Jul 212011

World War I was fought between 28 Jul 1914 to 11 Nov 1918, with the Triple Entente (Britain, France and Russia) on one side and the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungarian Empire, and the Ottoman Empire) on the other. The United States joined on the side of Britain, France, and Russia late in the war.

Before the war, Italy had been allies with Germany and the Austria-Hungarian Empire as part of the Triple Alliance. After sitting out the war, they chose to join sides with Britain, France, and Russia against their old allies.

My great-grandfather, Rosario Millonzi, a tailor by trade in Montemaggiore Belsito, Sicily, was enrolled in the Italian Army on 2 May 1916 in the Military District of Cefalu, Sicily.

He was a member of the Bersagliere Ciclista 10m Regimento – the 10th Bersagliere (Light Infantry), Cyclist. According to Wikipedia, the Bersagliere were a highly mobile infantry unit recognized by the distinctive wide brimmed hat that they wore, decorated with black capercaillie feathers. Apparently, my great-grandfather was in a bicycle unit in the Bersagliere. During WWI, the 12 regiments of Bersaglieri fought with distinction. Of its 210,000 members, 32,000 were killed and 50,000 were wounded.

During the Italian Campaign against Austria-Hungary, Rosario was slightly wounded in the leg by shrapnel at Cortina D'Ampezzo. Before WWI, Cortina D'Ampezo was part of Austria, but became part of Italy following the war.

According to the documentation we have, it looks like he was on the front lines for about 19 months before being captured following the Battle of Caporetto.

The Battle of Caporetto took place 24 Oct to 19 Nov 1917. According to Wikipedia, a huge Austro-Hungarian force, possibly their entire army, reinforced by several German units, were able to break into the Italian front line and rout the Italian army, which had practically no mobile reserves. The battle was a demonstration of the effectiveness of the use of stormtroopers and infiltration tactics. The use of poison gas by the Germans also played a key role in the collapse of the Italian Army. 

The Italian losses were enormous: 11,000 were killed, 20,000 wounded and 265,000 were taken prisoner. Many were crippled for life.

Battle of Caporetto, in northeastern Italy

My great-grandfather was captured during the the retreat from the Battle of Caporetto. He was a prisoner of war for 14 months by Austro-Hungary. According to family stories, he was so hungry, he had to eat his shoes.

After hearing nothing from him for months and months, my great-grandmother, Carmela Parisi Millonzi, asked her brother, Monsignor Gaetano Parisi, to contact the Vatican for help. With the help of the church, the Germans found him in a prisoner of war camp. When they learned that he was a tailor, they took him off hard labor and put him to work distributing and repairing clothing for soldiers.

Rosario Millonzi was officially discharged from Royal Italian Army on 1 Aug 1919 in Palermo, Sicily.

He received the Croce al Merito di Guerra (War Merit Cross) on 16 Jun 1936, while he was living in America. According to Wikipedia, the Italian War Merit Cross (Croce al Meritodi Guerra) was instituted by King Victor Emanuel III on 19 Jan 1918. The Croce al Merito di Guerra was awarded to members of the armed forces with a minimum of one year's service in contact with an enemy who received the Medal of the Wounded, or to those who, when mentioned for war merit, received a promotion. Also, if an act of valour was deemed insufficient for the Medal of Military Valour, the War Merit Cross could be awarded instead. 

Attached below are copies of his military documents that I used to piece together parts of this story.

Jul 202011

After I learned that my great-grandfather, Angelo Palmeri, had a brother, Charles, and that Charles and Angelo had married sisters, Maria and Barbara, I set about trying to find more information. 

Palmeri is not a very common name outside of Buffalo, NY. I think my wife and I are the only Palmeris in Nashville. I figure that at least some of the Palmeris living in Buffalo are related. So I send out about a dozen letters to various Palmeris listed in the phone book. A few weeks later, I get a call from someone who turns out to be my dad's second cousin. He knows my dad, not just as family, but because they both worked for the Buffalo Board of Education. His son, who is probably about my age, received one of my random letters and gave it to him.

Chuck was a treasure of information about the Palmeri family. I learned that Angelo and Charles had two brothers, Samuel and Peter, who also came to Buffalo, and that they may have left a sister, Maria, in Serradifalco. I also learn that Maria and Barbara Giambrone – I finally know their last name for sure – had three sisters and a brother who came to Buffalo and a sister who stayed in Sicily. I also learn that my great-great-grandparents, Giuseppe and Giuseppa Giambrone, parents to the Giambrone clan, also came to Buffalo. I recently learned that they are buried in Mount Calvary Cemetery in Buffalo.

They shared information about the Palmeri family. They knew by grandfather and grandmother well. They shared information about Serradifalco, including a video that showed the homes my great-grandparents had been born in and that showed a street named after the family in Serradifalco, Via Palmeri.

