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  • Avellino in Boston: An Italian-American Sampler

    Joan and Donald Fields

    Published Date : December 1991
    Note by Contributing Editor Roberts: Over the past 15 years, since the “Roots” phenomenon of the late 1970s extended genealogical interest to descendants of many 19th-century immigrants, the NEHGS staff has encouraged patrons with “ethnic” ancestry to trace all of their American cousins - descendants of each immigrant pair of great- or great-great grandparents.  Thus I was delighted to find that Donald Paul and Joan Claire (Daniels) Fields of Reading had compiled just such a work, covering all descendants of each of Mrs. Fields’s four sets of great-grandparents. The Descendants of Vincenzo D’Amelio, Rosario Vena and Domenic Rizzo of the Province of Avellino, Italy:  The Ancestors of Joan (Daniels) Fields (1991, listed in our last sales catalog may be the first work treating every known kinsman of a living American of Italian descent.  Given its likely unique character, the quality of its generational research, and the opportunity it affords to study the marriage and migration patterns of an immigrant, “ethnic” and Italian-American family at close range, I invited Mr. and Mrs. Fields to write an article for NEXUS about their book.  The following piece describes both their research process and the results; it can serve, we hope, as an introduction to Italian-American genealogy generally.  For a sample of research: in Italy on ancestors of American immigrants see the following article by David Curtis Dearborn.

    In the mid- to late nineteenth century large numbers of Italians began to immigrate to America, gravitating to coastal cities such as Boston, Providence, New York City and Philadelphia.  This immigration pattern continued for almost four decades. Although Joan is a first-generation American on her father’s side, and second- generation on her mother’s, most lines in the book cover six or seven generations, from the births of her great-grand-parents ca. 1820 in the province of Avellino, Italy, to births in 1990.  Our goal was to trace Joan’s ancestry as far as church and civil records would permit.  Before undertaking research in Avellino province itself we wanted to learn as much as possible about the family in America.  Thus we decided to trace all descendants of each of Joan’s four sets of great-grandparents.

    Joan’s paternal grandparents, Angelantonio A. and Maria Grazia (Casale) D’Amelio, immigrated to Boston ca. 1894 from Taurasi.  Her maternal grandfather, Massemino Vena, immigrated in 1887 from Chiusano di San Domenico (both towns are in Avellino province).  In 1889 Vena returned to Chiusano and brought his wife and three young daughters to Boston.  The death records for all four of Joan’s grand parents listed villages of birth (not just “Italy”, as is often the case), plus the full name, including mother’s maiden surname, of both parents.

    Massemino and Maria Grazia (Rizzo) Vena

    Joan’s father died eight months before her birth, and holidays and vacations were usually spent with maternal aunts and their families.  Thus we knew much more about the Venas and concentrated our initial effort on them

    Massemino Vena died in Somerville, Mass., 22 April 1940, ae. 87. The death certificate listed his parents as Rosario Vena and Manuella Reppucci, and his birthplace as Chiusano di San Domenico, a small mountain village about 40 miles east of Naples.  Finding data on descendants of Massemino and Maria was relatively easy, since we knew the names, approximate ages, and spouses of all their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  Massemino and Maria’s progeny totals 225 people but only eleven VRs were filed under the surname Vena: the deaths of Massemino Vena and his wife Maria Grazia Rizzo, the births in Boston of their three youngest children, the marriages of their five daughters, and the death of their only son, Roy Louis Vena, an army sergeant, at Fort Devens in 1918.

    Ahnentafel for Joan (Daniels) Fields:

    1..   Joan Claire Daniels, b. Somerville, Mass. 10 Feb. 1933; res. Reading, Mass.
    2.    John Joseph (D’Amelio) Daniels- name changed for “business purposes”, b. Taurasi, Avellino prov., Italy 4 March 1888, d. Somerville, Mass. 31 May 1932; m. Boston, Mass., 19 Sept. 1915
    3.    Angela Marie Vena, b. Boston 20 Jan. 1892, d. Medford, Mass. 15 Jan. 1970
    4.    Angelanlonio A. D’Amelio, b. Taurasi ca. 1846, d. Boston 7 July 1923; m. Taurasi ca. 1872
    5.    Maria Grazia Casale, b. Taurasi ca. 1854, d. Boston 4 Feb. 1941
    6.    Massemino Vena, b. Chiusano di San Domenko, Avellino prov., Italy 12 May 1852, d. Somerville 22 April 1940; m. Chiusamio ca. 1875
    7.    Maria Grazia Rizzo, b. Chiusano 24 April 1854, d. Boston 29 March 1913
    8.    Vincenzo D’Amelio, b. Italy ca. 1820; m. there ca. 1840
    9.    Maria Rosa Palermo, b. Italy ca. 1820
    10. Antonio Casale, b. Italy ca. 1825; m there ca. 1850
    11. Gaetanelia Sacco, b. Italy ca. 1830
    12. Rosario Vena, b. Italy ca. 1815; m there ca. 1836
    13. Manuella Reppucci, b. Italy ca. 1815
    14. Domenic Rizzo, b. Italy ca. 1825; m. there ca. 1848
    15. Rosa Luciano, b. Italy ca. 1828


