view of Salandra, Matera, Basilicata, Italy by Antonio DiPersia

Monday, January 13, 2014

Featured Family Photo #3

This photo was taken on the front steps of Uncle Nick's house in Astoria, Queens in the late 1950's.  It shows, from left to right, my grandfather, Michael Anthony Ambruso, Angie Iula, Esther Iula, their Aunt Josephine, and Justine Ambruso Graziadei.  It is almost impossible to show old photos of my family from this period without at least one person being named Esther. 

Send your old family photos and I will post them so we can all share in the memories.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Cyndi's List

Any serious genealogist would tell you that one of their most valuable research tools is Cyndi’s List.  Cyndi’s List is a very large collection of genealogical resources on one website.  It is a labor of love by one person, Cyndi Howells, and a handful of volunteers.  Genealogists, both amateur and professional, have been using it for almost 20 years now.  It does not contain all the answers, but it probably can tell you where to find all the answers. 
A website or blog must be reviewed and approved before it is included on Cyndi’s List.   Not every blog or website makes it.  I am proud to announce that the Ambruso Family History blog that you are reading has just been added to Cyndi’s List.   This means that anyone searching for information on Ambruso genealogy can go on Cyndi's List, type in the surname "Ambruso" in the Search Box, and will be directed to this blog as one of the available resources.  

By the feedback I have received, I know that this blog has been helpful to many people, and that they enjoy the images and stories.  Anything that has been accomplished thus far in this endeavor has been made possible only because of the contributions by family members.  Please continue to send me family stories and photos.  I will gladly include them in future blog articles.  
I wish you all a very happy, blessed and peaceful Christmas.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Featured Family Photo #2

As I mentioned previously on this blog, the importance of 139 Harrison Avenue, Garfield NJ cannot be overstated.  That house was the cental location for my branch of the Ambruso family when they first decided to travel to the America.  It was built by Patsy Bonelli and his wife Mary Ambruso in 1909.  It was where Mary's siblings and mother came when they first entered the United States.  Patsy and Mary had a daughter, Rose, who married a guy named Mike Melfi, who lived just around the corner.  Rose and Mike came to live at 139 Harrison Avenue.  They raised their family there.

The picture above shows my mother Esther Ambruso Casteline with me and the three children of Mike Melfi and Rose Bonelli, all sitting on the front steps of 139 Harrison Avenue.  The year is about 1948.  My mother is holding Tommy, the youngest.  On the far left is Michael Melfi Jr.  On the far right, with the bannana curls, is Marie Annette.  I'm the little guy with the wavy hair sitting next to my mother.  Tommy Melfi, the baby, still lives in the house today. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Italians in America and the Great War

