As the summer season nears, we will slow the pace of postings to Through The Byzantine Gate. A new posting will be published every 2 to 3 weeks.
In June we will achieve a benchmark: Volume 1 of our family history will conclude in posting no. 50. From here the focus will shift to life here in America more fully, as we recount how the second generation of Italian-Americans in our family dealt with the challenges of WWII and the ongoing process of assimilation.
During the summer months there will be postings of an intermediate nature. Nothing heavy or requiring extensive referencing to earlier posts. We thought it will be fun to share photos and updates of Michael Muro’s trips to visit relatives with Giuseppe Carnicelli, his cousin from Agropoli.
Giuseppe is descended from the family of Giuseppa Carnicelli, my 4th Great Grandmother and Michael’s 3rd Great Grandmother. I met up with Giuseppe, Michael and Nick, Michael’s brother, over Memorial Day weekend. That posting will come soon.
There will also be some photos of locations that are a part of our family history along with whatever lore or memories we share about them. So be ready for an easy breezy summer filled with our shared experiences and photos, introductions to members of our main and branch families.
Michael Muro and I have been in touch since early this year thanks to another cousin and the family history project. After many emails, we moved on to contact by phone and text messages. We both have very involved schedules so the logistics for the meet-up took a while to work out.
We decided to meet for lunch on Saturday, February 25th at the Fraunces Tavern, a historic landmark in Lower Manhattan. The building dates back to the American Revolutionary War and was a meeting place for many of our Founding Fathers. Today the Tavern offers a delicious pub-style menu along with a diverse selection of brews (beers and stouts) and coffees. There is also a museum of American Revolutionary War artifacts on the second floor.
It had been a busy week at work and I forgot to take my 35mm camera so I could be guaranteed some clear, memorable photos. It was then that I also recalled I now had a new Android phone by LG. I decided to take the photos with the cell phone camera and then work them up in PaintShopPro to create something memorable.
I had not seen Michael in many years. He attended the wake for Grandma Josie in 1995 but since I was in such shock at the loss of my beloved Gran, nothing from that time is easy to recall. Michael had such a laugh when I told him that I can recall, as clear as if it was just a few years ago, how we sat together at Grandma Josie and Grandpa Sam’s 50th Wedding Anniversary dinner. The guy I had been dating at the time had already left and the dinner was not through yet. My boyfriend-at-the-time had a long drive back home and his departure was understandable. So there was Michael and I with my Mom and Dad enjoying the atmosphere of Romano’s, an old school Italian restaurant that was located on 13th Avenue near the corner of 70th Street.
I hope you will enjoy the story these photos tell. That I have finally gotten around to posting them on Memorial Day Weekend seems just right. This is more than just a weekend to kick off the start of Summer. It is a weekend to honor the memory of all who have given themselves in service to our country. This does not mean we have a blind patriotism nor a hateful scorn of our past. Instead it means learning from history by taking the events as they actually happened and extracting a meaning from the positive and negative. History teaches us much if we listen to what she tells us and do so with an open mind.
From Brooklyn, I took the R Local train to Rector Street in Manhattan. I thought a long walk from that station down to Pearl Street, where Fraunces Tavern is located, would be good. I worked in the Wall Street area for many years. I wanted to revisit Trinity Church and Federal Hall before I met Michael and Peter. As I recall the afternoon, these first two stops added to the meaning the second part of the afternoon had. This is because as Michael, his cousin Peter and I had enjoyed our time together we celebrated our shared bonds of ancestors from Agropoli and celebrated our heritage as Americans.
As a child I thought my Grandmother and Mother grew up in neighborhoods where the entire community was Italian-American. I was very scared about going to kindergarten. Some of our neighbors told me that the children of servicemen stationed at Fort Hamilton would be amongst my classmates. These children had travelled to different countries in Europe or different states in America. Some of their mothers were from different countries. Instead of looking forward to making new friends I became unsure of myself. I told Grandma Josie and my Mom that I didn’t want to go to Public School. Instead I wanted to attend St. Bernadette where the student body consisted solely of children from Dyker Heights.
Mom and Grandma Josie shared stories of their childhood and adolescence with me in an effort to show me that they never lived in the strictly Italian-American world my 4 1/2 year old imagination created. I was told that sooner or later the bigger world would call out for me to participate in it. Going to kindergarten was the first big step I had to take.
Uncle Sammy and I decided to check out the stories Grandma Josie shared with me and compare them with the ethnic mix as recorded in the 1920 Federal Census for the Muro family in Wilmerding, PA. We then compared our own experiences of growing up in Dyker Heights and the ethnic mix we encountered throughout our school years. This exercise showed us that official records can be used to check the veracity of the family stories. In the case of the examples my Mom gave, we learned how important it is to collect as much material on a topic from each generation as possible. This personal history is sometimes never entered to published works on a community since they can be written by people who have not grown up or experienced the life of members of the community. For this reason, we believe that researchers do a great service to the genealogical community and amateur family historians when they include interviews with the people from the community they are writing about.
