Friday, April 27, 2012

Italian Families in America, Little Italy, the Furia Family

Yesterday, as I was working in the family search center for our local area, one of the students from my class came in for help in locating her Italian ancestors in the old country. It is interesting that often when I am working with someone we do not find a major document until they are about to leave. She shared with me the records that she found. I encouraged her to fill out a pedigree chart so we could have a road map for the research. She had one document that showed her grandfather living in a certain town. Then on we found a WWI draft registration card, he actually had two different ones, but the one named the same town as his place of birth. We then looked for online records for that locality and found that has microfilms of the vital records and church records available for ordering.

This experience made me think of the first Italian project that I worked on. A good friend wanted to complete the family history of her deceased husband. His family consisted of his father's Italian ancestors and his mother's American ancestors. The Italian family provided wonderful experiences that culminated in our making a trip to Santa Rosa, California for a week to gather information from relatives still living there. The public library in Santa Rosa has an annex that is dedicated to genealogy research and we spent many hours there.

One couple we met still lived on the vineyard that the family originally settled in about 1915. They were cousins to the four Furia brothers who immigrated with their father Giuseppe to California in the 1900s. Peter and Evelyn Boschetti welcomed us to their home and we talked for hours about their Furia cousins. Peter's mother Cesira was the daughter of Samuel Furia, the uncle of the brothers. The four brothers were Ettore, Alphonso, Eliseo, and Quinto. The family was finally located in Aquino, Frivizanno, Massa Carrara, Italy, by using the WWI Draft Cards, Ellis Island Passenger Records and a Passport record for the brothers.

We were able to order the microfilmed records of the church and found that there were four other siblings, two sisters and two brothers, who died as young children in Italy. Their mother died shortly after their father left for America, so the remaining three boys traveled to America with their uncle Lazzaro Furia. When we went to Santa Rosa we were able to provide for the relatives their family history, which they knew nothing about. Some of them had actually gone to Italy to do research and were unable to locate the needed records.

Another delightful relative Naomi Furia spent several hours with us in her home where she lived since the 1940s. She shared things about family members who she had fond memories of. We recorded these interviews, shared the family history and what pictures we had. Since our visit all three of these relatives have passed away. There are not many cousins from their generation that are still alive. We have since connected with most of them.

Understanding the community their families were a part of in Santa Rosa in the early 1900s is important to knowing their stories. Little Italy is a common part of many major towns still today. We took pictures of the homes they lived in, visited the cemeteries where they are buried, drove by schools, churches and other civic sites. Even though they are not our relatives, we came to appreciate their courage in moving across the world to start new lives.

There are more stories that I will share in upcoming posts. I have enjoyed reflecting on the many serendipity moments, especially those we experienced in Santa Rosa and other places in Sonoma County. It was a trip that will always remind us of the wonderful memories of family history at its best.

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