Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Meet My New Sicilian DNA Cousin

I would like to introduce you to my new Sicilian DNA cousin, Kevin Cunningham of Omaha, Nebraska. He does not have an Italian surname but he is more immersed into the culture of the Little Italy of Omaha than I could ever hope to be. Kevin is one of my DNA matches through AncestryDNA and we have been getting acquainted over the last several weeks.

Omaha, Nebraska was a place of refuge for thousands of Sicilians from the towns of Carlentini and Lentini in the early decades of the 20th century.  My great grandfather, Antonino "Tony" Cimino came to the U.S. in February 1909 and his wife, Maria Ossino and three children followed him to Omaha in March 1911. Our connection to Kevin is through this great grandmother, Maria Ossino. Maria had a sister, Carmela who was Kevin's grandmother.  Here is a picture of Kevin's grandparents.

Carmela Ossino and her husband Alfio Peri in Omaha, Nebraska, 1950.
The exact date for this photo is 23 Sep 1950, the wedding day of Leonard Paletta and Mary Peri.
Photo courtesy of Kevin Cunningham of Omaha July 2017.
This picture was taken in front of the house at 1728 S 8th Street in Omaha. This is the house next door to where they lived.
The reason that I was able to contact Kevin was thanks to the fact that my dad's first cousin, Sam Cimino had performed a DNA test on AncestryDNA.  Sam showed up unexpectedly one day as one of my close DNA matches.  I also have my dad's DNA in the system. It is always reassuring to have your close cousins confirmed as a DNA match but the unexpected bonus was that I was able to get a list of people that showed up as "Shared DNA Matches" and Kevin Cunningham was on that list.

I noticed that Kevin did not have a family tree on Ancestry.com so it was very difficult to know exactly how we were related.  I sent him a note through the anonymous contact service at Ancestry.com to ask him if he knew of any ancestors from Carlentini and Lentini.  He replied that yes indeed his grandparents were from Carlentini.

I then sent a list of my ancestral surnames and asked him if there were any surname matches in the list.  He then replied with the following message:

"My grandmother's maiden name is Ossino. She also had a sister that married a Ferraguti here in Omaha. There were a lot of immigrants that settled in Omaha from Carlentini. My mom is the last surviving sibling and her memory is failing. Any documents have been lost to time. Omaha just finished celebrating the Santa Lucia festival. I do not know if you are familiar with the festival and this saint but it is a good story."
Statue of Santa Lucia from the Facebook Page of the Santa Lucia Festival in Omaha, Nebraska

I asked Kevin if it was possible that we could talk on the phone. I told him that I would love to know more about his family in Omaha and the Santa Lucia story. We never knew much about our Carlentini heritage growing up in California. He quickly responded with his phone number and we have had several phone calls, text messages and emails sharing information with each other since.

We were off to the races in terms of finding our ancestral connection.  I offered to add his family information to my online tree at Ancestry.com and I was able to figure out our exact connection. His grandmother, Carmela Ossino and my great grandmother, Maria Ossino, were sisters and our shared ancestors were Giovanni Ossino and Concetta Bruno shown on the chart below.  

Kevin Cunningham's Family tree
Our shared ancestors are Giovanni Ossino and Concetta Bruno.
Kevin also let me know that his grandparents had also lived in Sioux City for a period of time like my family did.  Kevin's grandparents returned to the friendly confines of the Little Italy neighborhood in Omaha.  The records show that Alfio "Fred Peri arrived in the U.S. in January 1910 and resided in Omaha until 1915. Fred and Carmela had a daughter, Sarah that was also known as Sally born in Sioux City in 1916 and two children, Josie and David were born in Dakota City, Nebraska in 1918 and 1921. A son, John Peri was born in South Sioux City, Nebraska in 1924 and a daughter Mary Peri was born in Omaha in 1928.  The family stayed in Omaha until Alfio "Fred" Peri died in 1966 and his wife, Carmela Ossino Peri died in 1975.