Josie Muro Serrapede was:
- Emily Leatrice Serrapede’s Mother
- Sammy Serrapede’s Mother
- EmilyAnn’s maternal Grandmother
Emily Leatrice Serrapede was:
- Sammy’s Sister
- EmilyAnn’s Mother
The official records state that Letizia Scotti Muro passed away from Lobar pneumonia in 1921. She was 32 years old and left behind a husband and five children. According to the death certificate, Letizia was interred two days after she passed away. Our relative has provided some of the stories about Letizia’s wake that were handed down in his family.
Uncle Sammy and I compare Letizia’s wake to one held in our immediate family 22 years after her passing. Our goal is to find what patterns persisted in Wilmerding, PA and Brooklyn N.Y. that have survived, changed or fallen out of use.
Letizia Scotti Muro was:
–Sammy’s maternal Grandmother
–EmilyAnn’s maternal Great-Grandmother
Letizia’s Wake in Wilmerding, Pennsylvania
What follows is a retelling of the events shared by one of our relatives who got the story from his mother…
The family held the wake for Letizia in the apartment which the Muro family rented. The body was cleaned, dressed and laid to rest in a casket which was placed on top of a table. Chairs were brought to the place where the casket was. Relatives came to visit in the evening and some stayed throughout the night.
There were many bouquets and wreaths near the coffin. One little girl wanted to see Letizia and walked up to the coffin. She remembered being over powered by the fragrance of the flowers. The memory of the funeral came back anytime she was near a very fragrant bouquet or garden. Because the memory associated with the fragrance of flowers was not a happy one, the girl grew up to dislike bouquets of fragrant flowers.
Funeral Customs in the Italian Immigrant Community
This summary is based on our readings about Italian-American funeral customs described in “Funeral Customs” in The Italian-American Experience: An Encyclopedia and a research paper entitled “The Italian-American Funeral: Persistence through Change.” The links are given in the Resources section.
Uncle Sammy and I decided to include brief entries whenever possible about the towns near Wilmerding. During our visits to Pennsylvania we sometimes went to visit these towns because relatives lived there. The towns were very close and at times it seemed like one flowed into another. This was because of the closeness the relatives maintained and the frequency of their visits.
The towns of Turtle Creek Valley: Pitcairn
Pitcairn Street Scene, circa 1910.
Public Domain. Image courtesy of Monroeville Historical Society.
Map of Pitcairn, circa 1901
Pitcairn started as a village where a railyard was constructed near Turtle Creek. It was incorporated as a village in 1894. The town had a major switching yard for the Pennsylvania Railroad. Population peaked between 1910 through 1940. After this time there was a decline in the ability of the railroad yards and shops to provide employment.
Greetings to all readers and subscribers of “Through the Byzantine Gate”. After a long, hot summer it’s good that Autumn is here. We’ve resumed our weekly research and discussion sessions. There will be many, many more chapters to the Muro and Serrapede family history forthcoming.
To accommodate our work and travel schedules the frequency of posting will change. We’re moving to a twice monthly posting rather than a weekly posting. This provides more time to proofread and tweak the drafts created in the past. My Uncle and I are roughly 6 months ahead in our progress.
As we near the 1940s, the availability of Federal Census records ends. With the end of available census records a change in our approach is needed. The question under consideration is how to move the narrative forward and keep our readers engaged. We intend to continue looking at the story from the family perspective as well as the bigger picture. It is our purpose to always provide a take-away for the reader.
My Simple Abundance Cliché Collage. This was how I envisioned the perfect hostess to be as I became aware of all the work my Mom, Grandmothers and Aunties put into their home entertaining. These perceptions were fed by television and advertisements of the mid 1950s through 1960s.
The weather here in Brooklyn continues to be hot and humid. My mood is to continue, a little longer, with the easier and lighter readings suitable to a break. Autumn with it’s cool, crisp, clear skies and breezes still has to arrive and awaken us from the sleepy, dreamy pace of summer. For these reasons I’m continuing with the postings about my Staycation 2016 activities. Many of them focus on the Serrapede family history and also bring in some memories about Dad’s family, too. I think one memory that we all share, across all cultures, is that of the family coming together at a holiday to enjoy a home cooked meal at the house of one of our matriarchs. She could be our Mom, Grandmother, Auntie, Godmother, or even a beloved Cousin. Whoever she is she has created a celebration that in turn sustains us in future times when we need to recall that memory and the values it affirms.
One of the Simple Abundance collages I started in the Spring and completed over my Staycation is called a Cliché Collage. It is one of the first collages Sarah Ban Breathnach has the reader create. The Cliché Collages help me clear my mind of ideas I acquired from outside sources. After creating a Cliché Collage, it is easier for me to assemble the images I need that reflect more accurately my true feelings on the topic. . For this entertainment cliché collage I discovered one of the reasons why I found the idea of home entertainment so burdensome when I was a child and young adult.