My maternal grandma, Mary, lost her father as a teenager (she was 14-years old). Her father, Raphael died November 30, 1897, and the death certificate lists food-poisoning as the cause, with a cold and indigestion as contributing factors towards heart failure. He died at home, in Manhattan. Her mother, Felicia died December 29, 1902, at home, of heart disease (grandma was nineteen-years old). They are both buried at Calvary Cemetery. I was stunned to learn that they both died before grandma turned twenty.
Grandma was an orphan, both parents deceased by the time she was nineteen-years old. I now know this is why she was so empathetic and understanding, when my father died, always concerned about me, about my brother, and how we were. She totally understood, having lost both of her parents by the time she, herself, was only nineteen-years old. How sad for her, that she lost them both so young. It must have altered her life immensely, in ways I can’t even begin to understand. Losing one parent, my father, at the age of 16 was traumatic enough, and I can’t imagine losing two parents within five years. I cried and cried upon discovering this fact. May they all rest in peace, together as a family.
Life was hard, the stress of trying to maintain the necessities of life was difficult, often causing heart attacks, and disease, such as typhus or pneumonia, which was rampant in epidemic levels, and many immigrants died early in life due to these factors. Several ancestral babies died, and I am assuming they might have contracted typhus or pneumonia. There are other factors of course, for my great-grandparents dying at the ages they did.
Being an immigrant forged many hardships. Survival in an unknown world, with new surroundings, caused extreme stress on those who emigrated to America. Assimilation was difficult, especially for those who didn’t speak English. I am positive my great-grandparents only spoke Italian Jobs for immigrants were few and far between, causing additional stress for families trying to maintain the essentials for life, food, shelter, clothing, etc.
There are times I sit and weep, thinking about the life they dreamed they would have, the life they actually had, and how life took its turns on Raphael, Felicia and their children. I speak to them during those moments, and thank them for their endeavors to begin a new life. I yearn for them, at times, yearn or long to know them, physically. Genealogical research often brings up those emotions to those searching for links to their ancestral past. You become so involved with lives of the past, and each time you find a new piece of data, the puzzle gets filled a bit more. But, at the same time, you become so emotionally involved in not only the searching but the information received, as well. It is life-altering in many ways.
After all, you realize that these individuals, these courageous, wonderful human beings, are your ancestors whom you are descended from, and without their emigration, without their lives as immigrants, you would not be here, in America, you simply would not be, at all. It is difficult to escape that reality, while researching family history. It is as if they are there, before your eyes, and in a sense they are. Their DNA runs through my veins.
Original signatures on death, birth, and marriage certificates are intriguing, as well as the information garnered, such as addresses, dates, ages, names, etc. Reasons for deaths often make sense in the scheme of future generations. One becomes immediately consumed and involved. At least I was consumed, and realized the profoundness of their journey from Italy to New York City, and wanting to start a new life, in an unknown world. New York City was not only a ‘melting pot’, in 1890, but also a city that held extremes for daily existence.
Through death certificates, I realize the extent of the hard childhood my grandma had, losing both of her parents so young in life. Research has also revealed to me the difficulties of daily life, hour to hour, at that point in time, in New York City. Difficulties that Raphael and Felicia did their best to overcome, handling the struggles before them. They somehow managed to fulfill the necessities needed, through long hours of hard work. They were fighters, warriors of a societal age that often prevented immigrants to obtain a minimal, yet decent standard of living. They persevered, along with their children.
My grandma Mary was a part of her parents’ struggle. They made sure she went to school, in an age when education was often seen as a negative. She worked after school. Once she graduated, she worked full time as a dressmaker for a clothing company, with her salary helping her family maintain daily needs.
Upon the death of her parents, she moved in with her sister and brother-in-law, continuing to work as a dressmaker. Life was definitely difficult for all of the family members, each one an immigrant.
To me, grandma Mary is a testament to strength, courage and love, for succeeding within the confines of being an immigrant. I thank her for sustaining the hardships thrust upon her, and her ability to move forward through unknown doors. I am grateful that she had the tenacity to conquer the strains and stresses life set before her.
Grandma Mary was a warrior, before females were considered to have such recognition.