    Vena was not as common as Cataldo, Luciano, Reppucci, or Rizzo among Italian surnames in Massachusetts VRs.  Nonetheless between 1841 and 1990 there were about 350 other Massachusetts births, marriages or deaths for people of this surname at first seemingly unrelated to Joan.  We copied all 350, had little luck in sorting families by father’s forename only, but discovered that several generations were often readily traceable when the mother’s full maiden name was followed also.

    Even after sorting the Massachusetts Venas into family groups, we still did not know if any of them were related to Massemino - for no other record listed his parents.  We knew vaguely, however, of several Venas who might be somehow related to Joan.  The first was Luigi Salvatore Vena, a well-known tenor who had sung at our wedding and the weddings and funerals of other family members, and at both the wedding and funeral of President John F. Kennedy.  Luigi had died, so we contacted his son, who told us Luigi’s father Ernesto Vena had one brother, Amato, four sisters, and an uncle Massemino.  Thus we established that an earlier Luigi Vena, born and died in Chiusano, listed as the father of Ernesto, Amato, and the four sisters, was Massemino’s brother.

    Another Vena who had worked with Joan’s brother referred us to his sister, who told us immediately that her father was Massemino’s nephew and that when she was younger she and her father visited her great-uncle Massemino every week.  Her grandfather Carmen Vena, Massemino’s brother, never immigrated to America, but sent each of his sons to Boston when they reached 14 where they lived with a Max (Massemino) Cataldo and his wife.  The children of Carmen and Rosa (Rizzo) Vena were Raphael, Joseph, Antonio, Maria Michele, and Florina.  Max Cataldo too was a cousin, identified on his death record as born in Chiusano, son of Antonio and Catorina (Vena) Cataldo.

    After several more phone calls, we found evidence two more brothers and one sister.  Only ten of the 350 or so Vena births, marriages and deaths in Massachusetts could not be identified as descendants of Rosario and Manuella (Reppucci) Vena of Chiusano.  Of this couples known children Antonio and Maria M. (Miscola) Vena left 12 descendants to date; Giovanni and Carolina (Celata) Vena left 22; Catorina Vena and Antonio Cataldo left 71; Carmen and Rosa (Rizzo) Vena left 54; Massemino and Maria Grazia (Rizzo) left 225; Luigi and Angela (DelloRusso) Vena left 132; and Gaetana Vena and Michael Rizzo left eight. Thus American descendants of Rosario and Manuella (Reppucci) Vena, married in Avellino province about 1836, have numbered at least 531.

    Angelantonio A. and Maria Grazia (Casale) D’Amelio

    Joan’s D’Amelio cousins were harder to trace than the Venas.  As a starting point we knew the names of her paternal grandparents, their children and grandchildren.  The death records of Angelantonio A. [196] and Maria Grazia (Casale) D’Amelio listed their parents, other D’Amelio death records identified a brother of Angelantonio and a cousin identified a sister Raffaela (D’Amelio) Tranfaglia, whose death record also identified her parents.

    Immigration records, Boston city directories, and even a feature article in the Boston Herald indicated that the D’Amelios had immigrated in stages.  The first to come was James Vincent D’Amelio, later Daniels, the oldest son of Angelantonio and Maria, who in 1886, at age 11, stowed away on a ship bound from Naples to Boston.  Once here, James found his way to the Italian community in Boston’s North End, and boarded on Moon Street, where D’Amelios lived until 1941.  Supporting himself at first with a shoeshine box, James was known a quarter century later as the “bootblack king of Boston”; he eventually owned 22 bootblack parlors and a shoeshine-supply export business.  Marciano D’Amelio, the second son, immigrated in 1890; four years later, Angelantonio and Maria came to Boston with their remaining children.  Although Taurasi, identified in their death records as Angelantonio’s and Maria’s native village, lies only six to eight miles from Chiusano, we have no evidence that the D’Amelio and Vena families knew each other in Italy.  In Boston, however, two D’Amielio sons married two Vena daughters: Marciano D’Amelio and Maria Vena in 1899, and John Joseph (D’Amelio) Daniels and Angela Marie Vena in 1915.

