51-Serrapede Family in America April 18, 1931: It’s a girl! (Part 2)

(This posting is a continuation of 51-Serrapede Family in America April 18, 1931: It’s a girl! in which we considered the day Emily L. Serrapede was born and some of the issues she faced growing up as an Italian-American.  In this posting the discussion expands to experiences Uncle Sammy and I had.)

The Detail in the Birth Certificate that might point to an answer

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Close-up of the birth certificate.

I think I found a clue to Emily’s sensitivity regarding her ethnicity. Looking at her birth certificate I found the following: Color or Race-It. The It. means Italian.

Southern Italians were considered a race unto themselves. This was not in a good way. They were seen as incapable of joining the mainstream. An article from a 1914 edition of “The World’s Work” expresses sentiments held at that time about why this was so. It came down to this: Southern Italians were non-Caucasians. Therefore, the thinking went, they’ll never make it into the mainstream. In the 1910s the sentiment against Southern Italians was very negative. Their admission to this country was thought to have a detrimental effect on society. Census records list Italians as members of the Caucasian race but outside of their immigrant community the treatment was not always considerate or kind. When I was a child I was told by outsiders that we were “Wops” because our Grandparents were all here illegally. “Wop” meant “without passport.” Recently I’ve read it also could mean “White on paper.” Meaning for things like the census records Southern Italians were entered as Caucasian or White but in reality they were treated as “others”.

To what degree Emily experienced negative treatment I do not know. She never told me of any events in her life that would be a contributing factor to the strong show of emotions I witnessed when I did things like ask to get my ears pierced or why she wouldn’t teach me how to speak Italian as good as she did.

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51-Serrapede Family in America April 18, 1931: It’s a girl! (Part 1)

Introduction: Events around Brooklyn on April 18, 1931

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Close-up of page 1 of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle edition for April 18, 1931.

Weather forecast for April 18th-19th, 1931 in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

On Friday, April 18th, 1931 the Brooklyn Daily Eagle’s weather report stated that “at 8 a.m. the temperature in New York City was 52 degrees.” A milder day was ahead on Sunday, April 19th.

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Short news items from page 1 of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Page one combined headline stories such as a crisis in Nicaragua and a movement by Catalonia to separate from Spain with many short news items that were not the stuff of headline news. They provided bits of information readers could discuss with their neighbors or co-workers. In Florida, Conkey P. Whitehead was being sued by a woman claiming breach of promise. Jack Guzik, a business manager for Chicago gangster Al Capone, pleaded guilty in Federal Court to income tax evasion. And in Brooklyn, New York restaurant owner Patrick White was taken to Greenpoint Hospital after a former employee punched him in the jaw.

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Mrs. John Krall of Queens is pictured with her three sets of twins on the day her youngest ones were baptized.

Page 2 featured a photo of Mrs. John Krall and her three sets of twins. Her latest pair was baptized on April 18th. Mrs. Krall had three other children not included in the photo. She lived in Middle Village, Queens. We know a family in Bath Beach, Brooklyn who were also celebrating a happy day on April 18, 1931. Sam and Josie Serrapede welcomed their first child, a girl, into the world. This baby girl’s birth never made it to the newspapers but in our family history it was big news.

The baby Josie and Sam named Emily Leatrice grew up to be Sammy’s big sister and my Mom. Her birth certificate provides many details that enable us to create a snap shot of what life was like at the time she was born.

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Family Story: “Made with Love”

Introduction

 

Zia Elisa circa early 1940s.

Elisa Scotti was born on September 4, 1891 in Agropoli.  She came to the United States in 1912 and settled in Wilmerding, Pennsylvania where her twin sisters, Concetta and Letizia were living and raising their families.  In the 1920s, Elisa and her husband Vincenzo moved to Dyker Heights in Brooklyn, New York.  Elisa was Letizia’s youngest sister and played a role in the life of Letizia’s daughter Josie that was very close and very important to Josie.  Elisa’s youngest daughter Rita and Josie’s daughter Emily grew up as cousins and best friends.

Letizia had two more daughters, Philomena and Rose (Rosie). This family story is from Philomena’s son.  I hope you will sense something about Elisa from the telling.

Everyone called Elisa, Zia Elisa, even her Grand Nieces and Nephews.  This is how I address her, too, since this is how my Mom and Grandmother Josie discussed their memories with me.  There was no separation of the generations and no designations such as Great Aunt, Grand  Aunt, and so on.  Zia means Aunt, but the manner and tone in which we used it, Grandma Josie, Mom and me, was more in the sense of Auntie.

Family Story:  Made with Love

Place:  Brooklyn, NY

Time:  Mid-Late 1960s

Summary:  A blanket made as a gift over 50 years ago keeps on giving love and warmth.

