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Italian Birds of Passage

Andrea-Cantelli-956x648

Tracing my Italian roots has been difficult to say the least, especially when it comes to name changes or my ancestors names being misspelled. However, I was stumped with a new mystery when I came across three separate passenger lists that listed my 2nd great grand father, Andrea Cautilli.

At first, I figured it must just be multiple men with the same or a similar name but the more I examined and cross referenced the documents I realized all three were in fact records of Andrea’s travels.

Passenger List: New York, New York

On March 22, 1897, “Andria Cantilli” arrived in New York, New York on La Champagne, having departed from Havre. My 2nd great grandfather was only 27 years old when he arrived in the United States with his brother “Sevidio” (Cesidio Cautilli), age 30. Andria, whose occupation was listed as a workman, brought with him only one bag of luggage.

In this 1st document, a couple of details stood out. I knew that my great grand father, Andrea was from Italy and I knew he had an older brother named Cesidio. Although I knew Andrea and Cesidio’s names where spelt incorrectly on this document, I knew this was a common problem in records concerning Italian immigrants and assumed there was a good chance that this was my 2nd great grandfather and his brother.

Passenger List: Boston, Massachusetts

“Andrea Cantilli”, who was from San Donato in Southern Italy, sailed from Naples on the S.S. Cambroman and landed in Boston, Massachusetts on July 1, 1902. At the age of 32 he paid his way to the United States, landing in Boston with only $24.00 in his pocket. This document listed him as married, able to read and write, working as a stonecutter and mentioned that he had been in the United States before, from 1897-1900. Along with this information, the document provided a few other strange details, including the fact that he was not a Polygamist, that he was in good metal and physical health and was not deformed or crippled. In Boston, Andrea planned to stay with his friend, Carmine Cantilli.

This document, paired with the first passenger list provided a few more details and helped confirm that the two documents were pertaining to the same person. First of all, I grew up hearing about my family being from San Donato, Italy-that checked out. 2nd, although it lists Andrea as staying with a friend in Boston, I knew my great grandfather had a brother named Carmine Cautilli. Another thing that got my interest was that I knew Andrea’s son, my great grandfather Abramo was a stonecutter-did Abramo follow in his father’s footsteps? Finally, this record confirmed that Andrea had also traveled to the Untied States in 1897, which helped link the first and second passenger lists to the the same man.

Passenger List: Boston, Massachusetts

On April 22, 1909, Andrea Cautilli sailed from Naples, Italy on the S.S. Cauopic and arrived in Boston, Massachusetts. Andrea was from Southern Italy, in Caserta, San Donato. Listed as his “nearest relative or friend” in Italy is his wife, Angela who lived in San Donato. Andrea was 39 years old, working as a stonecutter, was able to read and write and was headed for his final destination in West Quincy, Massachusetts.

This third passenger list continued to make sense of the previous two. It also gave me a more specific location as to where my family was from in Italy and even mentioned my 2nd great grandmother, whose name was Angela. Finally, it mentioned Quincy, Massachusetts-the location my Cautilli family settled.

Once I went through these three documents, cross examined the information and determined that they all were referring to the same man I couldn’t help but wonder, why did he travel to the United States three separate times? During that time it wasn’t a quick seven to eight hour flight over the Atlantic Ocean… it was at least two miserable weeks trapped on a boat. Not to mention-how the hell was he able to afford the multiple trips?

This new information got my family’s imagination going… was Andrea up to some criminal funny business that lead to his several trips across the ocean? Because that’s the only rational conclusion-everyone’s Italian family must have mafia connections, right? Was there some large Cautilli fortune out there that we were never made aware of? I wonder… who was left the treasure map…

After hours of crazy (but fun) outlandish guesses, I decided to do a search on Italian Immigration in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s.

Stepping back to take a look at Italian history around the time my 2nd great grandfather left provided me with some answers regarding his several trips. In fact, it was not uncommon for Italian men to make several journeys to the Untied States during that time period, they were even referred to as “Birds of Passage”.

So what made these Italian men flock to the United States?

From 1876 through 1976 Italy suffered from political, economical and environmental troubles. During this time period Italy was made up of several different states that were all busy fighting each other. In 1860 they were faced with a 10-year civil war, which lead to one million people being slaughtered by the Italian Army of occupation. From what I read, a majority of those targeted were southern Italians… where my family was from.

Following the war, Italy (especially southern) was confronted with an extreme economic depression. The northern Italians who basically ran the government took the opportunity to over tax the southern Italians into poverty. To make matters worse, there was a lack of natural resources, which lead to little to no industry.

To add to the destruction following the war, political corruption and weak economy Italy was hit with a series of natural disasters. There were two volcanoes that erupted burying entire towns and an earthquake in 1908, which killed 100,000 people from the tsunami that followed.

Needless to say southern Italy was a mess when men decided to leave their families (parents or spouses and children) to look for work in America. The plan however was never to stay here, it was to come to the United States to make money during the busy work months to send home to their families and then return home once the work season came to an end. This earned them the name, “Birds of Passage”. This trip across the sea in search of work became a common thing, part of growing up. They were trying to make life for their families back home better AND life in Italy better by getting temporary work here. Once these men made enough to live comfortably in Italy they would return home and stay there while others, after several trips, decided to stay here and become citizens.

