Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Mystery of the Pizzi's

Yeah that's right, I'm awesome.

No, no, really, I know I know, I'm awesome.

Today I solved a problem and it feels pretty darn.....awesome!!!!

I'm researching the Pizzi family of Philadelphia. The furthest I've gotten back is an Antonio Pizzi, born in 1888. He had 2 wives (not at the same time), lots of kids and I had no problem whatsoever finding him and his 2nd wife in the 1930 census.

Then I found his WWI and WWII draft registration cards, even better. And THEN, to top it all off, I found his Petition for Naturalization and Ellis Island ship manifest. And he was consistent in all his name spellings, birth dates, and from 1914 through 1920 he even lived on the same street: North Simpson St. in Philadelphia.

Here he is on the ships manifest for the vessel La Bretagne:

18 years old with $12.00 in his pocket. Alone!!! Heading to his cousin's in New York state in 1906. A year later he moved to Philadelphia. I wonder what he thought about the week and a half it took to sail over here?

So anyway, I have all this info, what could be better? I have nothing to complain about, right????

Well, there was this one nagging thing....I could not locate him or any member of his family in the 1910 and 1920 census's. Nothing, nada, zilch. Not for lack of trying, I tried every possible surname variation I could think of. I did searches on just the first names, I even tried other states. The Antonio Pizzi family just did not exist in 1910 and 1920.

And that bothered me. After all, they had to be somewhere!!!

Based on all the other info I had, Antonio was pretty consistent in his residence, it was always North Simpson Street in Philadelphia. The street still exists:

It's west of Center City, Philadelphia, across the river and really close to the Montgomery County border. There is a huge park nearby: Cobbs Creek park. So I looked at all the streets near it and tried to pick what seemed like the right Enumeration Districts to browse through in Ancestry's census's.

You can imagine how "successful" I was. Those descriptions are useless. How about a map of the Enumeration Districts people at Ancestry!!!! I knew where my street was but the stupid descriptions weren't helping me!!! I was literally scrolling through hundreds of pages trying to find where the census taker had written "Simpson Street" in the left hand margin.

What I learned was that the census taker's STUNK at writing down Italian surnames. I've spent years and years working with British surnames, which are easy, but extremely common, and the occasional Hungarian and German surname. Once I figured out how the consonants switch for German surnames, it was pretty easy (T for D, etc.). But these Italian surnames, ay carumba!!!! The spellings the census taker's would put down were so phoenetic sometimes that it was impossible to find the name via a search in Ancestry!!!! I was, shall we say, despondent. My records would never be complete. And naturally in the midst of the missing decades was when my Antonio married his 2nd wife, so my records on the wives were really sketchy.

Then, one day, I stumbled across this posting from Kimberly's Genealogy Blog:

It showed historic map overlays in Google and guess what, there were some specifically for Philadelphia! Joy! Happiness!

So I went to the Interactive Maps Viewer and viewed a current map of Philly streets overlaid on a 1910 map of Philly, looking at my N. Simpson Street. (You can pick lots of different years, but I wanted 1910.)

First off, I saw that Cobbs Creek park was not as big then as it is now. I also saw that the Pizzi's would have lived just about out of the city completely because a couple blocks away were big tracts of farmland and quarries and stuff. The farmland was now part of the larger Cobbs Creek park.

So NOW I had different street names to use as I pored over the Enumeration District descriptions. I started with 1910 (because there were less people alive than in 1920, hey, every little bit helps!) and saw this one in Ancestry for the 1910 census of Philadelphia for District 836 in Ward 34:

Hey, it says "Millbourne Ave." which doesn't exist anymore, but is way near my Simpson Street in the 1910 map. So I started going through it, page by page, hoping for a Simpson Street in the right margin.

And lo and behold, the clouds parted, and a ray of sunshine shone down upon me, I FOUND THEM!!!!!!!!!!!!