Unidentified Italian soldiers in Austria during World War I
The following is the opening paragraph of a research paper published in Italian Americana in 1978 by Fiorello B. Ventresco.  The title of the paper is: Loyalty and Descent: Italian Reservists in America during World War I:
“In the summer of 1915, an angry mob of Italians in Philadelphia stormed the hall at Eighth and Christian Streets where a meeting was taking place and attacked several of the speakers.  The speakers were attempting to convince reservists not to return to Italy, where they would fight in the Great War. Such conflicts became common in various parts of America as the war continued.  The clash of opinions among Italians in the United States emerges as one of the most interesting and complex chapters in American history.” 
The entire 29 page article can be read at .  The author goes into great detail about the reasons for and reactions to Italy’s reach to America to get its young men to come back home and help fight in the war it just entered.  The enormous exodus of young Italian men to the United States and other countries during the last decade of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th century drastically depleted the number of able-bodied young men available to serve in the Italian Army.  The Italian government never thought that these young men were permanently lost.  They considered them Italian citizens working in a foreign country and reservists in the Italian Army.  They assumed that they could get about 100,000 young men to return to Italy from the United States.  At the outbreak of the war, the U.S. government was neutral and formally announced that no foreign born residents could be forced to join foreign armies as long as they remained in the United States.   The records show that by December 1915, about 41% of the Italian men in the United States returned to Italy to fight in the war.  A remarkably high percentage.
How did this situation affect our Ambruso ancestors?  Consider the fact that the angry mob assembled at Eighth and Christian was just two blocks down the street from where Frank Ambruso and his sons and their families were living at the time.  Were they part of the protest? 
 Frank Ambruso was 70 years old in 1915, and already a naturalized American citizen since 1900. His sons, Michael and Leonardo were also naturalized citizens and fully absorbed into the American culture.  There is no indication that they served in the U.S. military, however they did fill out the required WW1 draft registration cards in 1918. 
Also in Philadelphia in 1915, Frank’s brother Joseph had two sons old enough to serve in the Italian Army.  Michael was 24 and Eugenio was 23.  Michael was married with two children and lived just four blocks from the scene of the 1915 demonstration.  He submitted his application for naturalization before that, in January 1914 and was granted United States citizenship in May 1918.  Obviously, he had no intention of joining the Italian Army.  The same must have been true of his brother Eugenio who was granted U.S. Citizenship in 1923. 
My own grandfather, Michael, was in Garfield, NJ in 1915 when Italy entered the war.  He had already served in the Italian Army before he came to America.  In 1918, near the end of the war, enlisted in the U.S. Army and gained U.S. citizenship.  His brother-in-law, Lawrence Mancini married to Felicia Ambruso, enlisted with him.  Unlike many of their fellow Italian immigrants, my grandfather and his brother-in-law seemed to have cut ties with the old country and embrace the new one. 
We do know what one Ambruso ancestor did answer the call.  “Hartford Mike”, Michele Ambruso (b. 1890) was in the USA in 1915 when he decided to return to Italy to serve in his country by joining the Italian Army.  It also helped that his wife was still in Italy.  He was not alone.  When he eventually returned to the United States in 1923, the passenger manifest of the ship he was on shows scores of young men who must have done the same thing.  The record shows that they were in America until 1915 and then returned to Italy.  So it seems that Hartford Mike was the only Ambruso family member that answered the call from Italy and joined the Italian Army during the Great War…La Grande Guerra.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Marriages & Families – Michael Ambruso and Angela Onorati

Original 1911 marriage document from Salandra for
Michele Ambruso and Angela Onorati
Michele Ambruso (b. 1890), the first son of Michele Ambruso (b. 1847) married Angela Maria Onorati in Salandra in June of 1911 (see marriage document above).  As stated in the previous post, Michele (Michael) made several trips to the United States and back to Italy before finally settling with his family in Hartford, CT. 

Michael and Angela had their first child, a son, they named Antonio.  He was born in Salandra in March 1914.  His father, Michael was in America at the time.  In 1915, Michael returned to Salandra to serve in the Italian Army during World War 1.  According to his daughter, Mary, he was captured and held as a prisoner of war for eight months.  After the war, he stayed in Salandra for a few years.  In November of 1920, their second son Giuseppe Vincenzo is born.  He is named after Angela’s father, his grandfather. 

The Salandra birth records show that Michael and Angela then had two daughters, Assunta , born in August 1923, and Michelina, born in September 1925.  Both of these girls died at a young age.  Neither was alive in 1930. 
Michael and Angela's names on the Ellis Island plaque.
Michael eventually settled in Hartford, Connecticut where Angela’s brother, Angelo had been living with his family since before 1909.  According to the Hartford City Directory, in 1929 Michael was living in Hartford and working as a plasterer.  Also in 1929, Michael was naturalized and became a U.S. citizen.  In early May of 1930, his wife Angela left her parents in Salandra and traveled with her two young sons to the ship leaving Naples for New York.  On May 12th 1930, she arrived at Ellis Island with her two sons, Antonio and Giuseppe.  The manifest states that they were going to her husband Michael at 113 New Britain Avenue in Hartford.  Interesting note: On the manifest, sixteen year old Antonio has his occupation listed as “barber”.  
Michael and Angela had two more children while living in Hartford.  Maria (Mary) was born in 1931, and Rocco Giuseppe was born in August 1936.  All four of their children married and settled in the Hartford area.  Michael and Angela had eleven grand children, and their many descendants now spread throughout Connecticut and New England. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Michele Ambruso (b.1890) – Bird of Passage

