Family Story: “Please Stay!”

Introduction

Nick and Rose Muro are my maternal Great Grandparents through my Grandmother Josie Muro Serrapede.  Philomena and Rosie were my Grandmother’s sisters and my Great Aunts.  Since I was so close to my Mom and her generation I called them my Aunties.

This story is about Auntie Philomena.

Philomena’s mother Letizia passed away when she was a young child.  Nicola married again a few months later.  His new wife, Rosina, was a widow with a young son.  Rosina had five small children to become a mother to upon marrying Nicola.  She enforced her new role through the strict manner in which she ran the household.

Everyone in Wilmerding called Nicola and Rosina by their American names, Nick and Rose.  Their American names are used in the telling of this story.

Family Story

philomena muro - emay file
Philomena Muro circa early-mid 1930s.

Title:  “Please stay!”

Time Period:  1930s through 1940s

Locations:  Wilmerding, PA and Brooklyn, NY

Summary:  Coming to America dealt a change in lifestyle Nicola never expected.

Nick journeyed to Calabria after the death of his first wife Letizia.  He met and proposed to Rose while there.  Rose, a young widow with one son, accepted his proposal.  They were married within the year.  Rose had a big job waiting for her in America:  to become mother to Nick’s 5 young children by Letizia.

Rose soon began having her own children by Nicola.  As the household increased in size Letizia’s oldest children got more chores to do everyday.  Rose wanted to be a mother to all the children but her strictness did not lend itself to that perception amongst Letizia’s children.  Although Letizia and Rose’s children got along very well and had good relationships for all their lives, Letizia’s children were never completely on-course with Rose.

Letizia’s three daughters were, in this order, Josie, Philomena and Rosie.

Josie was the first to leave in the late 1920s to get a job in Brooklyn.  She married within 18 months and made Brooklyn her new hometown.  Back in Wilmerding, the extra chores then fell on the next of Letizia’s daughters, Philomena.  Every morning she had to clean the floors in the children’s rooms.  Philomena was up very early mopping the floors and scrubbing the corners of the rooms.  All this was completed before she went to school.

After graduating school at age 14 Philomena decided she wanted to move to New York.  Once her sister Josie was married and living on 66th Street in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, Philomena slowly considered, prayed and eventually realized her plans to came up to Brooklyn.   This happened within a few years of graduating.

Nick pleaded with Philomena to stay in Wilmerding.  His sons Louis and Peter were also going out-of-state in search of work.  Nick said, “Dearest daughter, per piacere! Stay with us.  My blood is going all over the country.”  Philomena was not moved.  She proceeded with her plans.

Philomena got on board the train and made it up to New York.  She headed straight for Josie and her brother-in-law Sam.  Once she had gotten a job, Philomena had a discussion with her brother-in-law Sam.  Sam said it was better that Philomena get her own place.  The apartment he and Josie shared could not accommodate another adult since his daughter Emily needed her own room. Sam and Josie wanted to have another baby, too.

Philomena persevered and succeeded.  Her hard work and gentle nature won over a family in the theater who hired her as a nanny.  That was an experience Philomena always treasured and a story for another time.

In time Rosie came up to Brooklyn, too.  She had the assistance of Josie and Philomena.

Nick was saddened by the movement of his children away from the town he had settled in.  He had expected them to remain close so he could see his grandchildren and great-grandchildren in future years.

This was America and the family dynamic had changed.  Even if Letizia had not died the Muro family was no longer in Agropoli.  America offered opportunities family never had back in Italy.  Sooner or later, the movement away from the first generation who settled here was going to happen.

—As told to EmilyAnn Frances May by Philomena’s son
November 1, 2015

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45-Muro Family in America: Josie comes to Brooklyn, 1929

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Josie Muro in 1929.

Introduction

Josie Muro was the daughter of Nicola and Letizia (nee Scotti) Muro. She was born in 1909 in Agropoli and came to the United States with her mother in 1912. Her father came a few years earlier in order to secure work and a place to live. The family settled in Wilmerding, Pennsylvania.

Josie came up to Brooklyn, NY sometime between 1928 and 1929. My Mom told me of the events leading up to it in a general way but without too many details. As a child, Uncle Sammy learned of a similar version of the story.

The information obtained from our reviews of the 1920 Federal Census in Wilmerding and the 1925 New York State Census entries for Brooklyn, NY helped fill in the spaces that existed in our knowledge regarding the story of Josie’s coming to Brooklyn. We shared what we knew. Then using the factual evidence from the Census records created a time line that provides us with a framework to better understand events that were in place before, during and after Josie’s move to Brooklyn.

