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!!!!!!


  1. You are quite the sleuth and you just don't give up!!! That's wonderful and I am so proud of you!!

  2. Don't forget how much help can be with Enumeration districts.

  3. Wow, you really are awesome ;-) and very determined, it seems. Congratulations on finding them in 1910 and good luck in 1920!!

  4. I'm betting you have some interesting "conversations" with the census-takers when you do census research; my family thinks I am crazy for yelling at them for their bad spelling. "Mom, he can't hear you. He's dead by now." For my farm families, I often just browse an entire area when none of the names or details brings my families up, but the urban areas where my husband's family lived (Italian, German, and Romanian Jewish names) don't lend themselves to that. But it is interesting to see how the census-takers "heard" the names.