It was purely an accident because THEY WEREN'T ON SIMPSON STREET! They were on Carleton St, which is a street or two away. Oh, right, this was 1910, maybe he hadn't moved to Simpson St. yet since my first record of Antonio's address was 1914. DUH!!!! But I didn't care, I found them!!!! Page 25 of 40:

There's Antonio Pizzi, listed as "Tony" and the census taker spelled the last name as "Pittzia".

Naturally I sat in front of my computer saying the name "Pizzi" with an Italian accent, and yes, it matches, except for the "a" at the end. Yes, Oscar H. Nolen, Enumerator, I beat you!!! I figured it out despite you not asking how to spell the last name....oh wait, let me look at the able to read and write column....ah, that explains it. No one in the house was able to read and write, or at least, that's what they told him. Geez. I know Antonio could sign his name, but he would have been at work during the day when the enumerator came to the door.

Oh, and their son "Jessia", listed up there? Actually, his name was Caeser, or Ceasario or Caesaro, I've seen it spelled all those ways. But he went by Jesse, go figure.

Oh yeah, and one other thing Mr. Oscar H. Nolen, Enumerator, you aren't off the hook yet. The "Sabella" shown above is listed as wife, and is at the top of page 25, so naturally, I went to the bottom of page 24 to find her husband. He wasn't there, it was a totally different street. Huh? If there was no husband, she would have been called the "Head".

I went back to page 25 to stare at "Sabella" whose name was actually probably "Isabella" and then I noticed it there in the margin to the right:

"Head on line 100 Sheet 11".

So, I went to Sheet 11 (pg 20 of 40) and there was her husband, Antonio's father-in-law, Charles Milaco. Why Oscar H. Nolan, Enumerator, would do this escapes me. There's a few others like this in this particular record. But anyway, Charles Milaco was a laborer in the nearby Quarry that I had noticed on the 1910 map that no longer exists today. Antonio was a farm laborer on one of the nearby farms, that also no longer exist. By the way, Antonio was truly a jack-of-all-trades. I have his occupations through-out the years listed as: Farm laborer, Cement Finisher, Piano seller, and Automobile Mechanic. This guy could do anything apparently.

Flush with triumph, I immediately went to the 1920 census to try and reproduce my results and.....................NOTHING.

No Pittzia, No Milaco, NO NOTHING. So, Milaco is a total mis-spelling, and I already had 2 variations of spellings in my records: Merlocco and Malacco. Who KNOWS what it really is. I find it strange that even searching on all his kids and variations on their names, I still can't find anything in 1920!!! Where are you Pizzi family!!!! I know you were there because I have the Petition for Naturalization, dated 11 August 1920, where the Pizzi address is listed as 230 N. Simpson Street.

I even searched for his two buddies who signed as witnesses on the Petition: Pasquale Martini and Nicolo di Fabio, both living on N. 64th Street, just a couple blocks away. Oh sure, yes, if you are wondering, I found them NO PROBLEM.

It's true, I'm a nerd and I love this! I guess I'm going to have to get off of my butt though and go to the Philadelphia Archives and look for an actual 1920 Enumeration District map since no one has bothered to put one online for me.

I'll keep you posted because I'm sure, if you've actually made it to the bottom of this posting, you are fascinated!!! :-)

So my total triumph will have to wait, but for now, yes, I am happy!!!!!!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ode to My Missing Information

With humble and abject apologies to Joyce Kilmer and the poem "Trees":


I know that I shall never see
The census from 1890

The census was destroyed one day
By fire and water, so they say

Missing relatives, marriage, death
All clues track’d within its breadth

I think it’s also most likely,
Up in smoke my link to royalty

So my walls of mortar and brick
Do remain; tall and strong and thick

Census’s are searched by fools like me,
But only God knows what’s in 1890.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Why I Wouldn't Last 5 Minutes on a Deserted Island, Part 1

I see all these dopey quizzes on Facebook, right now it's kind of a game I play, can I block the quizzes as fast as they come out, but it's a big fail for me, there's like 10 new ones a day. I saw one the other day that was "How long would you last on a Deserted Island" that my sister took and of course her result was something impressive.