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43-Muro Family in America-Nick, Rose and Family 1922-1930

Relationship Notes

Josie Muro was the daughter of Nick and Letizia (nee Scotti)  Muro.  She was:

–Sammy’s Mother
–EmilyAnn’s maternal Grandmother

Elissa Scotti Errico was:

–Letizia’s youngest sister
–Wife of Vincenzo Errico
–Josie’s maternal Aunt

Rosina Aiello Marasco was known as Rose by the family after her immigration to America.  We will use that name in this and future postings.  Nick Muro married Rose about late 1921-early 1922 after the death of his first wife Letizia.

Introduction 

Josie Muro is not recorded as a member of the Muro household in the 1930 Federal Census.  In the late 1920s she went to live in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, New York and got a full-time job.  Uncle Sammy and I were never sure who Josie stayed with during this time.  We reviewed the earliest photos we have of Josie, as well as the 1930 Federal Census entries for our relatives in Brooklyn.  Through our discussions we were able to create a timeline that helps us narrow in on who Josie stayed with and an estimation of what year she came up to Brooklyn. 

The timeline provides the backdrop which validates two family stories about Josie which I have been told.  The version my Mom told me differs only slightly from the one my Uncle shared with me.  Postings number 43, 44 and 45 will present the story as we go through the timeline.  Preparing this series has helped me finally make sense of both versions of the story.  I’ll wait until posting number 45 to let you know which one I now believe is the correct version. 

The Muro Household 1922-1930:  A growing family 

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Close-up of the 1930 Federal Census entries for the Muro household.

According to the 1930 Federal Census, Nick now owned the building where the family lived.  This was the property Nick received as a settlement after the death of his son Ernest.  The building, which had a store on the ground floor and an apartment above it, was located at 298 State Street.  In 1930 it was valued at $4,000. 

We don’t know what caused the Census Enumerator to list Nick’s wife as Lucy instead of Rose but we’ve entered a correction at Ancestry.  Another error which made it hard to find this record was an error in the data entry to Ancestry’s database.  The surname Muro was misspelled Mino.  Thanks to the help of Ancestry forum participants we finally found the record. 

Between 1923 through 1925, Rose had three children by Nick.  They were: 

Raymond (Raymie), born October 14, 1923
America (Igo), born October 20, 1924
Albino (Beno), born November 26, 1925 

With three children so close in age, Rose needed the help of the oldest daughter in the household.  This is where Josie’s assistance with housework and babysitting were necessary.  By 1930 the family totaled 11 people.  Josie is not one of the household members listed since she was already in Brooklyn by this time.  In addition to Nick and Rose the household in 1930 consisted of: 

Peter 17 yo
Louis 15 yo
Philomena 13 yo
Rosa (Rosie) 10 yo
John 14 yo
Raymond 6 yo
Americo 5 yo
Albino 4 yo

Philip Gimelko, a 31 year old tinsmith, living with the family as a boarder.  

Nick worked as a machinist for Westinghouse Air Brake Company.  Since he was employed full-time we are not sure who was minding his grocery store during the day.  Rose would not have time since there were too many children to care for. 

Josie Muro:  The earliest photos we have

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Josie Muro circa mid-1920s.

Josie wrote the date and location where a photo was taken on the back of many later photos.  She did not do this for the earliest photos which made it hard for me to figure out where they were taken.  I had never seen these photos until my Mom told me about them shortly before she passed away.  At first I did not recognize my Grandmother in many of the earliest photos.  This showed me how narrow my outlook was when it came to the older generations of our family.  I didn’t think about my Grandmother’s life as a young woman.  Yet here she was, smiling and looking at me in what I believe were her late teenage years.  Uncle Sammy and I think this photo was taken while Josie still lived with her parents in Wilmerding.  When we looked at the houses in the background and compared them to photos of Dyker Heights, Brooklyn in the early 1930s most of the homes in Brooklyn were brick and of uniform shape and height.  

 43-josie20in20wilmerding201920s202_zpslxuxnjuv

Josie Muro, circa mid-1920s.

We also date this photo to the mid-1920s and think the location looks more like Wilmerding than Dyker Heights.  In the section of Brooklyn where the Muro sisters came to live and settle, each one or two family home had a stoop that was level with the sidewalk.  The steps leading to the front door were usually straight up from the stoop.

Another indication of the time is how understated Josie’s appearance is.  There is no indication of the fashionable woman Josie would be when she posed for a studio portrait in 1929 and also took photos at a location we can identify in Brooklyn.

Josie had an appreciation for fashionable clothes and accessories.  Her favorite designer was Coco Chanel.  She loved perfumes and pearl necklaces.  As I view the photos of 1929 I understand why she did not want to stay in Wilmerding and continue helping Rose with the younger children.  All these things are communicated in the studio portrait which is part of a future discussion and posting.

