Thursday, February 23, 2012

An Italian Wedding in Sioux City, Iowa?



This photograph has mystified me from the first time that I saw it on the wall of my aunt Betty's house. That was over twenty years ago but this last fall I finally started to find some of the missing puzzle pieces. Aunt Betty told me that it was a picture of the wedding of my grandfather's sister, Carmela Cimino. The family story was that Carmela married a man named Defazio. Aunt Betty told me that her father (my grandfather), Sebastiano "Richard" Cimino was seated on the far right and my great grandfather, Antonino Cimino was in back between the bride and groom.

FILE NAME: cimino-defazio.jpg
TITLE OF PHOTO: Wedding of Carmela Cimino and Pasquale "Peter" Defazio.
LOCATION OF PHOTO: Sioux City, Iowa
APPROXIMATE DATE: about 1919

 My quest to solve the mystery of who was in this photo led me to Jean Defazio Hewitt, a descendant of Pasquale "Pete" Defazio who believes that the man on the far right is John Giudice and the one directly behind the girl with the flowers is, Frank LaScala. The rest of the people are still unknown.
The story of Carmela Cimino DeFazio is a sad one as she died in childbirth in 1920 in Sioux City, Iowa. Her death occured on June 1, 1920, two months before her sixteenth birthday. Carmela was born in Carlentini, Siracusa, Sicilia on 8 Aug 1904. My grandpa, Sebastiano was born in Lentini 30 Oct 1906 perhaps at the home of his maternal grandparents. His father, Antonino Cimino left Carlentini for the United States in search of work in 1907 and arrived in New York on the 9th of April. He returned to Sicily probably in 1908 then returned to the U.S. with his brother Alfio and his sister, Lucia in February 1909. Lucia Cimino was traveling with her daughter, Sebastiana Calafiore and all four of the travelers were bound for Omaha to join up with Lucia's husband, Filadelfio Calafiore.

Back in 1996, I made contact with the son of Alfio Cimino who lived in Milan, Italy. His name was Antonino Cimino, named after my great grandfather. Here is his account of the voyage across the Atlantic: "In the first years of 1900, my father and your great-grandfather left for the U.S. to search for work but they had little luck. They worked on the construction of the railroads, slept in sheds like slaves and earned very little money. My father, Alfio returned to Italy after three years in the U.S. and your great-grandfather remained in America and we never heard any more about him."
When my great grandfather returned to the U.S. he left behind a pregnant wife. Their second son, Giovanni "John" Cimino was born in Carlentini 3 July 1909. The mother and her three children sailed from Palermo 18 Mar 1911 on the Steamship Friedrich der Grosse and arrived at the Port of New York 31 Mar 1911. The family was reunited in Omaha, Nebraska which by that time had formed a "Little Italy".

Here is what the book Italians of Omaha published in 1941 had to say about Omaha's Little Italy as it existed in the 1930s:
"The most distinct Italian colony, from an ethnic standpoint, and in which segregation is most intense with the highest ratio of foreign-born, is Omaha's Little Italy. It lies in the eastern part of the city, south of the downtown business and industrial section. It is here that the Sicilians are in the majority with an astoundingly heavy representation from the towns of Lentini and Carlentini...if one were to stand on the corner of Sixth and Pierce Streets and question the Italians who passed, the tabulation would show Lentini and Carlentini in the Province of Syracuse as the place of origin of seven out of ten persons."

Despite the presence of neighbors and friends from Carlentini an Lentini, the Cimino family left the familiar confines of Omaha's Little Italy a year later. The next child, Sarah, was born in Sioux City, Iowa on 28 March 1912. Antonino had found work in Sioux City as a teamster and by 1918 was employed as a laborer at the 22nd Street Yards of the "Milwaukee Road". This historic railroad is officially known as the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad. While the railroad does not exist as a separate entity anymore, it is still commemorated in buildings like the historic Milwaukee Road Depot in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The 22nd Street Yards in Sioux City have also been preserved as a railroad museum. The museum's website is at www.milwaukeerailroadshops.org. The site originally encompassed over 50 acres of land and incorporated over 25 buildings to include a 30 stall roundhouse, machine/blacksmith shop, car/carpenter shop, steam power plant, water softener plant, stores warehouse, sand drying house and two wooden sand towers, a 300 ton capacity wood coal tower and more. The complex also included over 10 miles of track and employed over 500 people. 