    Since the children of Angelantonio A. and Maria Grazia (Casale) D’Amelio were all born in Italy, we assumed that Angelantonio’s nephews and nieces were also born there and concentrated on D’Amelio and Tranfaglia marriages in Massachusetts, 1896-1930.  And since Joan’s Vena relatives, probably like many other Boston-area Italian families, had either remained in the North End, or moved only to nearby “inner suburbs” we limited our 1896-1930 D’Amelio research to communities within the Route 128 circumferential highway which runs about ten miles outside Boston.  We ignored any record where the parents were not Marciano and Pasqualina (Casfiariello) D’Amelio, Angelantonio A. and Maria Grazia (Casale) D’Amelio, or Francesco and Raffaela (D’Amelio) Tranfaglia.  In addition to the marriages we already knew - six of the seven children of Angelantonio and Maria - we also found marriage records for two sons and one daughter of Marciano, and one son and four daughters of Raffaela.  All of these marriages occurred in Boston.

    In tracing the progeny of these 13 grandchildren of Vincenzo D’Amelio and Maria Rosa Palermo we encountered six new surnames- Carpinella, Caggiano, Giovino, Mossello, Morante, and Vegliante - and found eight grandchildren of Marciano, 30 of Angelantonio, and 31 of Raffaela.  Fifty-five of these 69 great-grand-children of Vincenzo were themselves married in Massachusetts, and over 90 percent of these marriages took place within ten miles of Boston.  After marriage, these 55 cousins, many now old enough to he grandparents themselves, bore 34 surnames. At this point we began making telephone calls, first contacting only those cousins who lived a few miles from the town where they married.  Every call was successful, and once again, as with the Vena research, we verified all Massachusetts births, marriages, and deaths.  By the end of our work we had found fifteen descendants of Marciano and Pasqualina (Casfiariello) D’Amelio, 185 descendants of Angela Antonio A. and Maria Grazia (Casale) D’Amelio, and 208 descendants of Francesco and Raffaela (D’Amelio) Tranfaglia.  American descendants of Vincenzo and Maria Rosa (Palermo) D’Amelio total, to date, at least 411.

    Domenic and Rosa (Luciano) Rizzo

    The death certificate of Joan’s maternal grandmother, Maria Grazia, wife of Massemino Vena, indicated that her maiden surname was Rizzo; her parents were Domenic and Rosa (Luciano) Rizzo, and she too was born in Chiusano.  After tracing all known American descendants of the D’Amelio and Vena families we still knew of several potential distant cousins whose relationship to Joan was as yet undefined.  They appeared to be descended from two sisters of Maria Grazia Rizzo, Carmela and Filomena.  When we spoke with these cousins they told us of several more who might descend from Maria’s brothers.  Two more phone calls brought wonderful results.  The first contact was a first cousin of Joan’s mother and a daughter of Raffaele Rizzo; the second was Joan’s mother’s godchild, a granddaughter of Login Rizzo, another brother of Maria.  These cousins did not know the names of Maria’s parents but confirmed that Domenic and Rosa had five children, of whom Maria Grazia, Carmela and Raffaele immigrated to Boston.  Luigi and Filomena remained in Italy, but most of their children immigrated as well.

    Having identified the children of Domenic and Rosa, we traced their grandchildren by examining birth and marriage records for the surnames Rizzo, Cataldo and Celia (the latter were the married surnames of Maria’s sisters).  We found 32 non-Vena grandchildren, four more than we had obtained by phone; these four were children of Raffaele who died before the age of two.  Twenty-two of the 28 grandchildren who reached adulthood married in the greater Boston area (three were married in Italy, where their descendants still live).  The 22 greater Boston marriages introduced 15 new surnames.  With telephone contacts and Massachusetts vital records, tracing the remaining generations of Domenic’s and Rosa’s descendants was reasonably straightforward.  Altogether we found 147 for Luigi Rizzo, 72 for Carmela, 24 for Filomena, and 17 for Raffaele.  When these figures are added to the 225 descendants of Maria Grazia (Rizzo) Vena, the American progeny of Domenic and Rosa (Luciano) Rizzo totals, to date, at least 490.

    We were intrigued to discover the names of all surviving grandchildren, and many great-grandchildren, of Domenic and Rosa (Luciano) Rizzo in Joan’s mother’s Christmas-card address book.  Many - not readily identified by the immediate family as relatives -- had also signed the guest book at Mrs. Daniels’s funeral.

    Antonio and Gaetanelia (Sacco) Casale

    The death record of Joan’s paternal grandmother, Maria Grazia, wife of Angelantonio A. D’Amelio, also supplied a maiden surname, parents, and birthplace.  She was born Maria Grazia Casale, daughter of Antonio and Gaetanelia (Sacco) Casale, likewise in Taurasi.  We tried the techniques used to uncover Joan’s D’Amelio, Vena and Rizzo cousins but could establish no link between Maria Grazia and any other Boston-area Casales.  Until research in Italy is completed, we must conclude that either (1) Maria Grazia was an only child; (2) none of her brothers or sisters emigrated to Massachusetts, or (3) any sister(s) who immigrated were married in Italy and their maiden surname was unknown to descendants or cousins.

