Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I Pesce dei Giachi

The Pesce family can claim the largest number of descendants of any of the families that came to the United States from Giusvalla. This family was also unique among the Giusvalla immigrant families because all the grown Pesce siblings (with the exception of the oldest sister) came over to Squirrel Run, followed by their elderly parents – Paolo Rocco and Francesca (Becco) Pesce.

Paolo and Francesca had 8 children, 44 grandchildren and 68 great-grandchildren. Their progeny continue to flourish into the seventh generation now, with several great-great-great-great grandchildren having been born into the Pesce family! This is the story of their origins in Giusvalla.


In the middle of the 19th century, Giovanni Battista Pesce and his wife, Francesca Teresa Zunino, lived in a little neighborhood in Giusvalla called “Giachi.” Giachi is located down the road and up the hill from Cavanna (the homestead of the Bonifacino family), off the strada provinciale. Giachi is still very much an agricultural neighborhood amidst “i brichi ed Giusvalla”; if you visit today you will find Laura hard at work among her dairy cows.

Giovanni Battista had gone to Altare (a neighboring town of Giusvalla) and worked for several years in the famous glass making industry there before returning to the farm at Giachi, where he raised his family which included his son, Paolo Rocco and a daughter, Luigia.

Paolo Rocco Pesce was born on August 16, 1848 and married Francesca Becco on February 19, 1870. Francesca’s family came from a farm at località Taranco, just a short distance from Giachi. The Pesces were a tenant farmer family, they did not own their own farm, rather they rented the land they cultivated. When Paolo’s parents both died in 1894, there was no inheritance. Paolo and his young family continued to eek out a meager existence on the farm at Giachi, but life in Giusvalla was hard and soon his growing children began to look elsewhere for better opportunities.

And where better to find opportunity in the first decade of the 20th century than the “land of opportunity” …. America soon beckoned with its promises of a better life and financial stability. Paolo and Francesca’s eldest living son, GioBatta “John” Pesce was the first in the family to venture across the ocean to America. He arrived at Ellis Island on March 20, 1901 and listed his destination as Wilmington, Delaware. He arrived at the DuPont powder mills ready to work alongside the two or three fellow Giusvallini who were already there. GioBatta soon sent word home of the plentiful work available at the powder mills, and gradually his brothers, sisters and brothers-in-law began arriving. They all lived their first years in the United States in the Squirrel Run employee housing neighborhood on the grounds of the powder mills. With the exception of the eldest sister - whose entrepreneur husband preferred to keep his business ventures close to home - all the living Pesce siblings came to Squirrel Run. Their parents eventually joined them as well, Paolo and Francesca arrived at Ellis Island on April 12, 1910.

The children of Paolo Rocco & Francesca (Becco) Pesce were:

Francesca “Francìscha,” born in Giusvalla, Jan. 7, 1871; died in Giusvalla, Jul. 1, 1930. Married Jun. 15, 1886 in Giusvalla to Santino Salvo. They had six children.

Carolina, born in Giusvalla, Jul. 9, 1872; died in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, Nov. 12, 1959. Married Feb. 4, 1890 in Giusvalla to Francesco Baccino. They had eight children.

Giuseppe Francesco GioBatta, born in Giusvalla, Jul. 11, 1874; died in Giusvalla, Apr. 13, 1894.

GioBatta “John,” born in Giusvalla, Feb. 17, 1878; died in Wilmington, Delaware, Nov. 10, 1911. Married Jul. 24, 1902 at the Cathedral of St. Peter, Wilmington, to Maria Lucia Bonifacino. They had four children.

Vittorio “Gianèn,” born in Giusvalla, Mar. 22, 1882; died in Kennett Twp., Pennsylvania, Feb. 11, 1947. Married Jul. 11, 1903 at the Cathedral of St. Peter, Wilmington, to Eugenia Baccino. They had seven children.

Carmelina, born in Giusvalla, Sep. 27, 1884; died in Wilmington, Delaware, Aug. 31, 1953. Married (1) Nov. 28, 1901 in Giusvalla to Casimiro Giovanni Carozzo and (2) Jan. 27, 1921 at St. Joseph-on-the-Brandywine Church, Henry Clay, Delaware to Giovanni Brondo. She had five children by her first husband and two children by her second husband.