I know for a fact that I wouldn't last, I totally admit it and don't even pretend that I'm all cool and resourceful, because I just am not.

The worst thing for me would be the bug bites. I am one of those people that ALWAYS gets bitten. There could be 50 people dipped in sugar and jam standing around me while I am sprayed with bug spray and surrounded by netting, and it still wouldn't matter. The bugs, who are very resourceful (unlike me) would dig little tiny tunnels under ground to get to me inside the netting.

I've spoken before about how I don't get why people like to eat outside, because your cold food gets hot and your hot food gets cold and there are ants and bears and such, but really, it's the bugs. They love me. Yeah yeah, blah blah, I guess I'm just such a sweet person, oh whatever. That doesn't help when I have half-dollar size itchy welts on my legs and arms for the next three weeks.

Sadly I'm not really exaggerating here. I guess I am not only sweet, but am also extra allergic to the little nasty things. Especially mosquitos. I work so hard not to be outside in early morning and early evening, but something always happens. I had a really lovely dinner with friends friday night and we chose to have dessert and drinks outside sitting by the pool. I guess I was lulled into a sense of security by the good food and good company because I ignored my decades of experience and just sat out there having a good time.

And the results? 5 mosquito bites on my legs before it finally occurred to me to ask my hosts for some bug spray. And before you think I am all whiney, these bites actually woke me up out of a deep sleep last night with all their angry itchiness. 2 of them are now larger than a half-dollar piece, which does alarm me slightly, but I do have to admit, they are nothing like a spider bite.

Once, in florida, some irritated spider was having a bad day and decided to bite me, which is weird because I work really hard to not bother things that can bite, gnaw on or eat me. So I have to assume, he was just a jerk.

I never felt a thing, just all of a sudden I thought to myself, hey, my calf feels kind of hot. Hotter than the rest of me felt, because after all, it was florida where the humidity is always 110%. I reached down to feel my calf and it was BURNING HOT. We're talking little heat waves rising off of it and there was this angry red area about the size of the palm of my hand with one little tiny dot in the middle where the little poophead bit me. I was just sitting at a table outside minding my own business!!!

But still, it didn't last like these darn mosquito bites do for me. They just don't go away, I guess that's how allergic I am to the little bugger's (ha, get it? buggers!) venom or anesthetic or whatever it is mosquito's have. I'm going to have these bites itch for several days now, and the marks will last for weeks.


And that my friends, is why I know I wouldn't last on a deserted island. Yes, I love the Caribbean, I would even love to spend a couple years living there. But that means with running water and air conditioning and champagne. Not a deserted island. Deserted island mosquitoes would smell me coming a mile away. They'd pick me up and carry me back to their deserted-island-mosquito-lair and that would be the last anyone ever saw of me!

So currently I am experimenting with taking a Zyrtec for the antihistamine and topical hydrocortisone (1%). It's at least reduced it to a general tingling around the bites. But I have to be careful not to accidentally run my leg against something because if the bites get touched they get all itchy! I'm so annoying!!! :-D On a good note though, today I saw the cutest little ladybug sitting right on one of my freshly-bloomed daisies. Ladybugs and fireflies are the 2 bugs that I'm okay with. We're cool, we're BFFs. And inch worms I guess, as long as they don't fall out of the tree on to me. So really it's just the two.

Can anyone say "high-maintenance"? :-)

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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

14th Edition of Smile For The Camera - Wedding Belles

It's the 14th Edition of Smile for the Camera:

"The word prompt for the 14th Edition of Smile For The Camera is Wedding Belles. Historically, couples married in the month of June to honor Juno, the Roman goddess of marriage. Others did it to time conception so births wouldn't interfere with harvest work. And brides in the 15th century chose to marry in June because it coincided with their "annual bath" - that's right - ensuring a relatively sweet-smelling honeymoon. Show us a photograph of a wedding, a wedding party, a bride, a groom, the reception, or even the honeymoon. Bring them to the carnival and share. Admission is free with every photograph!"