    Our goal of identifying Joan’s eight immigrant great-grand parents, and finding their descendants, was accomplished in just under three years.  We have uncovered 531 descendants of Rosario and Manuella (Reppucci) Vena; 411 of Vincenzo and Maria Rosa (Palermo) D’Amelio; 490 of Domenic and Rosa (Luciano) Rizzo; and 185 of Antonio and Gaetanelia (Sacco) Casale.  We thus know of 1108 distinct descendants of these immigrant couples.  Of this total, whose relationship to Joan is (at the most distant) second cousin twice or three times removed, we previously knew of less than 250.  Our three years of research has produced about 850 new relatives, most of whom still live in the greater Boston area. Telephone contact with these new-found cousins has been delightful.  In Joan’s case, such contacts have been doubly rewarding, as many of her cousins could tell her about the father she never knew.  She was also able to follow his movements and career in city directories.

    The techniques described here can be used to trace the descendants of any set of late nineteenth-century ancestors who immigrated to a large American city.  The final results of the research, and the time and effort required to obtain them, may depend on migration patterns of the ethnic group in question and the availability of local VRs (varying with state access laws).  Massachusetts VRs for the 1840-1895 period are available on microfilm at both NEHGS and the State Archives at Columbia Point, while VRs from 1896 to the present are accessible four days a week (closed Wednesdays) at the Registry of Vital Statistics, 150 Tremont Street, Boston (as of fall 1991, 2:00-4:30 p.m. Mondays and Fridays, 9:00-11:30 AM. Tuesdays and Thursdays).

    Italian immigrants to Boston tended to move very slowly from their point of arrival; the first several generations typically stayed close to the center of the Italian community in Boston’s North End. Succeeding generations usually migrated only to towns adjacent, or very close, to the homes of their parents.  In many cases descendants of Italian immigrants still live on the same street on which their parents or grandparents were born 80 or 90 years ago.

    Useful Greater Boston Sources for Immigrant Research

    1. Massachusetts Registry of Vital Statistics
    150 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02111, (617) 727-0036 (Copies of birth, marriage and death certificates for all localities iii Massachusetts, 1896-present)

    2. Massachusetts State Archives at Columbia Point
    220 Morrissey Blvd., Boston, MA 02125, (617) 727-2816 (Birth, marriage and death records for all localities in Massachusetts, 1841-1895; also at NEHGS)

    3. National Archives and Records Center, Boston Branch
    380 Trapelo Rd., Waltham, MA 02154, (617) 647-8100 (All Federal census records [1790-1910]; naturalization and immigration records.)

    4. Boston Roman Catholic Archdiocese: Archdiocesan Archives
    2121 Commonwealth Ave., Brighton, MA 02135, (617) 254-0100, exts. 102, 11)5, 108 (as of Jan. 1992 Baptism, marriage and burial records of many Catholic churches in the archdiocese.

    5. New En
    gland Historic Genealogical Society
    101 Newbury Street, Boston, MA 1)2116 (617) 536-5741). (Massachusetts VRs, 1841-1895, on microfilm; city directories by year, containing alphabetical listings of a town’s inhabitants, with addresses and occupations; some census films; town and county histories with biographies of prominent citizens [published in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, included some immigrants who were particularly successful].

    6. Boston Public Library
    Copley Square, Boston, MA 02117, (617) 536-5400 (Boston newspapers are in the Microtext Department, on the first floor of the old building; obituaries [indexed at BPL] from Boston papers usually give information on survivors of the deceased.)

    7. Cemetery Records
    (Death records give date of death and place of burial; with this data, a visit to the cemetery will often reveal other family members buried in the same plot or nearby.  We found many greater Boston Italian-Americans buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Malden, and Oak Grove Cemetery in Medford.)

    8. Other Sources
    (Family members; guest registers from parents’ funerals and marriages [helpful in identifying distant cousins, particularly when the surname is the same]; family Bibles; funeral home prayer cards; parents’ address books and Christmas card lists; records of fraternal organizations such as Sons of Italy and Knights of Columbus.)

    Joan and Donald Fields, members of NEHGS for several years, have also compiled Ancestry of Donald Hall Fields (1991). They are currently collecting material for a genealogy of the descendants of the loyalist Samuel Aikens (1750- 1826) of Guysboro, Nova Scotia.  Interested readers may contact them at 243 Haverhill Street, Reading, MA 01867.

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