Lest We Forget

The local church of San Marziano, where my great-great-uncle was baptised in 1886.

One cannot face November 11th without thinking of the year 1918, when the guns in Europe went silent for what was thought would be the very last time. I doubt there is one among you who can seriously claim to have ancestors untouched by the terrible events which took place in Europe (and other parts of the world) between 1914 and 1918.

Today I thought I might try my luck and see if I could find some information about my great-grandmother’s brother Giacomo, mentioned in my previous post. The facts about Giacomo are very scarce and hardly tell me much about his life. The fact that he completely vanished from the face of the earth after 1910 makes him all the more interesting to research, I think.

Giacomo was born in the small Italian village of San Marzano Oliveto on 27th March 1886; he was christened in the local church of San Marziano the following day. He was his parents’ first child. His father, Pietro, was also born in San Marzano, but his mother Maria Maddalena (known as Amalia) came from nearby Nizza Monferrato, where she married Pietro in 1884 when she was just fifteen years old! The couple went on to have eleven other children (including three sets of twins), but unfortunately at least three (possibly five) died in infancy.

Giacomo’s family was not rich, and owned a simple chunk of land which must have given the family enough means to live on, but not much more. It is easy to imagine Giacomo’s ambitions pushing him to seek a better life elsewhere, which is precisely what he did.

The SS Duca degli Abruzzi, which took Uncle Giacomo to New York from Genoa in 1909. He was only 23 years old at the time.

With the arrival of spring, 23 year-old Giacomo packed the few possessions he owned and made his way to the port of Genoa -in a time when trains would only have connected larger cities, I imagine he completed the trip in some sort of horse-drawn cart. On 28th April 1909 the Duca degli Abruzzi sailed from Genoa with several hundred passengers on board (mostly Italians leaving their land to start afresh in America), including my great-great-uncle. The double-screw steamer crossed the Atlantic at a maximum speed of 16 knots (the Titanic, which was already being built in Belfast at the time, had an average speed of 21 knots). The vessel arrived in the port of New York on 10th May 1909 after a stop-over at Ellis Island to check for sick passengers and Giacomo made his way to a friend’s house, Giuseppe Bussi, in New York City.

Brown-eyed Giacomo remained in New York for at least a full year. In 1910 the US Federal Census was taken, and it shows that in his first year in America, Giacomo had managed to find work in a hotel, where he worked as a “silverman” (presumably someone in charge of the hotel restaurant’s silver). At the time he was living with some friends, the Pesce family, on 9th Avenue. The address would later prove to be significant because that same year my great-grandfather moved to that same address, presumably met Giacomo (unless they knew each other from back home in Italy) and two years later married Giacomo’s sister, my great-grandmother Giovanna.

However, Giacomo’s trail goes cold after 1910. There is simply no further record that I can find of him in the New World after that date. There is a chance that any records of him (either later census entries, marriage/death records, etc.) have been misplaced or wrongly transcribed onto the Internet, which might explain why I can’t find a single further detail about him online.There is also a possibility that he went back to Italy, and if so, he may well have died during the Great War, the end of which we celebrate today. If that were so, his name may have been recorded somewhere, and indeed the War Memorial in his home-town mentions a man with Giacomo’s exact name and surname.

The misleading War Memorial in San Marzano Oliveto.

It took me a while to find a seemingly reliable source online which actually mentions -by name- Italian soldiers who were killed in action during WWI, or else succumbed to disease while in service for King and Country. If you follow this link you’ll find a section called “Cerca negli Albi”; click on it and you will see five numbers; each one comprises a short list of contents listing Italian regions alphabetically. As I am searching for a presumed soldier from  San Marzano Oliveto, which is located in the province of Asti, I click on Nr. 3 and then click on 15 (Piedmont AL-CN meaning Alessandria to Cuneo provinces). Then you will have to search for the soldier you are looking for by surname; click on “Mostra la pagina” when you find the link which would include the surname range (again, sorted in alphabetical order) and scroll up and down the opening page until you find the soldier in question. I managed to get to the page where my great-great-uncle Giacomo would have been recorded, and make two interesting discoveries: one, that my Giacomo is not the one listed on the War Memorial in his home-town, and two, that there were actually two Giacomos with the right surname who died during the Great War. However, neither is the son of Pietro, with one being the son of Francesco, the other the son of Giovanni; their birthdates, which are also included, confirms this much. Although there is no doubt in my mind that both soldiers were almost certainly related to me some way or other, they are certainly not my father’s great-uncle. A new dead end for me, though.

I search the records elsewhere and find that there is, curiously, a Giacomo who fits my relative’s description (name, surname, age & country of origin) living in England (Bloomsbury, of all places) in 1911; besides, he works as a pantryman in a restaurant, which sounds promising as I know for a fact my great-grandmother’s brother worked in a hotel. However, I meet a new dead end when I realise that not only is he living with three other brothers (none of whom match my recently-discovered relatives in Italy), but perhaps more damaging to my theory is the fact that this man was already living in Soho in 1901; I find it difficult to credit that he emigrated to England from Italy, then went back to Italy, emigrated to New York, worked there for a year and then made it to Bloomsbury to be recorded with these three unknown brothers in 1911.

The question remains, what happened to great-uncle Giacomo? If Flanders Fields did not claim his life, where did he end up? Can anyone out there shed any light on him? Please!

This entry was posted in 1901 Census, 1910 US Census, 1911 Census, Birth, Death, Emigration, England, Genealogy, Italy, Killed In Action, Ships, United States, War. Bookmark the permalink.

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