We’re cousins!

 Palmeri  Comments Off on We’re cousins!
Jan 212017

When I first started researching the Italian side of my family tree, once I had discovered the actual name of my great-grandfather’s hometown of Serradifalco from the botched version my father had told me, a quick google search of “Serradifalco genealogy” turned up the excellent web site on the Coniglio family: http://www.conigliofamily.com


The site is maintained by Angelo Coniglio. His parents, Gaetano Coniglio and Rosa Alessi immigrated to Buffalo from Serradifalco a little over 100 years ago, around the same time as my great-grandparents Angelo Palmeri and Maria Giambrone immigrated to Buffalo.

His web site is filled with wonderful information on Serradifalco, including a partial translation (here) of a history of the town, the original Italian of which I’ve included in pdf form on my site, as well as lots of stories and essays related to his family in particular and to the Sicilian-American experience in general.

At the time when I was starting on my genealogical research, I knew no Italian – I am only now at an intermediate stage – and his excellent translations of various Italian vital records he has posted on his site (for example, here) were simply indispensable to me in trying to read the records I found searching through microfilm.

At some point, Ange emailed me after having found my own web site – this one here – and we corresponded occasionally on Serradifalco, genealogy, and dual citizenship. Ange graciously sent me some records of my family members that he found during his searches.

Given that Serradifalco was a small town and that his parents and my great-grandparents immigrated around the same time to Buffalo, it was likely that they knew each other, but could they have also been related? Were Ange and I cousins? No, at least based on the records either of us had found.

Then sometime last fall, Ange emailed that his DNA and my DNA on AncestryDNA had a small positive match. We could be distantly related.

Just recently, he found a death record with the name Butera. My fourth great-grandmother was Diega Butera – I had it misspelled as “Batera” on my family tree, having mis-read the difficult-to-read script in the records. It turns our that Diega’s sister, Maria Butera, is Angelo Coniglio’s second great-grandmother.

That makes us fourth cousins twice removed; in other words, Ange is fourth cousins with my grandfather, Joseph A. Palmeri (1911-1967). My great-grandfather Angelo Palmeri and his father Gaetano Coniglio, who both emigrated from Serradifalco, were third cousins, so even if they knew each other, they may or may not have known that they were related to one another. I’ve only discovered my own third cousins over the past several years.

Here is the death certificate for Diega Butera, born in 1777:


Since I’m now part of Ange’s family tree, that also means that I get to go back two more generations (our common ancestors) because of his research.

Diega Butera’s parents (my fifth great-grandparents) were Antonino Butera (who died sometime between the marriage of his daughter Maria in 1787 and the death of his wife Onofria in 1817) and Onofria Porto (Patracino) (born abt 1752, died 9 Mar 1817 in Serradifalco).

Antonino Butera’s parents (my six great-grandparents) were Pietro Butera (who died before 1759) and Leonarda (who died after 1759).

Onofria Porto’s parents (my six great-grandparents) were Angelo Porto (who died before 1759) and Carmine (who died after 1759).

Only a few other branches of my family tree goes back this far in time – two on my mother’s side in Scotland and France, and one on my maternal grandmother’s side from Montemaggiore Belsito Sicily.

May 102012

When I found the obituary for my great-great-grandfather, Anthony Burke, it listed that his service was going to be in St. Stephen's RC Church in Buffalo. That church is now St. Clare's, so I wrote them asking if they had any information.

Someone wrote back and said, "I was able to take some time today to look into the request you've made on April 24th. Anthony Burke is recorded in our Death Register, no age was written, said he died on January 3, 1931 from heart condition, I found it interesting that under the priest name whom celebrated the funeral mass it read, Rev. Joseph Burke, (was his brother a priest)"

It's almost certain that this "Rev. Joseph Burke" was the person who later became Bishop Burke of Buffalo. He would have been in his mid-forties around that time. He became Bishop in the 1950's and died in 1962.

She also said, "Also found death record of Peter J. Burke, died March 15, 1928, age 75, reason for death read hardening of the artieries, under priest again read Rev. Joseph Burke, I think this might be the brother, because a different priest name is on the others registered on that page."

That is probably Anthony's brother Peter. So now I have a birth year and death date to see if I can find some more information about the Burke family.

Unfortunately, there was no information (so far) from them about Maria or Anna (Brady) Burke.

Apr 072012

I wanted to share some details of the story of how I finally found my grandparents’ marriage certificate.

When I started my document gathering in September, I first focused on what I thought would be the “harder” documents to get, like my great-grandparents’ Italian birth certificates and their marriage certificate, my great-grandfather’s naturalization records, and the like. I left the “easy” documents to later, in part to spread out the cost.

Well, my grandparents’s marriage certificate was not easy. I’ve mentioned many of these details in other posts, but I thought I’d collect it all into a single story.

First, my grandmother is 96 years old, in a nursing home. My aunt was unable to find a copy of her marriage certificate in my grandmother’s records. Requesting the document was a challenge. In NY State, and probably many states, you cannot order a certified marriage certificate unless you’re a spouse, unless both spouses are deceased. That’s a challenge if one of the spouses is very elderly, in a nursing home. Fortunately, my aunt has power of attorney. But the state requires a copy of my grandmother’s photo ID. Well, my grandmother never drove and never had a driver’s license, and hasn’t had a passport since the 1960s (which has long since disappeared). (So despite what George Will says, there are lots of legal US citizens, many poor or elderly, who have no photo ID.) Without an ID, you can mail a utility bill, in the person’s name, and a letter from a government agency, in the person’s name. That’s a challenge if someone’s in a nursing home – they have no utility bills. The best my aunt could do was a bill from the nursing home addressed to my aunt with a RE: my grandmother and my grandmother’s retirement check addressed to my grandmother at my aunt’s address. Fortunately, this was enough for the state to release the marriage certificate.

