Those who stayed behind

In 1910 my great-grandfather Giacomo Jack Ameglio left Italy and crossed the Atlantic Ocean, bound for America -the first of several transatlantic crossings he would complete in his lifetime. When he reached New York, he moved into an apartment in Manhattan where other fellow Italian immigrants had set up house more or less temporarily, until they were able to earn a living by themselves. One such immigrant was Jack’s namesake, Giacomo Amerio (the similarity between names means mixing them up is an easy mistake to make). The two probably became friends, being from the same area in Piedmont, and their friendship was reinforced two years later when the latter’s seventeen year-old sister Giovanna arrived. She and Jack became engaged, and in 1915 the two were married in Manhattan’s Municipal Building, the construction of which had been completed a mere year earlier.

Giovanna’s womanhood had barely blossomed by the time she had boarded a steamer bound for New York three years before. It was November when she reached Genoa from her native village of San Marzano Oliveto, in the next region up north, on the foot of the Italian Alps. She probably made the trip to Genoa by train, partly, and the rest on foot or cart. The ship she had booked a passage on,  the Duca di Genova, was packed with migrants from all corners of Italy, and many different accents would have been heard on and below deck. The sinking of the RMS Titanic earlier that same year while making a similar crossing would surely have been one of the main topics of conversation on board, and quite possibly Giovanna tried to keep her eyes open for icebergs as this new episode in her life unfolded.

As we have seen, Giovanna was not the first of her siblings to leave the family back home in Italy. Her brother had made the crossing three years before, and her sister Cesarina (Rina) one year after that. Seeing familiar faces upon her arrival must have been a happy sight for my great-grandmother, once she made it through the health inspection in New York.

Back in Italy, Giovanna’s parents must have awaited impatiently for news confirming the safe arrival of their daughter in America. The couple, Pietro Amerio and Maria Maddalena Terzano (who went by the name Amalia) had been blessed with the births of twelve children over the course of their marriage, including three sets of twins, but sadly five of them died young.

Both Pietro and Amalia belonged to large, ramified and interconnected families. They were probably related to each other, as most of their ancestry was deeply rooted in San Marzano Oliveto, and they even shared two surnames on either side – Amerio and Terzano are surnames that appear on both sides of my great-great-grandparents’ family tree. Both families were on the lower end of the social scale; they worked the land, and probably had little money, which would explain why three of their children decided to emigrate to America. Amalia’s ageing mother, Giuseppina, still lived in the nearby town of Nizza Monferrato, and in fact she would outlive her own granddaughter Giovanna, who sadly died in New York four years after the birth of her only son – my grandfather.

Old grandmother Giuseppina’s husband had died back in the 1890’s, but she was definitely a survivor. Of her parents’ seven children, she was one of two siblings who actually made it past childhood. She had lost both parents by the age of about 30, but she still had to take care of her own, frail grandmother, Clara Bussi, who died at the ripe old age of 93.

The other side of the family, the Amerios, were not much better off than the Terzanos, but recent research has shown that one of the families from which I am descended on that line were landowners, and several of their members were described as benestante, or well-to-do neighbours of the parish. The fact that they descend from a Maria Asinari may be indicative of a distant connection with the Marquesses of San Marzano Oliveto, who ruled the area in the Medieval era. My family’s fortunes seem to have dwindled when one of their kin, my ancestor Antonia Piemonte, married a Giovanni Battista Terzano, who was a simple agricultural labourer. His profession was replicated by most of their seven children, and there is little indication that their former fortunes were resurrected thereafter. Their granddaughter Luigia Terzano, who also worked the land, married the equally penniless Giacomo Amerio, Giovanna’s paternal grandfather.

Such stories of wealth and poverty, along with the family ties that interlinked them all, have laid buried for decades in church archives and in cardboard boxes filled with memories which distant cousins now own.

View of the countryside surrounding San Marzano Oliveto, Piedmont. Author's private collection.

View of the countryside surrounding San Marzano Oliveto, Piedmont. Author’s private collection.

This entry was posted in Emigration, Genealogy, Italy, New York City, Property, United States. Bookmark the permalink.

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