Sep 052012

Yesterday, my cousin Elyse sent me some great photos of the Millonzi family that she got from her great-grandmother, Concetta, my great-grandfather's sister. 

Back Row (left to right): (1) unknown woman, (2) probably Concetta (Millonzi) Fiorella (1896-1994), (2) probably another Millonzi sister (possibly Lillie or Carmela), (3) unknown man, (4) family donkey. Middle Row (left to right): (1) Rosario Millonzi (1887-1971), (2) unknown, (3) Ignazio Millonzi (1846-), (4) possibly Phillip Millonzi. Front Row (left to right): (1) probably Giuseppe Millonzi (1873-), (2) Ignazio Millonzi (1884-1977), (3) unknown man and child, (4) Rosaria Salemi (1853-), (5) unknown woman.

Back Row (left to right): (1) Rosaria Millonzi (1887-1971), (2) unknown man, (3) unknown man, (4) probably Giuseppe Millonzi (1873-). Middle Row (left to right): (1) probably Concetta (Millonzi) Fiorella (1896-1994), (2) Ignazio Millonzi (1884-1977), (3) probably another Millonzi sister (possibly Lillie or Carmela), (4) Rosaria Salemi (1853-). Front Row (left to right): (1) possibly Phillip Millonzi, (2) unknown woman, (3) unknown woman and child, (4) Ignazio Millonzi (1846-).

Ignazio Millonzi (1884-1977)

Rosaria Salemi (1853-)

Ignazio Millonzi (1846-)

Sep 052012

My great-grandfather was a prisoner of war during WWI. He was captured during the the retreat from the Battle of Caporetto in northeast Italy and was a prisoner of war for 14 months in an Austro-Hungarian or German camp. According to family lore, he was so hungry he had to eat his shoes. My great-grandmother's family heard nothing of him after his capture. Her brother was a monseigneur and was able to get someone from the Vatican to track him down and check on him in the camp. When the Germans found out that my great-grandfather was a tailor, they took him off hard labor and had him make clothes for the officers. Soon after he was released, he emigrated to the US.

Someone suggested contacting the International Red Cross:

Perhaps they have a record of him? It'll take 6-12 months to get a response.  

Update 5 Sep 2012

The IRC is digitizing their records. So no requests can be made until 2014.

Aug 282012

I ordered the military service records from the Italian archives in Palermo for my great-grandfather, Rosario Millonzi. He fought for Italy during World War I and was a prisoner of war (captured by the Germans and Austrians). Here is the letter I used to order them:

Achivo di Stato di Palermo
Corso Vittorio Emanuele 31
90133 Palermo

Mi dispiace. Scrivo un po' italiano.

Mi potete aiutare a trovare i record militari per il mio bisnonno?

Il mio bisnonno, Rosario Millonzi, è nato 27 settembre 1887 in Montemaggiore Belsito, Provincia di Palermo. La sua moglie era Carmela Parisi. I suoi genitori erano Ignazio Millonzi e Rosaria Salemi.

Ha combattuto nella WWI (prima guerra mondiale). Era un prigioniero di guerra.

Potete inviare i suoi documenti militari?

Ho incluso una copia del mio passaporto. Avete bisogno di altro?

Grazie mille.

Update 4 Sep 2012

Here is the response I received. Basically, it tells me to try this other office.

In merito alla sua richiesta, si comunica che presso questo Archivio non si conservano le liste di leva relative al comune e all'anno da lei indicati. Ad ogni modo può chiedere il foglio matricolare del suo bisnonno al seguente ufficio:
Comando Regionale Militare Sud
Centro Documentale di Palermo
Piazza Indipendenza, 7
90129 Palermo
Fax: 091 6453601 – 1673601

Apr 172012

I had emailed some churches looking for my grandparents' marriage certificate. Someone at one of the churches I wrote actually did some research for me – finding a bunch of things out I already knew, but it was really generous of them to do the searches. One things they found that I didn't have was my great-grandparents' obituaries from one of the Buffalo newspapers.

The one thing these list is names (including married names) of siblings. I had them for my great-grandmother's siblings, but I didn't have them all for my great-grandfather's siblings, and I wasn't sure how many siblings he even had. Turns out a couple I thought were his sisters must have been cousins. They immigrated with my great-grandparents, listing right before them on the Ellis Island manifest, but they were either his cousins or nieces or something.

Nov 302011

One advantage of searching marriage records, apart from simply finding dates of marriage, is that it lets you confirm someone's grandparents. The marriage record for someone's parents lists the bride and groom's parents.

My great-grandfather was Rosario Millonzi. His parents were Ignazio Millonzi and Rosaria Salemi. I had confirmed that earlier from his brother's death certificate, which I obtained from the City of Buffalo, and later found by great-grandfather's birth certificate. Today I found Ignazio and Rosaria's marriage record. It lists Ignazio Millonzi's parents as Cruciano Millonzi and Filippa Teresi and Rosario Salemi's parents as Maestro Giuseppe Salemi and Carmela Maggio.

From my great-grandfather's birth record, I knew the approximate birth date for my great-great-grandfather, Ignazio, because it listed his age at the time of Rosario's birth. Sometimes the birth record also lists something like "Ignazio figlio di Cruciano" or "Rosaria figlia di Giuseppe", noting the father but rarely ever noting the mother. In the case of Rosaria, there was only one birth record with a "Rosaria Salemi" abt 1853, so I knew fairly confidently that her parents were Giuseppe Salemi and Carmela Maggio. In the case of Ignazio, I was able to pinpoint the birth year and thought his father might be Cruciano. But when I searched the Montemaggiore records, I found two possible sets of parents, with the same father's name but two different mother's names. It was only by finding the marriage certificate, which lists the couple's parents, that I was able to confirm that Cruciano Millonzi married Filippa Teresi.

Ignazio Millonzi (age 25) and Rosaria Salemi (age 17) were married 11 Oct 1871
in Montemaggiore Belsito

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.

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 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.