One of my co-workers gave me a challenge. Prove that his family descended from Italian royalty. He didn't give me alot to go on:
-his grandparents names
-that they were Italian Americans who lived in Corona, New York
I started my search on ancestry and was able to find his paternal grandparents and one great uncle quickly in the 1930 US census.
We had some more conversations and I started to get a bigger picture of the family. His paternal grandmother's line was rumored to have descended from Italian royalty illegitimately and as a result of the illegitimate birth, they (not sure who "they" is) left Italy and came to Canada.
What really sparked my interest was his paternal grandfather though. Family stories said my co-worker's great grandmother abandoned her husband and three children in New York and ran off with another man taking her two youngest children (A girl and a boy with her). Being a mom myself I was really surprised to hear it. I am sure it was not altogether uncommon but it just didn't sound right. So I decided to big deeper.
I did some searches in ancestry and found three of the brothers in a place called Nazareth Trade School in Oyster Bay New York. My co-worker confirmed that his grandfather was indeed in an orphanage after his mother had abandoned the family. Armed with the names of three of the children, I got a match on an ancestry tree for the boys which included the names of their parents (Pasquale and Isabella). My co-worker didn't know the name of his great grandparents and the tree entries do not cite any sources and are limited only to the basics, some names and bmd dates which I already knew. I tried to contact the owner to no avail.
Going under the assumption that Pasquale and Isabella were in fact his great grandparents I started searching like crazy for either one of them in the 1910 and 1930 census records with no luck.
I switched to researching the Corona area to try to narrow down what church they would have attended and discovered St Leo, an Italian American church built in Corona in 1903: http://saintleoparish.com/NuestroNegocio.aspx
I contacted the archivist and provided what I knew about the family. I asked if she could provide any information such as a marriage record for Pasquale and Isabella or baptismal information for any of the children. I've followed up a couple of times but have not heard back.
At the same time I started to research the Nazareth Trade schools. It turns out that the school was built in 1906 and run by the Dominican sisters.
I also found a very nice video about the trade school:
Through my research I determined it was meant to be a place where orphaned children or children with only one living parent could be sent to live and be educated in a trade.
Additionally there was a special 1925 census done in NY and some kind soul transcribed the trade school:
I looked for the boys but it seems they had already left the school by then.
I contacted the Dominican Sisters and left a message in the hopes that they might have some information. I didn't hear back so called again and this time I was able to speak to the archivist. She explained that she couldn't make out all the details in my message like a return phone number and the last name of the boys so she couldn't find anything nor get back to me. I provided the details again and she let me know she would give it a shot.
I didn't stay idle in the meantime. I had decided that I was determined to find the family in the 1911 census even if it meant going manually through the sheets line by line, which in the end is what I had to do. I tried to narrow my search down by enumeration district first which was no small task.
I brought Corona up in google maps and made note of the main street names. Next I used a nice little online tool to get the EDs: http://stevemorse.org/census/index.html. Then the line by line search of Queens began. I came up empty handed.
I expanded my area of research the next night and bingo they turned up, not in Queens but in Brooklyn. Their last name was pretty difficult to decipher which accounted for not being able to find them in indexes of the census. The nice thing about this census is they wrote the streets name of the people vertically along the left side of the page. I went back to google maps, located their street and the closest RC church: The Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary which, as I expected was an Italian catholic church at the time.
Riding the wave of euphoria I called the church the next day to see if I could get a marriage record for Pasquale and Isabella as well as a death record for Pasquale who I was starting to suspect had died and was the real reason the boys were sent away. Well what can I say, when a wave goes up, it must come down. I must have caught the secretary on a bad day, she explained that inquiries could not be made over the phone and I would need to come into the church by appointment. When I explained that I lived in Canada she let me know that looking up the old records was a considerable amount of work and she would do it for $100/hr only if I knew the exact dates of the event!
With a little luck the big kahuna of a wave came along. The archivist for Nazareth Trade School contacted me. She let me know that the boys were admitted to the school on Dec 20th 1913. Their father Pasquale had died and their mother Isabella (woo hoo I got her maiden name) was sick and unable to care for them. Relatives had tried to care for Isabella and her 6 children but they weren't able to care for all of them. It was sad to read that they were admitted 5 days before Christmas but I really hope that the experience resulted in a better childhood than they would have gotten otherwise. I did get the news I was hoping for: On February 16, 1922, the boys were discharged to Isabella and her second husband who were living in Corona. The eldest boy would have been 18 at the time and too old to continue at the school.
Now that I had Isabella's new last name I went back to the 1920 census to search for her and found her quickly. She married another man name Pasquale (Pat) who was a widower with 9 children! Her daughter and youngest son from her first marriage were living with them. There is a gap in the years the children of the house were born between 1914 and 1917 so I have a suspicion that the three children born between 1917 and 1921 were a result of Isabella's new marriage and the sheer number of people living under the same roof can partially explain why she was not able to collect her boys sooner from the Nazareth school.
Nov 25, 2013 update - My co-worker received an email from his aunt about Isabella. Apparently after her first husband Pasquale died, she was approached by her second husband (another Pasquale) who promised to bring her boys to live with them if she married him. She did but it turns out that he never intended to bring her boys out of the Nazareth Trade School, he only married her so he had someone to look after his 9 children........