Giuseppe “Pinén,” born in Giusvalla, Oct. 28, 1886; died in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, Mar. 30, 1960. Married (1) Sep. 3, 1908 at the Cathedral of St. Peter, Wilmington to Flaminia Giuseppina Briccotto and (2) Jan. 27, 1921 at St. Joseph-on-the-Brandywine Church, Henry Clay, Delaware to Adelaide Brondo. He had three children by his first wife and three children by his second wife.

Giuseppina “Pina,” born in Giusvalla, Jul. 23, 1891; died in Newark, Delaware, Nov. 6, 1989. Married (1) Oct. 5, 1911 at St. Joseph-on-the-Brandywine Church to Giovanni Battista Perrone and (2) Aug. 15, 1927 at Christ Our King Church, Wilmington, Delaware to Francesco Rosaio. She had five children by her first husband and one child by her second husband.

In the picture: My great-great grandparents, Paolo Rocco & Francesca (Becco) Pesce, circa 1915.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Tartaglia the Midwife

Dedicated with love to my grandmother, Rita Rosaio, the strongest woman I know

I’ve often wondered what day-to-day life must have been like for our great-grandparents. My great-grandmother was always quick to remind us that she worked as hard as her husband to provide for her family. There was the work on the farm and at the farmer’s market in Wilmington, but also a hundred things around the house to keep my great-grandmother busy. The Italian families at Squirrel Run were generally quite large, our grandmothers and great-grandmothers were up early in the morning getting the children their breakfast and sending them off to school. The chores that followed must have seemed endless, everything was to be done by hand as there were no washing machines, dishwashers or vacuum cleaners at Squirrel Run. In addition, many of our great-grandmothers kept boarders, took in laundry or worked in varying domestic capacities for the DuPonts and other affluent families in the area.

In the early years at Squirrel Run, it wasn’t a doctor that was called in when a new baby was due to arrive - it was Tartaglia the Midwife. Maria Tartaglia delivered many of the little Giusvallini babies that were born during the early years at Squirrel Run. Like the women whose babies she delivered, Maria was a native of Italy. She was born May 30, 1885 in the town of Lama dei Peligni, which is located in the province of Chieti in the Abruzzo region of Italy. When she was about 12 years old, Maria’s family immigrated to Rio de Janiero, Brazil, where she lived for six or seven years until the family came to the United States in April, 1903. The Tartaglia family settled in Wilmington’s Little Italy, and she became well-known in the area as a midwife to many of the local Italian women. In 1907, Maria married Lama dei Peligni native Antonio DiBenedetto and by him she had several children. As her own large family continued to grow, Maria was gradually unable to continue her services as a midwife and the good Dr. Meredith Iver Samuel took her place tending the childbearing needs of the Italian women at Squirrel Run.

Maria (Tartaglia) DiBenedetto lived a long life among the Italian community she had served as a young woman in Wilmington, she died on January 9, 1978 at the age of 92 years. It is noteworthy that the hands of a strong Italian woman brought the first generation of Giusvallini-Americani into the world. We gratefully remember Tartaglia the Midwife, and all our brave Italian grandmothers and great-grandmothers, whose struggles only made them stronger.

In the picture: My great-grandmother, Giuseppina (Pesce) (Perrone) Rosaio and her daughters, Elsie (b. 1915) and Anne (b. 1918).

Friday, March 12, 2010

I Rumèni ed Gišvala - The Romanians of Giusvalla

I have often been asked - incredulously, what is this about Romanians in Giusvalla? I suppose it seems difficult to accept that our little ancestral hometown could be anything but completely “Italian,” demographically as well as culturally. The truth may surprise you. Allow me to explain.

Giusvalla has always been a tiny little town, the population peaked at around 1,200 souls during the early 19th century. Emigration to South America began in the mid 19th century and continued in full force for nearly one hundred years. Around 1900 the birth rate began to plummet. Giusvalla lost another large portion of the population to the United States from around 1900-1920. By the 1980s, there was just a scattering of less than 300 people left living in Giusvalla. The younger generation had all but moved out to the bigger cities to pursue better opportunities. Those who remained clung desperately to family farms, and the already rustic landscape of Giusvalla began taking on the appearance of an impoverished, hardscrabble ghost town in the wilderness as abandoned, centuries old farmhouses began to collapse due to neglect.

With no local industry and an increasing abandonment of the agrarian lifestyle in northern Italy, the situation seemed hopeless. In spite of the spartan conditions, the price of real estate in Giusvalla continued to sky rocket – further incentive for the natives to “sell” to real estate speculators and move on to better prospects. By the early 1990s, with no new students enrolled in Giusvalla’s little school (and the little school at Cavanna already closed), the town prepared to close the doors to the schoolhouse forever.