Second, no one was certain about the date of their marriage. Sadly, my grandmother could not help. We were able to narrow it down based on when my aunt and father were born, and based on a comment I remembered that my parents could have been married in the 25 year of my grandparent’s marriage. What this means is that the request only included a 3-year search range, not an exact marriage date. i suppose that’s an invitation for a “no record found” since searching over years requires some diligence.

My aunt sends the request off to the City of Buffalo. And we get “no record found”.

That’s odd since we knew that both my grandmother and grandfather lived in Buffalo. And it’s almost inconceivable that they would have gotten married anywhere but one of the Italian Roman Catholic churches on the West Side of Buffalo.

So we try three tacks.

First, my aunt mails off a request to NY State. We originally requested through Buffalo because it’s $10 rather than $30, and a lot quicker.

Second, I send letters and emails off to just about every city and town clerk around Buffalo, on the off chance that they might have gotten married elsewhere.

Third, I send letters and emails off to just about every Roman Catholic Church in Buffalo and the neighboring communities. We knew the church that my father was baptized in and that my grandfather was baptized in. And my grandmother’s cousin knew the church that my grandmother was active in as a young adult.

None of the towns and none of the churches had any record of my grandparent’s marriage.

So now I broaden the search even further. I try Niagara Falls. Who knows, maybe they wanted to have a reception in the Falls and got marriage in a church in the Falls – at that time, there was a large Italian community there as well as Buffalo. Nothing from them.

I’m stumped. I ask my dad, my aunt, and cousins again. Everyone mentions the churches we already tried. One of the churches suggests that we try to contact the church that my grandmother was baptized in since that church’s records might note where and when my grandmother was married, even if it wasn’t in that church. Well, my grandmother was born and baptized in Sicily, so that does not seem like an easy option. I do email my grandfather’s baptismal church, but they have no record.

I email one of my cousins who was a bit of a family historian before I took over doing genealogy. He said, you know, the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary was your great-grandparent’s church – my GM’s church. Well, that church closed down years and years ago. I ask my dad. He says, sure, that was my mom’s church; didn’t I tell you that. He didn’t. But I’m happy to have a new lead.

So I email a few churches and ask if they know if any church might have a record for NBVM. One does. I email that church. They email me that they found the record – I receive that email two hours after my visit to the Detroit consulate. They mail me my grandparent’s marriage record.

Now I send a copy of that back to the City of Buffalo, along with a copy of their certified “no record found” they had sent my aunt. A couple weeks later, I get a certified copy of their marriage certificate. And a few days after that, my aunt gets their marriage record from New York.

I guess one irony is that if I had just mailed NY months ago, and waited, and waited, and waited, I would have gotten their marriage certificate anyway (since we did). But of course, when we’re going through this process, you get a heightened level of impatience. And especially when I knew I had my March consulate meeting, I was working hard to try to find their marriage certificate, my only missing piece.

Another irony is that Detroit ended up not requiring my grandparent’s marriage certificate – accepting the “no record found” (along with my grandfather’s death certificate) as sufficient.

Apr 052012

After I received the marriage certificate from the church, I sent back the "no record found" to the City of Buffalo (along with a copy of the church's certificate).

Today they sent me the certificate. I guess now they actually searched a bit harder.

Mar 152012

Desperate to find any possible leads on my grandparents' marriage, I emailed one of my cousins asking if he might have any idea where it could have taken place. He told me that my grandmother's parents' church was Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the west side of Buffalo. That church is closed and I would have never found it searching as I have. I emailed another church and they told me that the records for Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary are now held at Our Lady of Hope church in Buffalo. I emailed them. We'll see if they find anything. Fingers crossed that the Italian tradition was to get married in the wife's church.

Update 19 Mar 2012

Today I received an email from Our Lady of Hope Church: "I found the marriage in our books and mailed out the certificate to you last week, probably on Thursday"

Feb 242012

My great-grandparents, Arthur Burke and Margaret DeGuehery, were married on 25 May 1910 in SS. Columbia-Brigid R.C. Church in Buffalo. I wrote the church to ask for more information about my great-grandparents and especially about the Burke family. While they did not have information about by Burke great-great-grandparents, the certificate did give another hit to a Brady name, John H. Brady, who witnessed the marriage. Brady is in the Burke-Brady-Howard troika that I am still trying to unravel.

I wrote back the church giving them birth dates and possible birth years for my great-grandfather and his parents to see if they might have some information about them.

Feb 102012

So, today I'm emailing and writing churches in the City of Buffalo to see if any have a record of the marriage of my grandparents, Joseph Palmeri and Sarina Millonzi.

I'm also writing the clerks and courts of the City of Buffalo to see if they have any record of an official name change for my grandfather from "Joseph Palmieri", as on his birth certificate, to "Joseph Palmeri", as he went throughout his adult life. 

We'll see what happens.

Update 13 Feb 2012

The Erie County Clerk returned my email. This is what they said:

Mr. Palmeri: The search for a court action to change a name would be filed in our court. However, an immigrant is allowed legally to change his or her name by simply having the new name stated on the Certificate of Naturalization. So there may not have been a formal action.

If you would like us to search for the court action, you may make your request in writing to the Basement Record Room, Erie County Clerk's Office, 92 Franklin Street, Buffalo, New York 14202. The cost will be $5 for every two years searched per document type (court action). The more information that you can provide, the easier potentially it will be for us to search (and the less expensive for you.)


Years ago, if the parent changed the name, the surname of the minor child was also changed, so there might not be a record of the change of name, but there would be an amended Birth Certificate. However, it is possible that the spelling of the name was not officially noted and that your grandfather just used the name as you know it. 

Update 28 Feb 2012

Another response from the Erie County Clerk:

Thank you for contacting the Erie County Clerk’s Office.  CHRISTOPHER L. JACOBS has requested that I respond to your email.