The Omaha World Herald is available to search on GenealogyBank.com.  I was able to find obituaries on Alfio and Carmela and a variety of other documents on the Peri family that I shared with Kevin. Here are the two obits for Kevin's grandparents:

SOURCE: GenealogyBank.com
Omaha World Herald Tuesday, December 13, 1966, page 40

SOURCE: GenealogyBank.com
Omaha World Herald, Sunday October 12, 1975, Page 18-B

The most revealing documents about the Peri family birthdates were the naturalization papers for Alfio "Fred" Peri.

SOURCE: Ancestry.com
Nebraska, Federal Naturalization Records, 1890-1957

SOURCE: Ancestry.com
Nebraska, Federal Naturalization Records, 1890-1957

SOURCE: Ancestry.com
Nebraska, Federal Naturalization Records, 1890-1957

These papers also reveal that he immigrated under the name Alfio Aperi and that he shortened his name to Peri when he arrived in the U.S.

DNA opened the door to a lot of fun for me connecting with Kevin and learning about his family history.  If you need any help making DNA connections, please feel free to contact me.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Love Letters Endure

A love letter is a sweet thing to discover in your family treasure chest.  We were extremely fortunate to rediscover a couple of love letters on our recent visits to Nevada and Colorado.

Here are some images of a love letter that was written on April 14, 1909 from John Arthur Fitzpatrick to Vesta Price:
Transciption by Nick Cimino, July 2017 
[Punctuation, spelling and capitalization have been added for reading clarity.]

Page 1
Collbran Colo
April 14, 1909
My Dear little Girl,
I write you a few lines to let you know that I got home all right about 7:30 last night.  I found the roads offel [awful] muddy. How are you gitting [sic] along with the ditch men?  I hope you are gitting along all right.  Let me know when they git through and I will come over and we will go fishing and have a good time. Ed is going to Grand Junction in the morning. Gitsons Folks are going to move in our house tomorrow. Have you seen any of them fellows that works on the ditch yet that you like or think has got...

The thing that impresses me about the first page of the letter was that he was really concerned about those ditch men stealing his girl!  The "offel muddy" roads are a testament to the difficulty of driving a wagon over unpaved roads in the spring time over one hundred years ago. Ed is his brother. He places a date here on when the Gitson family moved into his parents' house.

Page 2
...pretty hair. Remember that is the way you got me for your little boy, well I hope not. Any how have you caught any more fish yet? I don't suppose you have time to fish. Do you want me to send that part of the phonograph over or [do] you want to wait till I come over and bring it to you? I don't suppose you have time to play it any way untill [sic] you get [rid] of the ditch men goes away. I am at Gertie's writing this letter. Well be [careful] and do not run off with any of them ditch men for you [know] I think you are the dearest little girl in the world. I am going to write...

Watch out for those ditch men with pretty hair! Vesta and Art must have enjoyed listening to phonograph records of the day. What do you think would be their favorite tunes in 1909?  Apparently he is staying with his sister Gertie and her husband "E.J. "Joe" Ludlam in Collbran. 

Page 3

...to [Ruby] tonight. I haven't answered her letter yet. I haven't [decided] what I will do yet but I want to have a talk with you when I see you about it. How is Mr. Price and your mama? I have been [busy] today gathering up my trinkets. I am going to try and buy [Lloyd's] ten acres of land from him.  I think I can get it for $1,000.00 dollars. So if I could that will make us a nice little home don't you think so? Well I guess I will haft to close for this time. When I get a letter wrote to [Ruby] it will be late so now don't work to hard and I will be over before long. Now be a good...

Ruby was Arthur's sister. Vesta's parents were Thomas Price and Flora Hill Price. The land that he is proposing to buy was owned by his brother Lloyd.  The price of $100 per acre is a good deal. Newspaper advertisements show land for sale in Collbran for $125 to $150 per acre.  This is probably the same property that we showed in last week's blog post.