Much of what we know about the early life of Michele (Michael) Ambruso (b. 1890) comes from ship’s manifests.  As a young man he traveled back and forth across the Atlantic several times.  On at least three occasions, he left his wife Angela pregnant in Salandra and took off to the USA, presumably to find a job and a better life for his family.  Here is a chronology of facts that were available from public records:
12 Sept 1913 – Michele arrives at Ellis Island.  He states on the ship’s manifest that he is heading to his uncle Francesco in Philadelphia.  It also says that he left his wife in Salandra.  What it doesn’t say is that she is about three months pregnant with his first son, Antonio.
6 Mar 1914 – Michele’s first son Antonio is born in Salandra.  Michele is in the USA.
1915 – Michele returns to Italy to enlist in the Italian Army to fight in World War 1.  He was a prisoner of war for eight months.  After the war, he stayed in Salandra for a few years.
28 Nov 1920 – Michele’s second son Giuseppe is born in Salandra.
2 Mar 1923 – Michele returns to the USA.  This time he states that he is going to his other uncle, Giuseppe, in Philadelphia.
21 Aug 1923 – Angela gives birth to a daughter, Assunta, in Salandra.  The birth record says that Michele, the father, is in America.  This means that Michele left for America when Angela was just a few months pregnant.
14 Sept 1925 – Angela gives birth to another daughter, Michelina, in Salandra.  As with Assunta, this birth record also says that Michele is in America.  This means that sometime in late 1924, Michele must have returned to Salandra to conceive Michelina, and then hopped back across the Atlantic (although we cannot find the ship’s manifest for this crossing).  Sadly, both Assunta and Michelina died as young children.
1929 – Michele is living in Hartford and has a steady job. 
13 May 1930 – Angela and her two sons sail to America to join Michele in Hartford.
In all, that makes five trips across the Atlantic over a period of twelve years.  And you think you have a long commute to work. 
Research indicates that in the early 1900’s there were many Italian immigrants who came to America to find work and earn some money with every intention of returning back to their home town in Italy.  We call these people “birds of passage”, going back and forth like a migrating bird.  The fact that Michele went back to serve in the Italian Army during World War 1 is an good indication that in 1915 he still considered himself an Italian, who made a trip to America.  The fact that he became a naturalized U.S. Citizen in 1929 shows that he eventually became permanent part of a new country where he decided to raise his family.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Family of Michele Ambruso (b. 1847) and Antonia Maria Lauria

1872 Salandra Marriage Document
 for Michele Ambruso and Antonia Maria Lauria.
Difficult to read because of the old script and the slightly out of focus microfilm.
(click on photo to enlarge)
Michele Ambruso was the second son of Michelarcangelo Ambruso and Maria Giuseppa Iula.  He was born in Salandra in 1847.  He married Antonia Maria Lauria in Salandra in May 1872.  They had five children.  The first child, a girl named Maria Giuseppa after her maternal grandmother, was born in April 1874.  She married Rocco Querrieri in 1891, and then, later on in life in 1919 after Rocco passed away, she married Leonardo Gagliardi.

The second child was born in 1880.  Following naming customs, she was named Angela Maria after her maternal grandmother.  She married Nicola Castellano in 1896.  The third child was also a girl, born in 1887.  She was named Rosa Maria.  Rosa married Rocco Belmonte in May of 1903.  There is no indication that any of the daughters of Michele and Antonia, or their husbands, ever came to the United States. 

The fourth child was a boy, their first son.  He was born on 31 Aug 1890. They named him Michele after his paternal grandfather.  For some unknown reason, as I mentioned in the previous post, Michele was also the name of his father.  Michele (b. 1890) married Angela Maria Onorati in Salandra in 1872.  Michele and Angela and their family came to the United States and settled in Hartford, Connecticut. 
Michele (b. 1847) and Antonia had a fifth child, Domenico, in 1893.  Domenico married Rosaria Albanese in 1913, and later married Margherita Saponara in November 1919.  Michele died in Salandra in 1909.