Your request will engender a search charge.  Please make your request in writing to the Erie County Clerk – Basement Record Room, 92 Franklin Street, Buffalo, New York 14202.  You may simply copy this email and mail with your check.  As a suggestion, since we will not know the actual cost until the search is completed, you may send in a check with the amount blank and a note that the check is not to exceed a certain amount.  We will return a receipt.

The cost for a search is $5 for every two years per name, per document.

The cost for copies is $1 per page and certification is an additional $5.

Please indicate the name(a) under which you would like us to search.

Nov 262011

I requested official certified copies of the 1900, 1910, and 1920 US census showing my great-grandfather, Angelo Palmeri. They arrived today. The 1910 is from Pennsylvania, where he and his brothers were coal minres. The 1920 and 1930 are from Buffalo.

Now if they could send me something on his naturalization, I'd be happy.

1910-NARA certified census

1920 NARA-certified census

1930 NARA-certified census

Nov 202011

The mystery of where and when my great-grandparents were married continues.

Today I received a "NO RECORD CERTIFICATION" from the NY State Department of Health. No record of marriage was found for the period 1 Jan 1910 (before my great-grandmother immigrated) and 31 Dec 1911 (after my grandfather was born).

Next to do is see if I can search Buffalo records.

Next after that is to get a search and certification from Serradifalco (even though she lists herself as single on the immigration manifest).

Update 4 Dec 2011

I learned that before around 1915, an official marriage certificate was not required. So it's quite possible that my great-grandparents were married in the church without ever having obtained a marriage certificate. I have mailed Holy Angels and Holy Cross Roman Catholic Churches on the West Side of Buffalo to see if they could possibly search their church records for me.

Update 10 Dec 2011

One of the churches also suggested that I contact St. Joseph's and St. Anthony's in Buffalo. Both were founded in the 1800s. Particularly, St. Anthony's was the church for many Italian immigrants.

Update 14 Dec 2011

It turns out that my great-grandparents were married in Yatesboro, Pennsylvania.

for Angelo Palmeri and Maria Giambrone marriage

Nov 112011

I found this other story online about the early history of Yatesboro, Pennsylvania, a coal mining community northeast of Pittsburgh, where the Palmeri brothers worked for a time. Pietro and Salvatore moved there soon after immigrating to the United States around 1907. They went to Buffalo sometime around 1915 or so. Angelo joined them in Yateboro for only a year before moving to Buffalo where brother Calogero was living and where he married Maria Giambrone, sister to Calagero's wife Barbara.

Yatesboro Memories, by Ida Enterline Millikin, as told to her niece, Mary Koma

The Enterlines were one of the first families of Yatesboro, Pennsylvania. This is a collection of memories from Ida Enterline Millikin and also includes history of Yatesboro. These are recollections of Ida Enterline Millikin, sixth child of Jean and Don Enterline, born 1927.

Yatesboro was founded in 1900 and built on farmland by Rochester and Pittsburgh Coal Company. The Blose family farm was on the south side, which was where the coal company building houses were built on both sides of the road from the Company store on Main Street up to the company barn on the back street.

The west side of the road on that south side was called the Flats. Only Ukrainians, Slovaks, Czechs and Swedish people lived there.

The east side of the black road (as it was called) was for the Italians. Most of the immigrants could not speak English. The Italians were called "Black Hands" like our modern Mafia – they made wine and whisky which was then called Moonshine.

The town cop would do raids of the "black hands" homes, but black hands were often tipped off about the raid and could hide their barrels and other ingredients. The north side of town was started first with a store, and a livery barn for their horses and wagons. The railroad station was opposite the store. The coal was transported from the No. 4 mine by small coal cars by a motorman to the railroad cars for shipment. Also, coal was shipped from the tipple that was located on the southeast side of town, later called "Tipple Alley."

The company had to build a water system with a pump house out by the mine's two large water tanks up on the hill behind Second Street. They built a dam by the mines to make its own power, which was 25 cycle. It was not a good source of electric. The power was off a lot. The town was supplied with gas piped in from New York State. The pipeline went through Yatesboro into Pittsburgh. Later they drilled local wells. The post office was located in Jake and Minnie Connell's building, which housed a candy store, pool room, lodge rooms and dance hall – with some apartments. This building was across from The Valley Hotel. The hotel was a large building with hotel rooms, dining room, bar room, barber shop. Mom and Daddy worked at the Valley Hotel as a young married couple, and had an apartment there where the first two babies were born, William and Samuel. Old folks would square dance in the dining room. Shy Bosack was the barber – and his patrons would put their horses in the company barn right next to it.

"Peddlers", as the salesmen were called, came to town by horse and buggy, the stagecoach line and the railroad. A barn for the horses was beside the hotel. This road was named Swede Alley. A row of houses ran northward toward the dam that was called "Number 4 Dam." Mostly Swedish residents lived on this street – thus the name "Swede Alley".

Summers at Number 4 dam were fun. We'd swim in that water until we were blue. We'd go the path behind the house, up over the hill and down to the dam. Hockey would walk across the pipe, Ethel would hang out with Pep and Junior, Peggy was always with Roy or Sylvester. Gibs was gaga over Husky, they used to neck down at the old bridge near Doc Griffith's house. None of us were afraid to swim in the dam. All memories of Number 4 dam were not all good though. Bertha Patterson lived next door to my sister Mary Ann and her husband, Bill. One day, Bertha, who was a young mother, walked up the road and never came home. When the search started for her, Bill dove into the dam and there she was, he brought her out. The other adults sent Peggy to get her teeth, not a good memory for Peggy. Jay Shields also committed suicide in the dam, they found his hat on the cement so they went diving for him. Mr. Kenjerski killed himself and there was also a carnival guy who fell backwards over the chute and died. The dam is no longer there, it is just a dry piece of land.

