what appears to be the end of their workday. In the background the sun is setting. Some workers are ready to sleep, others enjoy a game of cards. At the center of the photo a group of men and women are seated at the table conversing. There is a sense that for a little while they will all enjoy each other’s company before retiring for the night.
What struck us about the painting was that there was no meal at the table. There appears to be a small loaf of bread near the man who is pouring a glass of wine for the woman seated across from him.
To us a festa brings to mind food, fruit, cheeses, breads, fresh vegetables. In this painting, however, the emphasis for the festa seems to be the occasion it offers for rest and companionship.
This led us to question what the actual conditions were for the agricultural workers. They farmed for others but did they get enough to eat themselves?
The Reality of Southern Italian Life: A very brief overview
Ken Giorlando paints a good word picture at the Giorlando Family Website of how the Italian peasants and agricultural workers lived out their lives. We were very taken with how his description of their lives was a good match to the impressions we received when studying the artwork presented in the previous section. Ken notes that the diet of the peasant consisted mainly of carbohydrates and the vegetables poor people in many countries are familiar with: cabbages and potatoes. The lives of the peasants were precarious. Day laborers never knew when or how they would earn their wages.
We were very fortunate to find “What He Can Dig from the Ground” from the University of Chicago at Illinois. This six page downloadable PDF provided exactly the information we needed to draw closer to what the quality of life for Giuseppa and Pietro Muro must have been like.
The diet of the peasant was, just as Ken Giorlando noted, one high in carbohydrates. Bread was the staple at every meal. Cheese and some vegetables like peppers were consumed at lunch. Coastal dwellers sometimes had the opportunity to supplement their diets with seafood. Meat, however was rarely consumed.
Another downloadable PDF file from SUNY (State University of New York) provided information about the disparate societies in the North and South of Italy that the Unification never addressed. After unification, the South was taxed even more in order to fund the industrial expansion in the North. Life for the peasants in Southern Italy became even more unbearable. Such conditions led up to the Great Exodus from Italy which began in the late 1880s.
Discussion with Uncle Sammy, Monday May 25, 2015 11 a.m.
Pedigree chart of Maria Giovanna di Giaimo. Her husband, Carmine Scotti, was a fisherman. Most of their children grew up to marry and have families of their own.
We wondered if the hardships of being an agricultural worker affected the number of children Giuseppa and Pietro had. When we compare the number of children had by our matriarchs who were married to fishermen, we immediately noticed that they had larger families. Not only were their families larger but those who were young parents at the same time as Giuseppa and Pietro had children who lived long enough to come to America and successfully establish themselves.
Pietro died on May 17, 1883 leaving Giuseppa a widow with young children. It would be four years before she married again. What did she do in the meantime to support herself and her children?
Giuseppa is the first matriarch we have studied who was unmarried for such a long time. In a society where marriage was the norm, how did she deal with her new and vulnerable position as a widow? Or was she vulnerable? If she was anything like her Granddaughter Josie Muro Serrapede, she would have been a formidable woman with determination and a strong will.
My Uncle and I decided to research further for any English language material we could find regarding charity and assistance that was available to widows and orphans in Italy during the time period in which Giuseppa lived. We will report our findings, if any, in the next posting which shall also highlight Giuseppa’s second husband and what we know of him so far.
Definition of the word bracciante
“Contadina a Montemurlo” circa 1861
Painting by Vincenzo Cabianca (1827-1902)
Definition of the word Contadina
Bio of Vincenzo Cabianca
“Bambocciata, Festa di contadini nella campagna romana”
Painting by Paolo Monaldi
Bio of Paolo Monaldi
Overview of 19th Century Italian Peasant Life
by Ken Giorlando
Giorlando Family Website
“What he can dig from the ground”
“Life in Italy”