The next thing we had to clarify was who Josie stayed with when she came to Brooklyn.  This is where her Auntie Elisa Scotti Errico plays an important role.  In our next posting we’ll focus on Elisa and her husband Vincenzo.  They moved from Wilmerding to Brooklyn shortly after Letizia passed away. 

Discussion with Uncle Sammy on Sunday, November 1, 2015

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The corner building became the site of Grandpa Nick’s grocery store and home in the mid-late 1920s, after he fixed up the property.  The store was on the ground floor.  The family lived upstairs.  Photo courtesy Fran Marasco. 

Uncle Sammy and I do not know how Nick got the grocery store up and running during the early years of his marriage to Rose.  He worked full-time in a machine shop at Westinghouse Air Brake Company according to the 1920 and 1930 Federal Census entries.  The reason we ask this question is that we want to create a time-line of developments within the family history.  Since official records cannot always offer all the details we need it becomes necessary to mine the information available through family stories and memories.  While this is not always a sure and certain method, at least we collect what is available and have a starting point for further research and reflection. 

In the late 1940s and through the 1950s, Uncle Sammy spent 4-6 weeks every summer in Wilmerding, Pennsylvania.  He stayed with his Uncle Peter and Aunt Angie.  Peter was his mother’s younger brother.  Uncle Peter and Aunt Angie had three boys:  Nicky, Robert and Petey.  He was closest to Robert and Petey.  Since Nicky was older he had his own friends and went to different places.  Uncle Sammy, Petey and Robert loved to go to the playground up the hill from Nick’s store on State Street. 

Uncle Sammy said that in some years Nick was not working at Westinghouse Air Brake Company.  He’d be at the store full-time.  When Nick and Rose’s daughters Sylvia and Susie were old enough they sometimes helped in the store, too. 

Uncle Peter had his own shoe repair shop downstairs from the home he owned.  He worked there after coming home once his shift at Westinghouse Airbrake Company was completed.  Uncle Peter worked at his shoe repair shop from 3-7 p.m. Monday through Friday.  We think that Nick may have run the grocery store along the same lines.  If so, the store assured Nick of a livelihood during the Great Depression since there were many lay-offs or slowdowns at the plant during those years. 

Resources 

1930 Federal Census for the Muro Family

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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19d-Growing up Italian-American: Halloween through the generations

Illustration from “Tippety Witchit’s Halloween” originally appearing in “My Book House” ed. by Olive Beaupre Miller.

Introduction

Uncle Sammy, Antoinette Serrapere and I share our experiences of celebrating Halloween as we grew-up in the Italian-American communities of our home towns.  This holiday is of Celtic origin and was not celebrated by our ancestors in Italy.  However, as the descendants of Italian immigrants grew-up in America they participated in the Halloween festivities through school and community sponsored activities.  The preparation of this posting offered us an opportunity to see how the participation has changed with each generation.

For children, Halloween is a point during the year when anything and everything can happen.  Ghosts might walk through the house.  The departed might appear in their dreams.  A generous neighbor might put $1 in each goodie bag.  The big kid who loves to scare the younger children might be waiting around the corner ready to shout “Boo!”  We shared expectations similar to these.

The celebration of Halloween has not remained fixed throughout the decades since our ancestors came to the United States.  By recording our memories of this holiday we found that it continues to grow and change.  The ways in which it does reflect the times we live in.  As an example, it was more common for children to go from house-to-house with their friends in the 1960s.  Today many children are accompanied by their parents to go trick-or-treating at planned get-togethers with neighbors or friends.  This development has arisen out of concerns for child safety.

Relationship Notes

Josie and Sabato Serrapede were the parents of Sammy (Sabbatino) and Emily Leatrice Serrapede.

EmilyAnn Frances May is their granddaughter through Emily Leatrice.  Sammy is her maternal Uncle.

Antoinette Serrapere is a member of the Serrapede family from Agropoli.  She is the daughter of Nicholas and Rosemary (nee Calhoun) Serrapere.  Her Grandparents Cosimo and Anna Marie (nee Botti) Serrapere immigrated to the U.S. from Italy in the early 20th century.  Antoinette’s family lived in Wilmerding as she grew up.

Serrapere is a variation of the surname Serrapede.

Dyker Heights:  1930s

  • My Mom, Emily L. Serrapede, never spoke at great length about Halloween.  She did mention that when she was growing up the emphasis amongst the first generation of Italian immigrants was on All Saints Day (November 1st) and All Souls Day (November 2nd).  She remembered that November 2nd was a day when many people went to church to light a candle for their departed relatives and friends.
  • The three holidays were not observed in the Serrapede household when Mom grew up.  The family visited the cemeteries and took care of the graves of their departed relatives as time and weather permitted.  Prayers or devotions were offered up for the departed on the anniversary of the person’s passing.

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