The Harkelroad farm was at the end of the dam on the north side of Yatesboro. Main Street started at the creek up from the hotel. The first house was for the company doctor, the next house was for the town cop, and next to that house was the house for the company maintenance man. He took care of the company barn, the horses and the wagons. He was the lawn keeper for the Superintendent of mines, the store manager, caretaker of the doctor's lawn. Later, when the big brick office building was erected, he was maintenance man, firing the furnace and doing the yard work. We referred to him as "Joe the Barn Boss". His name was Dantonio, but as children, we thought his name was "Barn Boss".

The Catholic Church was built on the hill on First Street. Beside it was a large house for the priest. The school was built across from the church with large playground. The Presbyterian Church was in the middle row on Main Street. It was shared by Presbyterian and Hungarian. Presbyterian services were in the same church. This church burned in February, 19_____. The new church was then erected.

Main Street houses were built up to the Rural Valley line. The Central Hotel, now Avi's Tavern, was on the south side of Main St. at the Rural Valley line. Behind Main St. houses was the "Round Top". The Round Top was the "mountain" of Rural Valley, which in actuality was a large "hill". It was bordered by Dr. Krough's farm and was part of the Krough farm on the Rural Valley side. The east side of the Round Top was in Yatesboro. Krough farm later became Balough farm. The company had about 5 house plans, as the company carpenters built so many of each style. Twelve houses of one plan were mostly on First Street. One was built for the blacksmith at 210 First St. Four others of this plan were also on First Street, one by the church, one for the company store, one for the company store butcher, etc.

Second Street, on the north side of town, had 8 houses of one style – 4 bedrooms built first in 1900. A larger version of the 4 bedroom were built in 1916 on Second Street, six on the south side and two on the north side. Later, on Second Street, they built 4 small 3 bedroom houses. These had outhouses – the larger houses were built for the mine bosses and had coal furnaces and bathrooms with the first cesspools on this street. The first houses on Second Street were built in 1900 and had coal stoves and out houses. The company map has a planned 3rd Street with lots laid out. Only one house was ever built on this street.

The houses on the flat were single homes with outhouses. The other side were some single houses, and in the first two rows were three story double houses, three bedrooms each, all had outhouses. There were no furnaces or bathrooms in the houses on the hill.

The Company Store was like a department store, and sat on Main Street where the Post Office sits now. It was the only place in town there was a phone. The Company store had a butcher shop, a dry goods department, a candy and cigarette department, and sporting goods with rifles, pistols, fishing equipment, hunting clothes, hats, jackets etc. There was a grocery counter, a shoe department, a men's suit department, women's and kids shoes, "some" clothing as the women made their own dresses and all the kids clothes. A furniture department was on the second floor. Later, when a few people got cars, they added a gas station and a company truck for deliveries. A person would place their order for large items like sacks of flour, sugar, potatoes etc., which were delivered by truck. The office kept your book which you to pick up, go to each counter to shop, then return the book and your money. The money to pay this bill was taken out of each pay check. The company also took your rent out of the pay check, 50 cents for church, 50 cents a month for the doctor.

The Priest and Preacher received their pay from the workers – 50 cents per miner. The statement was at the pay office on pay day. If there was money left, you were paid in cash. If you bought more than you earned, you received a statement with a line drawn through it, they would say "You drew a "snake" this pay".

Old Doc Griffith's office was on the corner across from the Company Store. The doctor received a rent free house and 50 cents a month from each miner. This was for your Dr. visits, house calls, baby delivery, and the doctor gave you your medicine from the office. He mixed medicine in a small room in his office, and the medicine was free. I remember so well Dr. Griffith's office. When we were out sled riding, we'd get cold and go in to Doc Griffith's waiting room to get warm. When there were no patients, we'd sit on his red velvet love seats. There was me, Margaret Jean Smouse, Shirley Murray, Jean Solters, Lorraine Hilliard, and Betty Nelson.

Every house had a central path to the outhouse, with gardens on both sides that started at the back porch to the top of the yard. They grew as much as they had room for in their yard. The Company had judging for the best gardens, prizes were blue ribbons, and some received red ribbons if they like your garden best. Daddy always got a first prize for his garden.

Every coal town had a baseball team. Superintendent, old man Craig, loved baseball and he recruited men who were good players from as far away as Pittsburgh. If you played ball, you got a soft job in the tipple or carpenter or they were store clerks. They never worked in the mines. Some of the ball players worked as clerks in the store or gas station attendant. The bosses got the best houses with furnaces and bathrooms. Our ball field had a merry go round and a big curved grand stand. Homestead Greys was the team that came there to play ball, it was an all black team. We had several coal mining teams. Grandpa used to umpire, his kids would fight like hell with anyone who said anything about the umpire.

Though the ballfield had a merry go round, our playground at the school had nothing. But we were always happy playing such games as "Run Sheep Run", "Tag", "Hide and Seek", or just a simple game of baseball.

The R & P Company had its own band. They practiced on the 3rd floor of the "office building" across the street from the company store. It was built a couple years after the company store was. They called the 3rd floor the "lodge" room. That was where the band practiced.

Grandma and Grandpa wallpapered for people, they had two horses with planks between to reach the walls. Us kids would use the horses and planks to make homemade see saws, when they weren't wall papering of course. Grandma and Grandpa also worked at the Valley Hotel at one time.

Uncle Joe Bofinger lived next door to us. He owned an old jalopy, Model A Ford with a rumble seat. By the time he got down the stairs, Bubba, Peggy & Bob Enterline would be sitting in the rumble seat. They'd go to Dayton, the car would smoke, they'd all get out and put some water in it, jump in, off they'd go again.