Page 4

...little girl. Well be good and don't run off with any of them ditch men. Oh I don't mean it. I was just fooling. [I'm not] afraid of [it]. So good bye. Write soon. I will close with a good night X kiss from your little boy.

He was sure having a lot of fun teasing her about those ditch diggers stealing his gal.

So here is a picture of Arthur and Vesta after their wedding in 1910.  Do you think he has pretty hair?

The area where the Thomas Price family lived near Debeque, Colorado is known as the Blue Stone Valley or the Bonita Valley.

The following brief history was published in the 2009 Debeque Plan and was taken in part from "Cattle & Shale-A Story of Roan Creek and DeBeque" (1884-1984), compiled and edited by Sarah Prather.

DeBeque "was discovered" by Dr. W.A.E. DeBeque and his companions in 1884 while searching for a suitable place for a stock ranch. The value of the area for raising livestock as well as excellent year-round hunting grounds quickly became widely known. By 1888, 31 ranches were actively operating with several hundred head of cattle.

Connection to the outside world began with a stage line running from Grand Junction through DeBeque to Aspen. This was soon replaced by a toll road and eventually by the Midland railroad in 1886. Settlement in the large, open valley on the south side of the river soon followed, and it was named the Bluestone Valley and also known as the Bonita Valley. The Bluestone Ditch was built in the mid-1890s to divert water from the Colorado River for this valley. DeBeque was formally incorporated in 1890, and the population began to grow with the advent of local retail businesses, increased ranching, and expansion of railroad operations.

The Palisade Tribune, Volume 6, Number 32, January 2, 1909 reports that Willie Sullivan, a Fruita boy whom most of us think of as a school boy, was this week elected superintendent of the Blue Stone Ditch at DeBeque. His salary is $1000 per year-- Fruita Mail

Perhaps this is the man who sent all those pesky ditch men into Vesta's neighborhood!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Best of Times Connecting with Roots

My most memorable road trips are focused on reconnecting with our family roots.  We just completed a wonderful road trip which took us from Texas to New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Nevada and back again.  The most memorable stops along the way included Cortez CO, Moab UT, Elko NV, Salt Lake City UT and Grand Junction and Golden CO.  We spent three days visiting with my wife's mother, two days researching in Salt Lake City and three days visiting with my wife's cousin in Grand Junction.  I collected hundreds of images of photographs, documents and heirlooms at each of these stops.  There is enough material collected on this trip to write dozens of blog posts. 

The story that I am about to share was written by my wife's maternal first cousin.  Their common ancestors are John Arthur Fitzpatrick 1879-1963 and Vesta Price Fitzpatrick 1890-1988. Grandma Vesta died the year before I got interested in genealogy but fortunately we were able to make connections with most of John Art and Vesta's descendants shortly thereafter. Vicki and Max Stites have built a home near Collbran, Colorado that is a tribute to their ancestors. This home was a place where laughter rang through the rooms and in quietness our souls were refreshed.

Robin Cimino with her cousin Vicki Fitzpatrick Stites and husband, Max Stites in Collbran, Colorado, June 30, 2017

The Best Of Times Connecting With Our Roots
By Vicki Fitzpatrick Stites
7 February 2009

In Collbran, Colorado located in the Fitzpatrick Subdivision there is a small white house with a red roof. I have seen this house many times during my lifetime. It is where my father was born and raised along with his six siblings. The original house was very small and now has an addition, but the long, skinny part is the part I remember hearing stories about all these years. How my grandmother raised seven children in this tiny place is something I can hardly imagine.

This was the home of John Art  and Vesta Price Fitzpatrick in Collbran, Colorado.  The current street name is Spring Street. The original home was the narrow part of the ell which is closest to the street.