From the sounds of it, my 2nd great grandfather Andrea and his brothers were “Birds of Passage”. His final trip to the United States would have happened just a year after the 1908 earthquake. Once he got settled in Quincy, Massachusetts he sent for his wife and three sons to come over in 1910.

Why did he decide to change his plans and make the US his home? That is something I will never know the exact reason for. However, with a little research into Italy’s history I am able to come up with a basic understanding of factors that probably played a part in his decision.

This is also an excellent example of what I love about genealogy-it gives us an awareness and appreciation for the very personal touch past events played in our very own existence.

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Life Advice From the Grave

My great grandfather, Abramo Donato Cantelli was born in San Donato, Italy on February 4, 1903. He was only six years old when he boarded a ship headed to America called the Canopic Line with his mother and two brothers. After two seasick weeks they finally landed in Boston where Abramo’s father was waiting for their arrival.

Abramo attended school until he was 12 years old, leaving to work at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, MA to help his family. There he made $80 a week working on destroyer ships during WWI. It was at this job, he began to hate his name. His co-workers regularly picked on him for it, “There’s a lot of ignorant people, they make you feel like two cents”. Due to the constant harassment, for his confirmation, he took on the name Biajo so he could call himself Joe. From then on, he was known as Joseph Cantelli.

Joesph-Abramo

Joe started an apprenticeship as a stonecutter in South Quincy around the age of 21. He worked on several different jobs but the one I was told most about was a statue of a woman. He worked on the folds of her dress as well as some writing. No one in the family seems to know where this statue ended up but we do know Tiffany’s of New York bought it. During the Great Depression he said that “It was impossible to live on stonecutting…Life is too hard. In the depression if you wanted to buy a nickel for six cents you couldn’t do it”.

My great grandfather was extremely proud to become an American and worked hard to fit in. Besides the name change, he refused to teach his kids to speak Italian. He would often tell them, “In America, you speak like an American!”. Joe would only speak Italian with his parents, brothers and sister. As much as I admire his pride and hard work, it also bums me out that this part of my family’s culture wasn’t passed down. Today, the best my grandmother can do is swear in Italian and I’m left trying to learn with CD’s and books!

My great grandfather gave a lot of advice through his own life experiences concerning work, family and remembering to enjoy the simple things. It’s his advice on relationships and marriage that have really stuck with me most.

Joe met my great grandmother Kathryn Mary Gaynor at a dance. They were married October 14, 1923 in Randolph, MA with a simple ceremony to keep costs down. The thing that I love about my great grandparents is how crazy they were about each other. I remember talking to my grandmother’s sister Kitty about it. She told me a story about how they were so affectionate with each other, even late in life; they could make others around them blush.

In a day and age where divorce is common, I really want what they had for myself. I have had several friends my age, who’ve been divorced, joke that I need a “practice marriage”. The idea of this being funny saddens me. Being a bit of a hopeless romantic in a “me generation” is difficult at times to hold on to. His advice on relationships and marriage holds true, especially in today’s society. Today we are so plugged into technology; we are forgetting how to communicate outside of it.

“When you get married, you become one. There’s no more two. It’s 50/50. Set up a stake and both of you reach for that goal. Sometimes his trouble will spill over onto you. If you think you might hurt each other with something you’re going to say, put on the breaks, and don’t say it; don’t hurt each other. Think first about what you’re going to say. It’s communication that’s the most important thing. You’ve got to be friends. Both work together, plan together and communicate. When you don’t communicate, no one knows what’s going on, the left doesn’t know what the right is doing. That’s why there are so many divorces these days. They don’t communicate, and they don’t know what the other wants. They have different goals.”

As a female today, I have also found that sometimes I feel a little lost. Women have come so far since his generation. The sad part however, is that today women who find themselves in a demanding career are almost forced to make a choice. Do I continue to climb the ladder or do I want to have a family? It’s a sad world when you are made to feel like having a family is a “set back”. Growing up, taking pride in being a strong female, I always said I didn’t want to just be a mom… where today, I have realized it will probably be the most important role I’ll ever play.

“That’s what I like to see, two young people in a garden of flowers. That makes me happy, to see… two people always together and happy. You need to get a nice little house, with a little fence and a little workshop downstairs. It’s natural to want a house and family”. To me, he is right. I am tired of feeling like I have to reject something that is natural to want, just to prove something to a society that’s slowly losing sight of what’s important.

My great grandparents were married 61 years when Kathryn passed away, “We miss each other. I am useless with out her”. I can only hope to someday celebrate 60 years of marriage with a man who feels just as strongly about me. Someone who makes me want to be a better person by simply being around him. Jobs come and go. Money can be gained, lost and gained back again. Fancy cars and big houses prove nothing. It’s family and the people we surround ourselves with that get us through and make life worth living.

The craziest part about all of this, my great grandfather passed away in 1986, when I was only five years old. The only memory I have of him is hiding under his lawn chair at a family reunion in Quincy, MA. However, here I am 26 years later hearing and finding comfort in his words. I owe a huge thank you to my Mom’s cousin Suzy for taking the time to interview him. Had it not been for her interest in genealogy and our family in general, I never would have had the opportunity to hear them.

Joesph and Catherine

“Don’t go by what you see on T.V., it’s a big balloon that’s blowing up and destroying the country. Show business is no good. My wife had better legs than those women any day!”

– Joseph Abramo Donato Biajo Cantelli