Sgro's was a few miles up the road, and that is where we went dancing. They got great bands in such as Guy Lombardo, Tommy Dorsey, The Sheffields… We hung out in groups then, Ethel and Peggy were always with Dick and Jack Lavosky. Pep who hung out with our crowd was a 6'2" good looking Italian. To get to Sgro's to go to the dances, we'd hop on the Coal Miner's bus at the Company Store and ride along with the coal miners who were on their way to work. Girls never wore slacks then, only skirts, blouses, flat shoes, never heels, and most hairdos were page boys. We had so much fun, and if we weren't at Sgro's dancing, we were stealing grapes and apples from Bill McCarten, tomatoes from the Smouse home and Murray's, more apples from Maw Burns, Aunt Margaret, Ann Kashur. At Harry Peter's house, we'd dump out all his garbage cans, climb in, and put the lids back on. Then one of us would bang on his door and run. We'd make noises in the cans – just to torment him.

Life was good then, it was simple and we didn't "want much" or "want for much".

Early in the nineteen hundreds, when the work was slow, people didn't work, so there was no money to pay the rent. The company sent the company wagon and horses and moved everything you owned, took your belongings to the outlaying farms and dropped you off on the farmer's property. These were called "Shanty Towns" where the people cooked on their wood stoves outside the barn and slept in the barn or out buildings on the farm. The men helped with farm chores for food and shelter. When you were back to work, the company moved you back in your old house that sat empty until you returned.

The company ran the school in the early days. Teachers were educated in what was called "Normal Schools" in Indiana and Clarion. About 6 months schooling gave you a teacher's job. Some of these teachers spent their whole life at the same job. The female teachers were not allowed to get married. If they married, they lost their jobs. This was Jim Craig's rule. Jim Craig was the Superintendent sent from Indiana Company from R & P Coal Co. He was like a dictator. He hired, fired, and told you where you could or could not live. He had the whole town under his rule. People who settled here from Europe would send to Scotland, Hungary, Italy for their relatives to come here for jobs. They came in the lower part of the ships, their passage was classified as steerage, the same as the animals they had on board. The people stayed with their relatives until they got enough money to get a house. The men then sent for their wives and kids. Every house had a lot of kids, plus the relatives who they called "Boarders".

Ma Burns took in boarders like the doctors, the butcher, Company store clerks who mostly came from Indiana County. Dad hurt his leg in a rock fall in the mines and could not work, so Ma supported the family by keeping boarders. Times were very hard in the early days. When the young people of the second generation got married, they usually started their early years in a couple of rooms in someone's house until they had kids and had to relocate in a single house.

There was no welfare in those days. People helped others when they could. The second orchard of a farmer's property was up the hill behind Second Street. The kids picked apples, pears, cherries, for canning pies. This is where we also picked blackberries and blueberries for pies and jelly.

In the fall, the apples were made into apple butter. This was a neighborhood project. The women peeled bushels of apples the night before and put them in the tubs of water. Next morning the men got the fire going under a large 30 gallon apple butter kettle that the whole neighborhood shared. This was an all day process. The stirring was done with a long handled wooden paddle. The women did the stirring which never stopped. Men kept the fires going. The apple butter was then canned for winter.

In the winter or early fall was time to butcher the pigs. The pigs were raised behind the houses on the hill. Daddy was the town butcher. He went from one house to another to help and show the other men how to kill, scald and hang the pigs. The pigs had to chill before being cut up to can, so this was a winter project. Thanksgiving Day was always butchering day. Daddy learned the trade as a very young boy. He helped on the Harvey Boyer farm and this farmer went through town with a horse drawn wagon, stopping at the houses to sell. This was called the "meat wagon". The kids would follow along, as this was entertainment for them. We also followed the ice wagon to get chips of ice. We had ice boxes and the iceman was a local farmer who had an ice house. He chopped blocks of ice from the dam for his ice house, in turn selling through town.

Farmers came into town by horse and buggy to sell eggs, butter, buttermilk, homemade cottage cheese and some produce. They had special days and regular customers. Us kids would walk to the upper end of Rural Valley to a farm for a gallon of milk. We also bought milk at the Wilson farm, about a mile on the West Side of the dam. No cars in those days, you walked to these farms. One farmer would come about supper time selling homemade ice cream, ringing his bell as he went along. You took a vegetable bowl to put the ice cream in. He didn't have bowls or containers, he counted out the scoops into your bowl.

We had oil lamps and only gas light on the kitchen wall until 1929. The bosses house next door had the first electricity. Daddy ran one electric wire to our house so Mom could get a Maytag washer, then one wire was extended into the living room for one lamp. Next we got a radio and some floor lamps for the living room. The neighborhood men did not have electricity, so to hear the ball games they came to our front porch to listen to the game. We would place our radio in the screened window of the porch.

Things kept getting better as the years went on. In 1936 we moved four houses over on the same street. It was the same kind of house, but it had a furnace, bathroom and electricity. The lady, Mrs. Woods, who left the house, had an electric refrigerator that we bought for $25.00. It was small and had a foot pedal to open the door. We now thought we were rich. We had ice cubes. When our grandparents got more money and could replace furniture, we got their old cast offs. We thought this was great! We did not have rugs though, nobody had rugs back then, it was linoleum, even in the living room.

Grandpa Enterline bought the first car in town. It was a nine passenger dark green Studebaker with pull down blinds on the back seat windows. The blinds had small felt balls on the bottom. There were small fold out benches in the doors for extra seating. Ma and Dad Burns then got a Model A two seated Ford. Neither grandfather learned to drive. That was left up to their sons. The only phone at this time was in the company store office. If you had a call from relatives out of town, someone came to tell you so you could go to the store and make a call. Later, Uncle Max Enterline was the tax collector and he got a phone, after him Grandpa Enterline got a phone. Some years later we got one, only because my sister Mary Anna was living at home and was pregnant. Her husband, Bill, was overseas. They were strict about who could get a phone. There was a phone office in Rural Valley with a Central Operator. She rang your number, ours was 14R2. One ring meant it was Uncle Max's phone, 14R1 was his number. The operator was a nosey old maid and she listened in on every call. Sometimes she joined in the conversation, then she told everyone in town what was said.