Collbran is a very special place to my husband Max and me. Our ancestors homesteaded there and we have been raised listening to stories, returning to reunions, and spending time there all of our lives. We both have very fond memories of the place and of the people who pioneered in this area. My great grandfather, John Alexander Fitzpatrick, was born in 1840 in Canada. His mother died when he was three years old and he helped his father until he left home to go to Wisconsin where he worked in the lumber mills. He went back to Canada and married Eliza Farlinger in 1872 and, after a time, they came to Colorado and kept a toll road near Buena Vista. There is a park named for him there.

Eliza Farlinger 1852-1909 and John Alexander Fitzpatrick 1842-1907

He came to the Plateau Valley in 1882. He staked out his claim and returned to Buena Vista to collect his family. They first lived in a sort of dugout and later built a log house which was the first house in Collbran. It is still in use. The first boy born in the Valley was their son Clayton. Their oldest son, John Art, was my grandfather. When he was of age, my great grandfather deeded him the corner lots where the Auditorium now stands, and he ran a livery barn for years. He also had an ice house and sold ice to the ranchers, to the creamery and to stores. He also carried mail and drove a team of horses from Collbran to DeBeque. John Art would harness the team in the dark with a kerosene lantern. It was a rough job having to contend with the mud and snow and other hazards of the road.

John Arthur Fitzpatrick 1879-1963 and Vesta Price Fitzpatrick 1890-1988
A photographer came around to their farm in DeBeque, Colorado a few months after they got married in June 1910.  John Art came in out of the field and Vesta was horrified because her dress was wrinkled per a story told to Jonni Fitzpatrick Kincher about 1980.
John Art met my grandmother, Vesta Price, in DeBeque where her parents had settled after moving from Buena Vista.  They were married on June 5, 1910. I am very fortunate to have their wedding certificate and we also have the announcement that was in the paper. It reads in part, "Probably one of the prettiest weddings ever solemnized on the Western Slope was performed at high noon on the banks of the Grand River (Colorado River), at the residence of Mr. and Mrs. T.H. Price, when Vesta, the pretty and accomplished daughter, became the wife of John Arthur Fitzpatrick, a member of one of the prominent families of the Plateau country. Elaborate decorations had been prepared for the occasion. Clemantis, honeysuckle and roses were festooned about the house and grounds in profusion. After the wedding the wedding party and guests sat down to one of the most bountiful and varied spreads seen at a similar function, everything the market could supply had been procured for the feast."

Grandma was a very accomplished lady. She raised seven children, worked as a
nurse for Dr. Zeigel at the Collbran Hospital, was a good cook, grew a huge garden, wrote poetry that was published, and was active in many community projects. She was a charter member of the Collbran Mother's Club which was formed in 1926, and they were an amazing group of women. They were responsible for getting the high school accredited.

Grandma told us, "In those days if one of our graduates wanted to go to college, he had to take another year at an accredited high school. We wanted to change that so they raised money through catering other clubs dinners, putting on shows and holding bake sales for expanding the library and improving the science lab and building an agriculture shop. It took us four years, but in 1932 Collbran High School was finally accredited."

Over the years the Mother's Club carried out other community-oriented projects like buying land for a park in Collbran and helping to get electricity into the area so it was available to everyone. In the early 1930's there was still no electricity in Collbran, so Grandma and her group went to work. A small generating plant was established and street lights soon went up in addition to home lighting. In 1945 there the Grand Valley Rural Electric Association franchised with Collbran to supply electricity to the area.

The Mother's Club celebrated 50 year at Grandma's home in Fruita in 1976. Grandma lived to be a wonderful 97 years old. I was so glad my children got to know their great-grandma. She had 17 grandchildren, 33 great grandchildren and 8 great-great grandchildren at the time of her death and to all of us she gave something special. Two quotes which we heard her repeat often included, "Everything happens for the best," and "try to learn something new each day." I remember calling her in the evenings after school and she would ask me what I learned that was new that day. If I didn't have an answer, she asked me to hang up, think about it, and call her back. I still try to learn something new each day.

