Tuesday, July 1, 2008

M Is for Michael

One of my hobbies is genealogy. I've been working on and off on my family tree for a long time now. My great-grandfather Michael (or as he wrote it Michele) Latronico is my favorite ancestor. He died long before I was born but he wrote a letter about his life that I believe was meant for me. My Grandpa Alexander translated it and eventually I found it. Great-grandpa Michael and Great-grandma Anna Branca arrived in America from Italy on May 18, 1884 on the ship Burgundia. There's a picture of it below. I doubt I would have been brave enough to get on that boat especially since Anna was very pregnant at the time. Their first child Antoinette (Annie) was born in Delaware less than one month after they landed, on June 12, 1884. They stayed Delaware for the birth of their first three children and then moved to Manhattan. Michael worked on the railroad in Delaware and he was a garbage man for the City of New York, but the next to youngest child, my Grandpa Alexander, graduated from Manhattan college and became a teacher. He's the little boy standing all the way on the right. Imagine that, when I found Michael on the ship's manifest he is listed as a peasant and his son graduates from college.

I knew all of Michael's children except Annie who died in the Flu Epidemic of 1918, and I loved them all, especially Grandpa. But it was Michael who brought us all here and I'm so happy he did.

Here's the letter Michael wrote.

To My Dear Children:

I should like to write this in English but since fortune has not so favored me, I shall have to do it in Italian.

As you all know, your father was born in Italy in the village of Olevano sul Tusciano ,in the province of Salerno, April 5, 1855, of Andrea [Latronico] and Carmina Messano.

It was my misfortune to lose my mother on the third day after my birth, thereby leaving me in the custody of my father, a widowed landowner.
For my upbringing and nutrition, he placed my in the care of a fine woman, Maddalena De Somanto, by name, in whose care I remained for a period of seven months. Thereafter, I returned to the home of my father where I remained with my paternal grandmother.

I attended school from the age of six until the age of fourteen, then returned to my father’s farm where I replaced one of the workmen. This was of financial benefit for we could use the extra salary for other things. Thus, I continued in that capacity until my twentieth birthday when tragedy struck home again. Father died suddenly leaving me without mother or father.

I now had to return to the home of my step-mother whom my father had married some ten months after the death of my mother. For the following two years I remained there working the land under the direction of a brother-in-law. However, things did not work out to my satisfaction so I quit. Meanwhile, my brother who had been in the military service returned. He advised me to enlist which I did and was accepted in the Department of Public Security for a six year stint, with a monthly salary of twelve dollars. You can imagine what a time I had to make ends meet. Since there were no parents to help me and no other boys, I had to manage, and I did, hoping constantly against hope that one day I would receive some good news.

After five and one half years, with six more months to go, I received several letters from my brother. He asked me to resign at once and to return home for he was in dire need of help to work the farm. At this time I was in the city of Florence. I submitted my resignation and worked my way back to my home town to the family farm. It was not long, however, that I came to realize that it was his intention to have me work as a farm boy, a child of the family so to speak, and to carry on without thoughts of getting married. Not being happy about this, I left, to his great disappointment.

Finding myself once more in my native village and not wanting to remain there idle, I applied for work with the railroad department where I was employed at the salary of 42 cents per day. In a short period, however, I saved enough money to pay for my wedding and that is when I married your mother [Anna Branca].

In the meantime, I had written to my brother-in-law who was in America, asking him to send me passage fare for myself and my wife. By the way, we were married in the same parish in Olevano, where we had both been baptized, on the 26th of March 1883. Within thirteen months after our wedding, we arrived in America on May 18, 1884 and settled in a little town called Stanton, Delaware.

Soon thereafter, I paid off my debt to my brother-in-law and then your mother and I devoted our lives to rearing all of you, my firm purpose was to keep us all together so that, although we might never become millionaires, we would be independent and never obligated to anyone.

Michele Latronico


RedScot said...

What a wonderful letter! To have so much detail about an ancestor like that is lovely!

Diane said...

That is absolutely fascinating! How wonderful to know that family history.

Iron Needles said...

How cool is that! From his own hand, too. What a connections to your past.

Marie said...

How fortunate you are to have such a treasure!

Mary said...

What a gem! Your family's story resonates for so many of us.

amanda said...

How wonderful to have such a letter in your posession! Genealogy is one of my hobbies too, although I haven't done much work on it in a long while. Don't you find that once you start researching a name you can get lost for days?

VicJoRob said...


I loved the letter. I too am a family historian and just love things like this.