When World War II started, men were drafted who had less that 3 kids. High school boys were drafted from 17 years old. The factories were all producing tanks, cannons, bullets and armor for the troops. No cars were built from 1941 until 1946 – the steel was for war products. Food became scarce and each family was issued ration books. These items included meat, sugar, flour etc. If you used your coupons the beginning of the month, you waited for your new ration book. Manufactured clothing was no longer available. Silk hose were rationed. Shoes were hard to buy, nothing being made but war products. We had blackout drills, and when the sirens started you turned out all lights and had black material to pull down over your windows. When the curfew blew you could then put on your lights. They called those times our "Raid Drills".

The high schools had no boys except one, and he was a farmer's son who was deferred. A boy could also be deferred if he had a physical handicap. The prom was held at that time with girls only, no escorts.

Oct 282011

A couple weeks ago, we learned that the birth certificates we used our entire life … to get a driver's license, to get a passport, for everything … were not "real" birth certificates. They were simply "Certificates of Birth Registration". 

To get dual citizenship, I needed real birth certificates for Amy and I that showed all the detail information, including a signature from the physician.

They arrived today.

Oct 262011

As I noted in a recent post, it looks like my great-grandfather, Angelo Palmeri, came to the US through Ellis Island in 1909 with his sister-in-law, Giuseppa (Baglio) Palmeri, and his nephew, Giuseppe Palmeri. The manifest says that all three were going to join Pietro Palmeri in Yatesboro, Pennsylvania. I originally thought that was simply an error, or that it could be the wrong Palmeri family entirely. But then I found census records for Pietro and Salvatore Palmeri in Buffalo that note that some of their children were born in Pennsylvania as well as Italy and Buffalo.

I've now confirmed from marriage records from Serradifalco that this was indeed my great-grandfather, Angelo, traveling with his brother Pietro's wife, Giuseppa (Baglio) Palmeri.

A new search on familysearch.org turned up Palmeris in Pennsylvania in the 1910 census in Cowanshannock, Armstrong, Pennsylvania, right outside of Yatesboro. 

Salvatore Palmeri and his family, Pietro Palmeri and his family, and Angelo Palmeri living outside of Yatesboro, Pennsylvania, according to the 1910 census

That's coal country and Salvatore, Pietro, and Angelo all list themselves as coal miners. Serradifalco was a major sulfur mining area in Sicily for many many years. Indeed, some of the oldest mines in Sicily are near Serradifalco. As such, many immigrants from Serradifalco came to work in the mining industry in the US. It appears that three of the Palmeri brothers did for a time. Angelo went to Buffalo the next year to marry Maria Giambrone in 1910. It seems that Pietro and Salvatore went to Buffalo a few years later, probably around 1913 or 1914 based on when various children were born in Pennsylvania or New York.

I found some things online that indicated that Yatesboro had coal mines in the early 1900s that were run by the Cowanshannock Coal Company. I found this web site on the early history of Yatesboro at http://www.saintmaryyatesboro.org/history.html:

Until the turn of the Nineteenth Century, Cowenshannock Township was sparsely populated rolling farmland with no Catholic church. However, the discovery of abundant coal seams in the hills surrounding Rural Valley heralded the opening of coal mines and an exciting new era of change began in the valley.

In March, 1899, Lucious Waterman Robinson, president of the Commonwealth Coal and Coke Company, a subsidiary of the Rochester and Pittsburgh Coal and Iron Company, purchased 1000 acres of farmland from millionaire capitalist Adrian Iselan. Robinson’s intention was to open a coal mine, to erect mine buildings and build a company town for his employees. He named the town Yatesboro after Arthur G. Yates, president of the Buffalo, Rochester and Pittsburgh Railroad (BR&P).

The rich veins of coal turned out to be very productive and, by 1901, Commonwealth Coal employed 400 men in the Yatesboro mines. By 1913, the number of miners soared to 1075 men who mined more than 825,000 tons of coal yearly. In the early years of production, nearly all of the coal from the Yatesboro mines was sold to George Eastman (the famous camera magnate) who used it to heat his Eastman Kodak laboratories in Rochester, New York. Mr. Eastman and Mr. Robinson were quite good friends and next door neighbors in Rochester.

With the opening of the mines, immigrants from Europe began to flood into the area to seek their fortune. Many Italians, Scotch, Swedes, and middle Europeans such as Poles and Czechoslovakians left their homelands to seek the riches promised in America. Not sure what they would find in this new land, many left their families behind in Europe. (The coal company especially encouraged married men to work in the mines as they represented a more stable workforce.) Coming by train straight from New York to Yatesboro, most of the immigrants boarded in the company-owned Valley Hotel until the company built the planned two hundred and fifty single and double houses that would allowed the miners to send for their families.

Eventually, Commonwealth Coal and Coke was operating five mines in Yatesboro and the company town grew to include a company-owned store (The Valley Supply), a fine hotel, a pool hall as well as a school (grades 1 – 10) and churches.

Many of the European immigrants brought with them their strong Catholic faith and traditions which were a central part of their lives in their homelands. With no church within walking distance, Roman and Greek Catholics began to congregate at Peter Mann’s Hall where the Lutherans also held their Sunday services. (Peter Mann’s Hall was a social hall and pool room located on the site of the present day William Penn club on Main Street, Rural Valley). It was at Peter Mann’s Hall, on August 15, 1901, the Feast of the Assumption, that Father John DeVille, a priest from Saint Anthony’s Church in Walston, Jefferson County (Diocese of Erie) gathered the Catholics together to celebrate their first Mass.

Yatesboro, Pennsylvania, northeast of Pittsburgh

Oct 232011

From various census records, and because my grandfather was born in the US in 1911, I knew that my great-grandfather came to the US sometime between 1904 and 1910. The 1920 census said 1907 or so, the 1930 census said something like 1904, but it was hard to read. I had no luck at all finding his immigration record on ancestry.com. I was reading a genealogy book and was reminded about ellisisland.org.