I discovered, when Max asked me to marry him, that we had many connections we weren't aware of. I came home the night I got my engagement ring and told my parents. My dad said, "I sent you to Colorado University to meet a doctor or lawyer and you're going to marry a Stites." I soon learned that Max's grandma and my grandma Vesta were good friends growing up in Collbran. I also learned that Max's mom and brothers went to school with my dad's brothers and sisters. Our wedding was more of a reunion for all these people, than a wedding. Everyone had such a good time rekindling friendships and remembering childhood antics.

After we were married I learned that Max's great great grandparents, Rufus and Rachel Stites homesteaded in the Collbran area with my relatives. Rufus was born in New Jersey, homesteaded in Illinois, then moved to Kansas where he homesteaded near Mound City. He then homesteaded near what is today Niwot, Colorado. He then heard of land opening up on the Western Slope and, after checking it out by himself, moved his family in the 1880's to Collbran. They built a home on the east side of Big Creek where the road from Parker Basin crosses the creek. Their son, John, was Max's great grandfather. His son, Arlonzo, was Max's grandfather and he married Bessie Kruh. Arlonzo, better known as Lonnie, ranched all of his life well into his early eighties and was known as one of the best irrigators in the Plateau Valley. It was said that he never wasted a drop of water.

Rufus Stites 1828-1892
John Wesley Stites 1858-1938 and family.
Arlonzo Cary Stites 1886-1971 and his sister, Tencia Stites 1883-1965

Arlonzo Cary Stites 1886-1971 and his wife Bessie Kruh AKA Goldia Bessia Kruh 1888-1977

His initials were A. C. S. with the C standing for Cary. When we had our son, we wanted to be sure his initials matched those of his great grandfathers., So, he is named Aaron Cary Stites. One of the problems to be faced early in Collbran history was that of schools. Country schools were established and were taught by girls who had finished the eighth grade. Three of the Stites girls taught in these schools. The school on Kansas Mesa was known as the Stites School for many years because Rufus donated the land on which it was built. Rachel donated the land on which the Collbran Congregational Church was built.

Bessie Kruh Stites, Max's grandmother, was known as being one of the best cooks in the Valley and there was always room at her table for whomever stopped in at mealtime. She canned and pickled nearly anything that could be canned or pickled and still made soap as late as the early 1960's. No one ever left her home empty handed.

Sarah Kruh 1890-1982

One of Max's great aunts, Miss Sara Kruh, was a remarkable person. She graduated from Grand Junction High School and attended State Teacher's College which is now the University of Northern Colorado and earned her A.B. degree in education. She taught her first school at Bull Creek and then taught for forty-seven years in Collbran, Loma, Fowler and Grand Junction (151 grade at Tope Elementary). She retired in 1962 to her home in Plateau City where she had a huge garden, worked hard in the church and traveled. She was a most remarkable woman and I never did see her write in cursive; it was always in first grade block print.

Max's mother's family also were some of the early pioneers in the Collbran area. Heber Young, her grandfather, came to the Plateau Valley in 1885 from Utah as a result of a disagreement with the Mormon Church. Heber Young was the son of John Young who was Brigham Young's brother. Their first homestead was on Mormon Mesa, so named because they had been Mormons. The cabin and bull fence he built still stands today. The Youngs established a sawmill and later built a frame house on Kansas Mesa.

The shingles put on that house lasted over sixty years. Heber's wife was Lucinda and they had four boys. Heber raised both sheep and cattle. One time when Heber was away the "Night Riders" killed all of his bucks. Max's great grandmother supposedly grabbed a shotgun off the mantle and fired a couple of rounds at them. This was the period of the sheep and cattle wars in the West.

