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

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Marriages & Families - Michael and Jennie Ambruso

Wedding photo of Michael Ambruso and Jennie Lammard - 1920

Michele Antonio (Mike) Ambruso married Vincenza (Jennie) Lammard (originally: Lammardo) at Our Lady of Mount Virgin Church in Garfield in February 1920. The best man and bridesmaid were Lawrence Mancini and Felicia Ambruso, Mike's sister.  Lawrence and Felicia were engaged at the time and got married themselves two months later.  Michael and Jennie lived with Mary and Patsy Bonelli at 139 Harrison Avenue in Garfield for the first few years of their marriage.  Their first child, Esther Rose, was born in 1921, when they were still living there.  A few years later, they bought their own house at 586 Midland Avenue.  The house was built by Jennie’s father Antonio Lammardo.  Tony was a local entrepreneur who owned a convenience store.  He was also a construction contractor and a local fireman. 
Their first son was born in 1925.  By proper naming convention, he should have been named Rocco after his grandfather.  However, Jennie was very Americanized.  She preferred a less Italian-sounding name, so he was named Roxy.  Their next child was a girl born in 1931.  Sticking to convention, she was baptized Domenica in honor of Jennie’s mother; but she was always called “Millie”. 

Michael first worked at the woolen mill but was unemployed for most of the Great Depression.  The family had to sell the house on Midland Avenue and move to a rented apartment in Wallington, NJ.  Mike found a job as a laborer at Midwest Pipe Co. where he worked for over 25 years doing hard manual labor. Mike and Jennie remained in Wallington for the rest of their lives.


  1. Here’s the story of Michael & Jenny Ambruso’s Midland Ave as my mother, Mildred (Ambruso) Weimer related it to me — in essence their timing couldn’t have been worse. They both bought and sold at the worst possible time. My GGrandfather Anthony Lammardo built the Midland Ave House for them. When they bought the property and built the house prices were relatively high (late 1920s). Just after they built it the Great Depression hit and Michael lost his job. He didn't work for 7 years during which time the family helped him make the mortgage payments. He eventually picked up some menial work through the WPA. They sold it when housing prices were still low and lost money on the sale (about 1944-45). Had they waited until after the war was over they would have done much better financially, but Jenny had had a stroke and was unable to navigate the two story house. Uncle Tony Mastroberte rented them the house next to theirs at the corner of Main St. and Anderson Ave, Wallington. My mom was part-way through her senior year of high school when they moved. From my mom's stories about the house it was in really poor condition, extremely drafty and cold, and the late-night bar crowd from across the street would keep her up after closing. But Jenny could be next to her sister Lizzie Mastroberte there and the layout worked better. Aunt Lizzie died shortly after they moved to Wallington, December 1945, and Jenny lived on in the house in Wallington until her death in 1954.

    1. I have a correction / clarification to my post. The family moved to Wallington during my mother's freshman (not senior) year of school. School starts in September so must have been around October 1945 and Lizzie Mastroberte died in December of that year. My mom's memory is that my grandparents bought the house on Midland Ave, Garfield for around $12,500 in 1922 and sold it for $5,600 more than twenty years later which was a HUGE loss at the time.

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  3. I’d like to pick up on what my cousin John said about our grandmother Jenny Lammard(o) being “Americanize” and share a bit of family legend. As with all family legends it’s hard to tell how much is accurate, but there is usually some kernel of truth. The story that my mother Millie (Ambruso) Weimer tells of my grandparents is that when they first met Jenny wanted nothing to do Michael Ambruso. She was a second generation immigrant and he was “fresh off the boat” as they say.

    Approximately 5.5 million Italians emigrated to the US between 1880 and 1920, 4 million of those from Southern Italy, and the majority taking unskilled blue-collar jobs. There was particularly difficult conditions in the southern rural regions of Italy due to overpopulation and lack of jobs. The backlash to that, and really all large immigrations from a single group, was discrimination, resentment, and social stigma.

    Jenny and Mike met around 1918-19. As close as I can tell, the Lammardos had already dropped the "o" from the end of their name and had Americanized their first names as well. Domenica had become Minnie, Carmella to Mae, and Vincienza to Jenny. According to my mom, Jenny’s brother Louis Lammardo was the first to change his name to Lammard when he was trying to get a job in Banking. He was the first in the family to get a while-collar job.

    Somehow my grandfather managed to win Jenny over, but she wouldn't allow him to speak italian in the house. The sentiment was “you’re in this country, you speak English”, especially in an ethnic group trying to blend in. The result was that by the time I came along, my grandfather was in his 70s and 80s, and although he retained a thick Italian accent, he had almost completely lost his native tongue.