“Zia Elisa crocheted a very large, thick blanket for me.  I was headed off to grad school.  She said she wanted to be sure I was warm in the winters.  I was to attend university in Upstate New York.   Winters up there are always colder than downstate.

“The blanket endured dorm life and several moves.  Here it is.  It’s been washed and cleaned and hung to dry over and over.

” It was not only made with love but was made to last.”

I was amazed when I saw the blanket.  It’s of the kind we call an Afghan.  It is well used but is still in good condition.  The design of tan and dark brown chevrons looks like it was made with acrylic yarn.

Zia Elisa’s Great Nephew wasn’t the only one who used the blanket made with love.  Zia Elisa passed away in 1988.  She did not live to see that her niece Philomena would also use the blanket when she needed care and went to live with her son, the one for whom Zia Elisa first made the blanket.

 

As told to EmilyAnn Frances May
September 30, 2014 Tuesday 6:44 p.m.

 

40-Muro Family in America-The Ethnic Mix on State Street

Introduction

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.

Relationship Notes

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

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Coffee Break: Change in posting schedule

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.

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33-Muro Family in America: Wilmerding, a company town

Introduction

 Nick Muro was a shoemaker in his home town of Agropoli, in Salerno province of Italy. In 1900 he made his first trip to the United States when he was 18 years old. He returned to Agropoli for his marriage to Letizia Scotti in 1909. Sometime after that he returned to the United States. In 1912 Letizia came to the United States with their 2 1/2 year old daughter, Josie. The family settled in Wilmerding, PA.

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 “Arrival of the workmen.”
The train station is in East Pittsburgh. George Westinghouse began his business in Pittsburgh.
Library of Congress, public domain.

 Wilmerding was established as a company town by George Westinghouse, Jr. He was the inventor of the air brake which revolutionized rail travel and safety. His first company was located in Pittsburgh. Wilmerding was estabished as the demand for the air brake increased. Mr. Westinghouse wanted to attract the very best workers possible and instill in them loyalty to his company. His company, the Westinghouse Air Brake Company, would be the main employer and benefactor in Wilmerding. Westinghouse ensured that his workers had access to housing, education and recreational facilities as the town prospered and expanded.

George Westinghouse’s vision was of benefit to the Muro family. Within 10 years of settling in the country Nick secured full-time employment at the factory. Talk of WAB Co. was always part of the visits to Wilmerding when I was a child in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Uncle Sammy remembers it during his childhood in the 1940s and 1950s, too.

This posting presents a brief overview on what a company town was like and why they were formed. We will also present some highlights from the life of George Westinghouse. The concluding section consists of a summary of a 1904 news article on the pros and cons of living in Wilmerding.

Relationship note: Nick and Letizia Muro were Sammy’s maternal Grandparents and EmilyAnn’s Great-Grandparents on her maternal line.

Josie was Sammy’s Mom and EmilyAnn’s maternal Grandma.

What was a company town and why was it formed?

Company towns were situated in distant locations. To attract a talented and stable workforce the employer provided housing, schools, recreational facilities and retails shops in the town. There would be only one employer in the town who hired employees for the main business as well as contractors and those who provided services in the shops the company owned in town.

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31e-Our last week in Italy July, 1976: Back to Rome

Route from Gaeta to Rome.

 Our Vacation in Italy 1976: Remembering our last day in Rome

It was a hot day when we left Gaeta for the two hour drive back to Rome. At night we enjoyed the coolness of Italia and Antonio’s apartment, sleeping very well. The next morning it felt as if New York City had already rung the doorbell and entered the room, ready to claim her residents and bring them back home. Breakfast was a hurried affair as was getting dressed and doing our last minute packing.

I looked out the window and considered the bird bath in the garden of the apartment building where Italia and Antonio lived in Rome. There weren’t any birds playing in the water. The scene was so still in the bright summer sun.

I thought about Dyker Heights back in Brooklyn. In eight weeks Autumn would begin. The oak trees would change color as the season progressed. The sparrows would still be twittering each morning and I’d awaken to hear the leaves rustle if the wind was blowing. Thoughts of home began to tug at my heart again. I felt the desire for a donut and cup of coffee from Chock Full o’Nuts on Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge. I wanted to kick-off my new wedgies and put my flats on and walk up to Woolworths’s on 86th Street. As I packed my clothes and souvenirs for the family I started going over all the memories of the past three weeks. During the years I took care of my Mom as the Parkinsonism she suffered with advanced, I often remembered these days in Italy. In quiet times from 2002 through 2007, I looked at the photos so I could touch these places in spirit. I never thought that they would help me connect our ancestral past and the present. That has happened now that Uncle Sammy and I are working on our project for the Muro and Serrapede Family History.

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