I suppose I always figured that it was just the free version of what I was already paying for with my occasional ancestry.com subscriptions. I should have realized that these are independently transcribed and indexed, so it was quite possible to find something on one and not on the other. Sure enough, with a search I found my great-grandfather, Angelo Palmeri.

Angelo Palmeri
arrived on 1 May 1909
departed out of Palermo
traveled on the "Italia" (see below)

"Italia" : Built by D. and W. Henderson and Co Ltd, Glasgow, Scotland, 1903. 4,806 gross tons; 400 (bp) feet long; 49 feet wide. Steam triple expansion engine, single screw. Service speed 14 knots. 1,420 passengers (20 first class, 1,400 third class).One funnel and two masts. Steel hull with two decks. Built for Anchor Line, British flag, in 1903 and named Italia. Mediterranean-New York to 1922 service. Later Glasgow-New York service. Scrapped in 1923.

Interestingly, it lists him as "single" in 1909. That means that he came the US in May 1909, married my great-grandmother Maria Giambrone when she came in June 1910, and my grandfather Joseph Palmeri was born in October 1910.

Angelo was traveling with his sister-in-law, Pietro Palmeri's wife, Giuseppa (Baglio) Palmeri, and his nephew, Pietro's son, Giuseppe Palmeri. The manifest says Angelo was joining his brother Pietro too. Until this past summer, I never knew that my great-grandfather had a brother Pietro, so if I found this before, I would have just rejected it out of hand.

The manifest goes say that they are going to "Yatesboro, PA". Originally I just chalked that up to the immigration officer continuing ditto marks from the people above them. Those listed above him were also from Serradifalco, so he probably assumed they were all going to the same place.

But now I'm a bit uncertain. On the 1920 and 1930 Census, when I found both Pietro and Salvatore and their families, it notes some of their children having been born in Pennsylvania. It could well be that those two brothers spent some time in Pennsylvania (possibly Yatesboro), had some children born there, and later moved to Buffalo.

Serradifalco was a sulfer mining community, and a number of immigrants from there went to work in mines in Pennsylvania. I found some things online that indicated that Yatesboro had coal mines in the early 1900s that were run by the Cowanshannock Coal Company. 

So, it looks like my great-grandfather first went to Yatesboro, Pennsylvania, where his brothers Pietro and Salvatore were, possibly working in the coal mines, before heading to Buffalo to join his brother Calogero.

manifest for Angelo Palmeri

My great-grandmother, Maria Giambrone, arrived 24 June 1910. She was going to stay with her sister, Barbara Giambrone, and her brother-in-law, Calogero Palmeri, at 174 Terrace St. in Buffalo.

manifest for Maria Giambrone

Also on ellisisland.org, I found that brothers Pietro and Salvatore Palmeri arrived 30 June 1907. They were going to join brother Calogero who was living at 174 Terrace St. in Buffalo. The manifest also lists father Giuseppe in Serradifalco. They arrive on the "Perugia". It may well be that after joining their brother they went to work in the coal mines for several years in Yateboro, Pennsylvania.

"Perugia" : Built by D. and W. Henderson and Co Ltd, Glasgow, Scotland, 1901. 4,438 gross tons; 375 (bp) feet long; 47 feet wide. Steam triple expansion engine, single screw. Service speed 13 knots. 1,170 passengers (20 first class, 1,150 third class).One funnel and two masts. Steel hull with two decks. Built for Anchor Line, British flag, in 1901 and named Perugia. Mediterranean-New York service. Torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine off Italy on 3 December 1916.

manifest for Pietro and Salvatore Palmeri

I also found Maria's father, my great-great-grandfather, Giuseppe Giambrone, and her mother, my great-great-grandmother, Giuseppa Amico Giambrone. They arrived Jun 13, 1913, out of Palermo, on the "Principe di Piemonte". They were going to daughter Grazia (Grace) Giambrone at 68 Efner St., Buffalo, NY. He was listed as a laborer. They were also traveling with two of their daughters, Concetta and Paulina, and their son, Vincenzo.

"Principe di Piemonte" : Built by Sir James Laing & Sons Limited, Sunderland, England, 1889. 6,560 gross tons; 430 (bp) feet long; 52 feet wide. Steam triple expansion engines, twin screw. Service speed 14 knots. 1,960 passengers (60 second class, 1,900 third class).Two funnels and two masts. Built for Lloyd Sabaudo, Italian flag, in 1889 and named Principe di Piemonte. Italy-New York service. Sold to Uranium Steamship Company, in 1914 and renamed Principello. Rotterdam-New York service. Sold to Cunard Line, British flag, in 1916 and renamed Folia. Only one trip Avonmouth to New York service. Torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine off the Irish coast. on February 11, 1917.

manifest for Giuseppe, Giuseppa, Vincenzo, Concetta, and Paulina Giambrone

Oct 182011

I thought we were all set with probably the simplest part of our application for dual citizenship: birth certificates for my wife and myself.

Well, my wife informed me that we only have short form certificates.

She learned this when she went down to the local social security office to get an error corrected on her records. It turns out they wouldn't accept her birth certificate. While it was an official copy with a raised seal, it was only a short form, not a long form, so they would not accept it. Apparently, what we both have seems to be the same kind of short-form birth certificate that President Obama originally released that the "birthers" had a cow over until he released his long-form birth certificate. 

my short-form birth certificate (redacted, of course)

We're mailing out requests to the City of Buffalo Clerk's Office to get official, certified, long-form birth certificates today at $10 a piece.

That makes the running total cost so far $186, and we've completed just a handful of steps. And that doesn't include the money I've spent over the past few years filling in the basic genealogical information with ancestry.com subscriptions.

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

Sep 062009

My great-grandfather Rosario Millonzi and his older brothers, Ignazio Millonzi and Phillip Millonzi, were outstanding musicians.

My great-grandfather Rosario played guitar and mandolin. My mom had Rosario's mandolin for years until my father graciously handed it over to my cousin, who is also a musician.