But maybe the coolest thing they shared was a story of my great-great-aunt and uncle, Charles and Barbara (Giambrone) Palmeri.

You can click here for the full story: Story of Charles and Barbara (Giambrone) Palmeri

There is a lot of really interesting information in their about life as a young immigrant family.

Every summer, the Palmeris and Giambrones would go to the Eden Valley to pick peas and beans. All of the adults and children would work and they would sleep in a barn. They were paid 1 cent a per pound for peas and 2 cents per pound for beans. As the boys got older, they would graduate from picking to hoeing and running machinery.

Apparently, my grandfather, Joseph Palmeri, used to go down every summer until he got married. My father remembers going down there occasionally as a child. But according to my dad, his mother had no interest in being anywhere near farm work. 

Barbara and Maria (Giambrone) Palmeri

Jul 172011

My mother's father, my grandfather, was Donald Burke. His father, Arthur Burke, was Irish. His mother, Margaret De Guehery, was French.

Or so we thought.

For my initial pass at filling in our family tree, it was a treasure hunt whenever I poked around on ancestry.com, hitting the jackpot whenever I found a distant cousin researching part of my family tree. But as I grew more serious about genealogy, I wanted to make sure that any distant cousins I might find were as serious as I am about documenting records. So now I contact them directly. Some never respond. Many have. Now I have a small network of distant family sharing finds and working on the same problems.

One of these distant cousins is related to Margaret De Guehery.

I knew that Margaret's parents were Emanual de Guehery and Marion Cuthbert. I even had some very old pictures of Marion from my aunt. A search on familysearch.org had revealed their marriage record in Ontario, with Rudolph and Goddlibien de Guehery and Thomas and Margaret Cuthbert listed as their parents.

I also knew that the de Gueherys and Cuthberts had lived in Chalk River, Ontario, both from our own family history, and from the familysearch.org records I found.

What I didn't know was that the Cuthberts were Scottish.

At some point in my search a few years, I had found a Marion Cuthbert in England but rejected that as nothing more than a false alarm.

Well, my fourth cousin had discovered that both Thomas and Margaret Cuthbert had both been born in Scotland. Thomas in Bathgate. Margaret in Glasgow. At the same time, someone in the Upper Ottawa Valley Genealogical Group found Margaret's obituary in a search of their records for me, confirming that Margaret Ogilvy (Downie) Cuthbert had died at age 80 and that she was born in Glasgow, Scotland.

The family had moved to London, England, where Marion and some of her siblings were born. So my find from a few years ago was spot on.

We're Scottish. A small part Scottish, to be sure. After all, it's only my great-great-grandmother who is Scottish. But that's still 1/16.

My cousin also had some photos to share, including a group picture that includes my great-great-great-grandmother, a picture of my great-great-great-grandfather, and a picture of the Cuthbert family farm in Chalk River that had appeared in the newspaper. 

He is a descendant of the gentleman at the left of the photo below, William Cuthbert, Margaret's son and Marions' brother. William took over the Cuthbert farm. What's kind of cool is that my cousin just recently bought the farm for himself and his family.

Margaret Ogilvie (Downie) Cuthbert, my great-great-great-grandmother with William Cuthbert's family

Thomas Cuthbert, my great-great-great-grandfather

the Cuthbert family farm

Jul 112011

Gravemarkers are an excellent source of basic genealogical information. I've called and written cemeteries and I've recruited my sister, who still lives in Western NY, to photograph markers for distant relatives who lived and died near Buffalo.

That's not an option when it's a family member who lived and died hundreds of miles away.

My mom's paternal grandmother was Margaret Ogilvie de Guehery. She was born in Chalk River, Renfrew County, Ontario. I had found a marriage record for her parents, Emanuel de Guehery and Marion Cuthbert on familysearch.org. To track down additional information on Margaret and her parents, I wrote several cemeteries and parishes around Chalk River.

Someone from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pembroke gave me a link to the Renfrew County Gravemarker Galleryhttp://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~murrayp/renfrew/index.htm

While the search capabilities are relatively spartan, this seems to be a fairly complete visual record of all the cemeteries in Renfew County. My sincere thanks go to those who did all the hard work putting this gravemarker gallery together.

I was able to find gravemarkers for several relatives, including my great-great-great-grandparents.

my great-great-great-grandfather Thomas Cuthbert
born 20 Sep 1813 in Bathgate, Scotland
died 19 May 1893 in Wylie, Renfrew, Ontario

my great-great-great-grandmother Margaret Ogilvie Downie
born 11 Apr 1822 in Glasgow, Scotland
died 28 Jul 1901 in Chalk River, Renfrew, Ontario

Thomas and Margaret's son, William Cuthbert
brother to my great-great-grandmother Marion Cuthbert
born 6 Mar 1863 in London, England
died Jul 1943 in Chalk River, Renfrew, Ontario