What I have above is a picture of a married couple. I have no idea who they are. A couple weeks ago I was pondering what kinds of pictures I should collect (as if I don't collect enough things already!). I finally decided on group pictures, like at formal dinners or parties, black and white, pre-1950s.

That idea came from a find from a few years ago in an antique shop in Gettysburg, PA. I found this framed picture from March 6, 1915, it was the Annual Banquet of the Sons of the American Revolution, the New Jersey society. I loved it. I think it reminded me of the picture that is shown at the end of The Shining. Thanks to ebay, I have a copy of that picture as well, framed and hanging on my wall, my own little inside joke. So I realized that I like these group shots from formal events.

Anyway, back to the story, I was shopping around ebay seeing if I could find the next formal party photo when I came across this wedding photo.

They are so serious for their picture, and I know you had to stay still for a long time for these types of photographs, but truly, so stiff and formal! But if you look closely, you see that she is reaching over with her right hand and holding on to a couple fingers from his left hand. I thought this was just the sweetest thing ever. So now it's mine.

The photographer is W.K. Call from Manchester, New Hampshire. The back has some handwriting in pencil but the person's script is really sloppy and I simply can't make a thing out. So for now, they are a mystery!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Award nominations to come...

I have some great readers out there that have given me awards that said I'm friendly and lovely, and now I stand out in a crowd!

I haven't yet passed these awards on to others because, well, frankly, I'm unreliable. And a tad busy - I barely have time for creating my own posts what with reading everyone else's very interesting posts!!

But fear not, my nominations will be coming!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Chester County Historical Society

Yesterday I went to the Chester County Historical Society in West Chester, PA. It's in a lovely building that also contains a museum. I was really surprised to see that they still use card catalogs and for a moment I stood there like a dork wondering uh, what am I supposed to do? I'm so used to doing searches in databases online or otherwise that it actually took a second for my brain to switch into using paper search techniques. Geez, shame on me for not being in a local historical society in a really long time!

I'm researching a family with the surname of Tompkins (sometimes spelled Thompkins). From what I can tell, this is a Welsh family that lived in an area of southeastern Pennsylvania that we call Great Valley. To us locals, Great Valley = corporate centers, route 202 and traffic that makes me want to gnaw my own arm off. But in the olden days, as in the late 1600s and onward, this area saw a big influx of Welsh immigrants. It was mostly farming, and in the late 1800s, the railroad came through and the Tompkins family had a lot of railroad employees. This area contains Valley Forge park, so there was a lot of British and American troops in and around.

The Tompkins family I'm researching is not for me, but for some friends. I really appreciate them letting me get all up in their business by researching their family, sometimes you just need a break from your own research!

So I've been learning a lot about Welsh placenames in this area that I had no idea about. This family mostly lived in Tredyffrin Township which apparently (according to my internet translation skills) means "big valley". Huh, how about that, it makes sense! We also have other Welsh placenames in the area like Radnor, Bala Cynwyd, Uwchlan, Gwynedd and Merion.

Bala Cynwyd may look scary, but locally we pronounce it "bala" with the "a" pronunced as it is in "pal" and "cynwyd" is pronounced "kinwood". "Uwchlan" we pronounce as "uke" (like in puke [sorry that's all I could come up with] and "lan" as in "pan".

Of course, this is nothing to real placenames in Wales which I happened upon. Here's a couple that caught my eye, and I'm not even making them up:


Intimidating? Uh, yeah, to me at least! I admit that I love studying the english language and its history but Welsh is a world unto itself. I think the two "D"s together actually sound like a "th" but I could be wrong. One of these days I'd like to become more familiar with it. Right after I finish my genealogy research. Yeah, right after that.

But back to the historical society. I found some great newspaper clippings from the 19th and 20th centuries that weren't on any newspaper archive sites yet. Other than that, not too much. My oldest Tompkins is a John Tompkins born March 1797 in Pennsylvania. I suspect that his father may have been an Isaac Tompkins but I just don't know for sure anything else about him right now. And other than the newspaper clippings, I couldn't find too much else. So I'll take a break and come back with a fresh eye later, that seems to do the trick for me!

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