According to another cousin, my great-great-uncle Ignazio, or Uncle Gnazio as I remember people calling him, was a professional musician. My only vague memory of him was when I was very little, at a family function at my great-grandparents home. He did that "watch me pull my thumb off trick" and I cried my eyes out. I wish I had a more positive memory, but it is what it is.

Uncle Gnazio apparently auditioned to play in the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, a popular band during the jazz age of the 1920s. According to my cousin, he didn't like the music. He is said to have worked under George M. Cohen. He was an Italian radio disc jockey. And played Cello in the Buffalo Philharmonic.

Phillip Millonzi played contrabass in the Buffalo Philharmonic. His death certificate lists his occupation as a symphony orchestra member. As a boy, I remember going to a tribute concert the Philharmonic held in honor of Phillip. He sat in a specially reserved section of the hall reserved for family. I learned later that it was sponsored by Phillip's son, Robert Millonzi, who was a major benefactor of the Phil.

A few years ago, my cousin pointed me toward a magazine story that a UB faculty member had written about mandolin ensembles that were very popular in Western NY in the early part of the twentieth century. I scanned in the article and its available here: Mandolin Mania : The Music That Swept WNY from 1880 to 1920.

He also gave me some photos of my great-great-uncle Gnazio and my great-grandfather Rosario.

Ignazio Millonzi (left), brother of my great-grandfather Rosario Millonzi
along with a couple of fellow musicians

Emilino Ricco, Tony Millitello, Teresa Plicato, and Ignazio Millonzi
at the first ethnic radio show in Buffalo (WEBR), abt 1940

My great-grandfather Rosario Millonzi

Rosario Millonzi and Ignazio Millonzi
(my cousin Russell Millonzi swimming in the pool)

Jul 182008

My grandfather, Joseph Palmeri, married my grandmother, Sarina Millonzi.

I knew my grandmother’s birth date. I was fairly sure that she was born in Sicily and came to the US as a little girl. I did not know my great-grandfather’s first name. He died when I was 5 years old. I remember my great-grandmother very well. She died when I was 19. I knew she went by the name of “Mela” and I thought that her maiden name was Parisi. The Millonzis came from a town in Sicily called “Montemaggiore”. But I knew little else.

With my monthly membership to ancestry.com in hand, I do a search for the Millonzi family. 

Millonzi is not a common name, but a bunch of possibilities come up. After rejecting many, I find a New York Passenger List with my great-grandfather, great-grandfather, grandmother, and my uncle.

I see that my great-grandfather’s name is Rosario. It was incorrectly transcribed as Rosaria, a female name. So I submit a correction. It lists his age as 34, born abt 1886.

My great-grandmother’s full name was Carmela. Born in 1892.

My grandmother’s birth name was Rosaria. The diminutive for a small girl would be Rosarina. So that’s where Sarina came from. It says she was born abt 1916. But I know she was born in 1915.

Now I learn that my great-uncle Iggy (Ignatius) was also born in Sicily. He was only 1 month old. With a crossing to the US by ship taking a couple of weeks, either my great-grandparents immigrated with a newborn or he was born on the ship coming over.

It’s humbling to imagine my own family coming through Ellis Island. My great-grandparents, speaking no English at all, with my 4 year old grandmother and my infant uncle. They’re heading to Buffalo to join my great-grandfather’s brothers who came to the US years before.

Carmela (Parisi) Millonzi, Ida (Millonzi) Russo (infant), Iggy Millonzi, and Sarina (Millonzi) Palmeri, abt 1923.

Jul 152008

My father thought that his grandfather died when I was little, so I figured that was probably the late 1960’s or early 1970’s. But I had nothing else to go on. I knew his name, I thought I knew where he was from, but I didn’t know his birth date, death date, or the name of my great-grandmother.

Having heard about ancestry.com, I thought I might give that a try. After creating a free membership, I did a search for “Angelo Palmeri” and “Buffalo” and some matches came up. With a free membership, ancestry lets you see the 1930 census but not much else. You need to pay to see more.

There he was. It’s cliché, I know, but I got chills seeing my grandfather and great-grandparents listed right there on a census record taken 80 years ago. Anyone who does genealogy knows that feeling. If for you these are just old lists of dead people, then you don’t do genealogy. For me, I had a new hobby.

It had his age (44). Given that it was the 1930 census, I figure he was born around 1885-1886. Cool. I also see that he was a naturalized US citizen. That would turn out to be important later.

Listed next to him was my 18 year old grandfather, Joseph Palmeri. I knew from my dad that he was an only child. Now I had a rough idea of my grandfather’s birth year. He was 18 years old in 1930, so that would mean he was born around 1911-1912. I also see that my grandfather was born in the United States.

And there was my great-grandmother. Mary. Now I had a first name. No last name. But that was something at least.

And oddly, right above them was a whole bunch of other Palmeris. Charles and Barbara and bunch of kids. Not only were they neighbors, but they were living in the same house. I knew there were a lot of other Palmeris in Buffalo and that we were somehow related to them, but I never knew how. So I call my dad. He says “Oh yeah, that’s uncle Chuck and Aunt Barbara. My grandparents lived in the same house with them. Don’t you remember going to their house when you were little? They had a big staircase with a really cool banister. You used to love it when I made you slide down it.” I had a vague memory of some house with a staircase and an old man giving me jelly beans, but nothing else. When my dad said that was probably when I was 2 or 3 years old, it made sense that my memory was so sparse. And I never heard of an uncle Chuck and Aunt Barbara until now. 

My dad told me that these Palmeris were more than just cousins. Charles (Calogero in Italian) and Angelo, two brothers, married two sisters (Barbara and Maria). My dad tried, but he couldn’t really remember their maiden name. Maybe it was something like “Gembrone”, but that was the best he could do. Maybe someday I could find a relative of Charles and Barbara and find more information about the “Gembrone” family.