Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Uneducated Grandfather Knew a Great Deal about Where to Take His Family

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Uneducated Grandfather Knew a Great Deal about Where to Take His Family

Article excerpt

After retirement, I got into researching my past, probably because my parents, long gone now, didn't believe much in looking back.

Their instinct was to throw off their ethnic roots, marry out of their tribes (Irish and Italian) and run as fast as they could from their New Jersey factory towns to middle-class suburbia where they would raise five kids.

It's a lot easier for the next generation to look back, though. Thanks mostly to Ancestry.com, I turned up some surprising details that had a big emotional impact.

This was particularly true for my mother's side, long shrouded in mystery.

Her parents emigrated from impoverished southern Italy around 1900 and came together in an arranged marriage that was not a happy one. While my mother's all-consuming drive was to become American, her parents, like many Italians of that time, were reluctant assimilators.

This point was brought home by the 1940 Census. It revealed that my grandparents -- then in their 60s and residents for some 40 years -- never became American citizens! They lived among their own in what was essentially a Jersey re-creation of a Calabrian village, exotic to me with fig trees, small farm animals and homemade wine. They couldn't read or write and spoke only shards of broken English.

While they viewed English as an unfortunate necessity for their children, they drew the line at my mom going to high school. But, with help from a teacher, she found a way. Later, she became a teacher herself. Because my mother made a point of dropping her Italian, I took it up in retirement.

Her parents were understandably the heavies in my mother's childhood narrative, but my grandfather's draft records made me feel some sympathy for Nicholas Trincellita. Nick was a round little man who lugged around bricks for a living ("hod carrier," to the census). His true personality was locked away in a foreign tongue, but he seemed quiet and long-suffering.

Through much Googling, I found his 1898 enlistment record from Cosenza province in Calabria. …

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