Nona Ellen Call 1885-1960 and Willard Young 1888-1964

Heber and Lucinda's second eldest son, Willard, was Max's grandfather. He ranched most of his life and, like many others, fell on economic hard times during the Depression. His wife, Nona, wanted to buy Max's mother a store-bought dress for graduation, but they didn't have the money. Willard sold one of his work horses in order to buy her a dress and a class ring. Grandad Willard had quite a sense of humor and one day when he and his grandsons were walking down Main Street in Grand Junction, he was stopped by a panhandler. When asked for money, he quickly replied, " Fella, I'm workin' this side of the street; you go work the other side." Heber Young would be proud to know that his great great grandsons still ranch in the Plateau Valley and that both are college graduates.

Max and I both have very fond memories of fishing and camping trips we took with
our dads and granddads on the Collbran side of the Grand Mesa. All of our grandfathers
and Max's great grandfather worked to build Bonham Reservoir, Big Creek #1 and
Atkinson. We have part of a Fresno Scraper that was used in the work on the reservoirs. On these trips to Collbran, going up the winding canyon, I always got car sick. However, I also knew that a stop at what was Branson's Drive-In was in the plan when we headed home and that ice cream surely tasted good after following my dad around all day.

Vicki's dad, Karl Fitzpatrick with his string of fish.

We return each Memorial Day to decorate the graves of our relatives. They are scattered in two different cemeteries and there are a lot to decorate. We can go back seven generations of the family on Max's side if we count our ten month old granddaughter and five generations on my side. Each year Max and I tell stories about the persons and our children now can tell those same stories. It is particularly unique because if we stand by Max's mother's grave, we can see the house where she was born.

Grave of Vesta and John Art in Cedar Crest Cemetery, Collbran, Colorado June 30, 2017

This is where we will find our final resting place. We always take a picnic and spread it
out in the cemetery and eat among the stones that represent our loved ones. It is always
a very special day for us.

Max and I have always dreamed of owning land in the Collbran area and we both feel a large connection to that place. After Max's father's death, we and his aunt established a Stites Scholarship that is given to one or two seniors each year at the Plateau Valley graduation. It is our way of giving back a little to the place that has been so meaningful to us. We had about given up on our dream until we were driving around four years ago in the fall and saw a sign that said "Eight acres for sale." Well, you just don't see eight acres for sale up there; usually it is 100 or 200 or 600. So, we called. We decided we had to make this work and begin our dream. We put our house up for sale in order to downsize and used the extra money to purchase the land. We have worked for three years planning, figuring, and building and we now have our place about two-thirds finished. Max took the lead and became the general contractor. He really didn't know a whole lot about building a house, but he has done a magnificent job. Building the home has been a family project and in June our son-in-law, his two brothers, his father, our son, Max and our nephew from Ohio spent a week framing the house. Those memories are ones none of them will forget. It was almost an old-fashioned barn raising. Since then, we have worked a little at a time. Our goal is to finish this summer because my mom, who will be 85 in October, wants to have her birthday celebration there.

So, some of the best of times have been returning to our roots and our hope is that many generations after us will use the home as a retreat from the busy world; a place to enjoy nature, look at Grand Mesa as it towers in front of the house, sit on the porch and watch the sunsets, and see the deer and elk as they come down off of the hillside. It will be filled with family memorabilia: a saddle that belonged to Grandpa Lonny, a beautiful table and old stove that was Aunt Sara's, crocks brought over by the Mormon side of the family, Grandma Vesta's books of poetry, and many other items. It is a place where the birds' songs are clearly heard, where the hummingbirds fly right to your shoulder and where the stars twinkle and play in the dark sky at night. We hope it will be a legacy that inspires our family to connect and re-connect with those who went before them and a place where the stories will be told, people remembered and appreciated for the hard times they endured. We hope it will be a place where laughter will ring through the rooms and, in the quietness, a soul may be refreshed.

So, my grandparents began with a little house and we are building a little house so that the roots that run so deep might re-connect once again.

Here is a small sample of the dozens of heirlooms that Vicki and Max have preserved in their house in Collbran. We were honored to have been invited to experience this wonderful home.