Sioux City had become home for the Ciminos. Antonino's sister, Lucia and her husband, Filadelfio Calafiore had also moved from Omaha to Sioux City by 1920. Filadelfio had found work as a laborer at a packing house in Sioux City. It is quite possible that one or more of the Calafiore family is featured in this wedding picture. Lucia and Filadelfio had three daughters, Sebastiana, Nettie and Della born in 1903, 1906 and 1909 respectively. These three girls would be about the right age to match with the two bridesmaids holding flowers and the younger girl on the left.
The railroads and the packing houses in Sioux City employed many Italians. These Italians became the "extended family" of the Ciminos despite having origins from many other places in Italy. The two men identified by Jean Defazio Hewitt in the photo must have been part of that extended family. Frank LaScala was employed as an oiler in an engine room in 1920. The census for that year enumerates him with his wife "Tressa", son, "January" and sister-in-law "Johanna" Defazio. The census enumerator for Precinct 11 had some pretty creative spellings of the Italian names he encountered in the neighborhood. Frank LaScala had an Italian boarder residing with him named: Angelo "Luckwarti". Could that name be LaGuardia? We may never know. However it would seem likely that the Defazios had a family connection to the LaScalas. One would presume from this census record that Frank LaScala's wife, Tressa, was a Defazio. 
John Giudice remains a bit of a mystery. I could not find him in the 1920 census of Sioux City. Jean had sad that he ran a restaurant in the neighborhood but he was not there in 1920 nor could I find him in the 1930 census. Jean could not recall the exact spelling of the name and variant spellings always present a difficulty when searching Italian names.
 

A family photo of Carmela's headstone showed her name as "Camela Defozeo" Aug 8, 1903 to June 1, 1920. This mispelling is another example of the difficulty of searching Italian names in U.S. records. Our family records told me that Carmela Defazio was buried in Calvary Cemetery in Sioux City. In September of 2011 my wife and I flew from Houston to Omaha and then drove north to Sioux City. It was a pilgrimage to the Sioux City which was the site of so much of the Cimino family history. There were several cemeteries to visit with family buried on both the Iowa and Nebraska sides of the Missouri River which divides the two states. The family was living in South Sioux City, Nebraska by 1930 and my great grandfather, Antonino Cimino remained in "South Soo" until he died in 1963. Antonino and three of his sons, Richard, John and Sam each had houses on the same street in South Sioux City. My father, Richard Jr. was born in South Sioux City 5 Mar 1934. My dad lived there until my grandpa relocated his family to Sacramento in the 1940s. I was born in Sacramento in 1954.
We visited Calvary Cemetery in September 2011 and after an extensive search we found Carmela's grave marked with a substantial headstone with a cross on top in the Marian Section of the cemetery. The gravestone is the centerpiece of the Defazio family burial lots. Buried near her are her husband, Pete Defazio, 1893-1965; her mother-in-law, Carmela Defazio, 1865-1936; and her husband's second wife, Mary Pironaggi Defazio, 1903-2002. After seeing the Defazio graves, I new I had to try to find the Defazio descendants. Pete Defazio and Mary Pironaggi had eleven children all born in Sioux City, Iowa. Jean Defazio Hewitt was their third child and she currently lives in San Leandro, California in the San Francisco Bay area. Ironically, I had lived just a few miles away from Jean in Walnut Creek, California until August of 2010.
After returning home, I mailed copies of the wedding photo to Jean and her siblings in the hopes that one of them could identify the people in the photograph. I received a response from Jean who had heard stories about her father's first wife but had never seen a picture of her father at such a young age. She recognized John Giudice and Frank LaScala. The mystery is not completely solved. We have a lot more information about the people and how they came together at a wedding in 1919. A few pieces of the puzzle remain to be found. If you can help identify any of these people, please contact me at ncimino@hotmail.com.

All the best,

Nick Cimino
League City, TX

5 comments:

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    1. Thanks for the nice comments on my blog and sorry for my tardiness in replying.

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  3. Hello, Mr.Cimino. My name is Mabinti Kanu. I met you today at the Afro-American Historical & Genealogical Society, H-Town Chapter. I really am impressed with I heard from you today. Can you recommend any community college classes I could take to help me along in my journey in find out how to research? Or can you give me some tips on productive research.
    Thanks in advance.

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  4. Mabinti- The first person to talk to Is Franklin Carter Smith at the Clayton Library. The next step would be to read and listen to tutorials at family search.org/learn. Last but not least we should meet and discuss further. The Bay Area Genealogy Society is in the process of creating a Special Interest Group on African American Genealogy. You can call me at 713-447-6397 or email at ncimino@hotmail.com if you would like to discuss further.

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