I’ve been researching various parts of my family, with the end goal of submitting an application for Italian citizenship. We’ll see how that goes. At any rate, looking at old documents is interesting. It’s amazing how many different ways a census enumerator can mis-spell a name.

My grandmother shows up in various sources three different ways, none of them her actual given name (as it seems nobody used it.) Since the census doesn’t require any formal documentation, they take whatever you give them. I’m thinking it’s the same with Social Security as well, because they don’t have her birth name either. Oh, and Social Security tends to list the actual place of death (like a hospital) and states seem to use last place of residence instead.

Interesting things turn up. I remember a carved ashtray stand my father said was made by his uncle. In the 1930 census, I found an uncle with the occupation of woodcarver in the furniture industry. His brother, my grandfather, worked in a radio factory.

I vaguely recall a name mentioned in my youth that I thought was my great-grandfather. It seems I didn’t quite get it right, as it instead was his wife. Who lived much longer and remarried. At some point the whole family moved to New York, down the street from the girl who would become my grandmother. There were several documents that at first seemed doubtful because of name or date problems, but I was certain as soon as I looked at the actual artifact image and saw the address. For example, the eldest Laiosa girl of the 1920 census was, ten years later, found a few doors down living with her new husband and his father.

I have an image of the ship’s passenger manifest where my maternal great-grandfather came to New York, with a woman who may have been his sister. What happened to Maria Grazia Laiosa I may never know. Perhaps his single still living child (now 89) may remember, but then again not. I sent my father a copy of Giovanni’s draft registration and naturalization petition cards to give to her.

There are other observations on the nature of public record repositories. The state of Ohio started collecting birth records at the state level somewhere in the middle of 1908. I know this because I have to try several different agencies in attempt to locate my grandfather’s birth certificate. My first go didn’t do so well, so I’ve submitted a request for his elder brother for whom I have a more certain place of birth. Also the fees for copies of records appears to be arbitrary. New York City is hideously expensive and Columbiana County Ohio will do it for a self-addressed stamped envelope and the cost of the copy machine.

And then there is my mother’s family. In the 1930 census I found the household of my grandparents including my uncle, not a year old. But listed as my grandfather’s parents were two people I’d never heard of and my aunt says were related in some mysterious fashion. Four adults, two parents and two “sons” came to the United States from Eastern Europe, possibly at different times and with a collection of different names given to different officials. I don’t think anybody alive now knows exactly how these people are related.

If I’m going to go much farther, I’ll have to start getting documents. It will likely be less expensive to just go to New York and park myself in front of the microfilm reader than pay the search and copy fees trying to locate the right things. Fortunately my Italian family didn’t move far from Brooklyn for many years.


  1. Nick M says:

    Excellent. I have gotten a little obsessed with it all in the past few years, although no time for it in the last 6 months. All on ancestry.com. My hardest dead end so far has been in Ohio actually – great grandfather who was an itinerant preacher. In the end I contacted a sort of records department of the Methodist Episcopalian church and they dug up a couple records and photocopied them for me.

  2. feorlen says:

    Oh wow just noticed I had a comment over here. Damn broken wordpress notifications.

    I’m still trying to figure out if my great grandfather became a citizen and when. The census records say yes, but they also say he didn’t speak English which is a requirement. I’m still trying to find his full name, as I have yet to locate the birth certificate. The county he was supposedly born in has no record, for him or his elder brother. I need to start requesting ones for the younger siblings, as they were born after Ohio started centralizing birth records.

    My aunt, my father’s brother’s wife, has some records their aunt gave her many years ago. I have no idea what they might be but perhaps useful. I just have to wait until she returns from the annual southern migration to dig them up. After then I’ll likely get back to research.

    I had a trial membership with ancestry.com and it was ok, but I cancelled it. I signed up for the deluxe international service to see what Italian records they have but there wasn’t anything useful. I may try again with just the US membership later. They do make it very easy to search census records, and many of the ones I need, from New York City, are digitized.

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