Marriage in Montreal and jumping ship in New York

My grandfather's passport

My grandfather’s passport

I held a workshop at the Phoenicia Library to teach people to write about their ancestors, but those who attended seemed more interested in learning to research their families. Debbie and Richard claimed to know almost nothing about their ancestors. As we searched online, sometimes the records that popped up eerily corresponded to family stories they could remember.

On Ancestry.com, Debbie found a handwritten document attesting to the marriage of her grandparents at a synagogue in Montreal in 1918. She had heard that her grandparents were first cousins, and the document indicates that the bride’s father and the groom’s mother had the same last name.

Richard found a 1940 census record suggesting that his father, Harry, at the age of 21, lived in Poughkeepsie with an aunt and uncle, Adeline and Harold. Harry is listed as an unemployed garage laborer.

“Yes, I had an Aunt Adeline!” Richard exclaimed. But he doesn’t know why Harry would have been living with his aunt and not with his mother. “If he was unemployed, that might explain why he joined the army,” Richard mused.

He found a World War II enlistment record that matched Harry’s name and many particulars, dated August 21, 1940, four months after the census was taken.

On the other side of Richard’s family, there were records for several Italian brothers who emigrated to New York. Seeing the names, Richard recalled family lore that said one of his uncles was refused entry to the U.S. for some reason and was put back on the boat. Rather than return to Italy, he jumped overboard and was drowned. “I wonder what was so bad in Italy that he’d rather die than go back,” said Richard.

Debbie tracked down a ship’s passenger list that included her husband’s grandfather, Antonio, who emigrated from Italy to Mexico in 1924. A 1930 Mexican census record for Antonio’s family listed four children, including two-year-old Manuel. “We saw Manuel the last time we went to Mexico,” said Debbie. “He’s 80 now. We’ll have to show this to him.”

She added, “It’s so visceral, coming across these records. Even though you’ve heard stories, finding the documents makes you feel that these people were real.”

The same day, I stumbled across confirmation of a family story about my grandfather, Attilio Ciliotta. He left Valle di Cadore in the Alps and took a train to Genoa, intending to board a ship for New York. It was his first train ride, and he was so excited, he spent the trip with his head out the window. Smoke and cinders from the engine flew into his face, so by the time he reached Genoa, his eyes were inflamed. The customs officials decided he might have a disease and wouldn’t let him board the ship. He had to take the train back to his village.

Family records show that he arrived in the U.S. on July 1, 1922. Online, I found a ship’s passenger list from December 30, 1921 that shows both 17-year-old Attilio and his older brother Emilio, listed as sons of Pietro Ciliotta and residents of Valle di Cadore.

There’s a black line through Attilio’s name.

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11 Responses to Marriage in Montreal and jumping ship in New York

  1. Judith Singer says:

    Hi Violet – I too have found genealogical research very rewarding. I’ve been doing a lot myself in the last year and a half. When I started, I did not know even the first name of my maternal grandmother, much less her maiden name. i knew nothing about where my grandparents came from other than “somewhere in Eastern Europe”. i found my grandfather fairly easily because of the one memoir left by a first cousin once removed, but had to search and search for my grandmother. I found out enough that i was able to come up with a hypothesis of who she was, the name of her mother (my great-grandmother) and the names of nearly a hundred relatives based on that theory, but still could not find any record to confirm it. Frustrating months went by. Finally, by chance, I found a record of her marriage to my grandfather in a NY Italian-American genealogy site (she was from Poland, my grandfather was from Lithuania – go figure.), I ordered the original certificate and found multiple confirmations of my theory when I read it. Very exciting! I don’t know if you have done any searching in the records of Eastern European Jews, which is challenging because it requires some background knowledge i have slowly acquired, but if you haven’t, and are offering another workshop, I would be happy to provide some assistance..

    • visnow77 says:

      Judith,
      I will at some point do another workshop, no doubt, and I would love to have your help. Meanwhile, may I give your email address to my friend Debbie? Her family is from that area and she could use some more information. I would love to hear the details of your search and how you progressed.
      Thanks,
      Violet

  2. Barbara J Carter says:

    You got two more people hooked on genealogy research. Good for you.

  3. chmjr2 says:

    I help out at a local library once a month to help people get started in genealogy. One memory I have is when a lady saw her father in a census and cried. It is a great feeling when you see a person get excited over their family history.

    • visnow77 says:

      It IS a great feeling! I’ve mostly experienced discoveries about my own family, and now I’m surprised how excited I get by other people’s discoveries too.

      That’s great, that you help out at the library.

  4. Debbie Brindis says:

    Thanks so much Violet. I also got a little weepy when I found my father’s enlistment papers from WWll. My father died when I was pretty young so although I have many stories, I have very few actual memories. Seeing his name on a document just gave me an overwhelming feeling of connection. So, yeah, I’m pretty much hooked.

  5. visnow77 says:

    There is definitely something precious about those connections. I’m so glad you found him.

  6. shane says:

    Ah I also have relatives with those same names mentioned above, Attilio, Emilio, and Pietro Ciliotta! Perhaps we are relatives?

  7. shane says:

    Oh wait a minute we are related, your my Aunt! just saw “Violetsnow” duh! Hi Aunt Ellen its Shane.

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