No one could have predicted that things were about to change when Giusvalla native Elio Rizzo moved home from Tuscany in 1994 with his new Romanian bride Luminita. What happened then was remarkable. The following year, Luminita’s brother arrived in Giusvalla to visit. He immediately felt at home among the rocky hills and forests of the little village, and decided to stay. Then cousins from Romania began to arrive, then friends and neighbors. Soon the Giusvalla white pages contained family names like Burca, Tuduca, Vasile and Cornel alongside the dwindling number of Baccinos and Bonifacinos. Like other new immigrant groups who come from an inpoverished agricultural background and don’t speak the local language, the Romanians began taking the jobs the Giusvallini had abandoned, working as laborers, factory workers (at the bottling plant in Cairo Montenotte), housekeepers and caretakers for the elderly. There was life again in the abandoned homes "i Rumèni" rented from the now absent Giusvallini. The school in Giusvalla was saved from extinction as they began enrolling Romanian children.

For the first time in nearly 150 years, Giusvalla’s population began to climb again, with approximately 10-12 new Romanians arriving every year. There are now over 400 people living in Giusvalla, of which approximately 30% are Romanian natives. There are also now a significant number of non-Giusvalla native Italians living in Giusvalla, as well as Germans, Swiss, Greeks and even Moroccans, who have purchased some of the old crumbling farm houses and restored them into elegant weekend and summer retreats.

The handful of remaining Giusvalla natives have lovingly embraced their new neighbors as the future of their town. The Giusvalla of today is a much different place than it was just 15 years ago, when Elio Rizzo arrived with his foreign bride, however our little ancestral village has sustained itself and assured its survival in the same way it always has …. through perseverance and an unwavering openness to change.

In the picture: Once largely abandoned and in a state of neglect, località Taranco, is now the home of several Romanian families in Giusvalla.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Life Before Squirrel Run

Although many of our ancestors came here as children, there were still others who were already adults, or, were on their way into adulthood at the time that they came to America. One such example was my great grandfather, Giuseppe Ghione.

He and his wife Teresa (Reggio) Ghione came to America in March of 1912, and arrived to Squirrel Run shortly thereafter. However, in Italy at that time, all young men were required to serve in the Country’s military for a term upon reaching the age of 18. My great-grandfather turned 18 in 1904. For his military service, he was what was known as a “bersaglieri”, or sharpshooter. The above photo shows Giuseppe wearing his official bersaglieri uniform.

The bottom of the photo indicates that it was taken at the E. DINA photography studio in Milan, Italy.

This photo is a great contribution by my cousin, Rich Ghione. As one can imagine, it is a very special piece of our family history. And thanks to Rich and his family who kept it in tact for all of these years, we are able to display the image here for our readers to appreciate as well.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Save the Dates! Upcoming Giusvalla and Squirrel Run Related Events at Winterthur

St. Anthony's Day, Sunday, June 13, 2010

Last day of the Wilmington Italian Festival, Winterthur Museum invites you to participate in their Proud to be Italian Day.

$5 discount off the price of general admission to anyone who holds a ticket to the Italian festival or says they are "Proud to be Italian."

This offer is made in conjunction with the March 27-July 25 Exhibition:

Lost Gardens of the Brandywine

In the 1920s and 30s, the Wilmington area became known as one of the centers of horticulture in the United States. Italian gardeners were an essential component to the high quality of the gardens. Unlike the owners or designers, staff contributions to individual gardens were largely unacknowledged and are now mostly forgotten.

At Winterthur for example, no family except the du Ponts had as much of an impact as the Felicianis, three generations of whom have helped shape the landscape. Joseph Feliciani, born in Italy, began at Winterthur as a gardener in the 1920s. His father-in-law, Abraham Ragazzo, worked on what was known as the Bull Gang, building the roads of the estate. In the 1930s Joseph and his son, Albert, were among the hundreds turning Winterthur into one of the premier naturalistic gardens of the world.

A surprising number of the gardeners were from the town of Giusvalla, in the Liguria region of northwestern Italy. Many of the men worked at the DuPont Gunpowder Mills on the Brandywine and on various du Pont estates as gardeners in the early 20th century. Some went on to be mushroom farmers as well. The community remains active to this day.