Found Maria, Still Looking for Antonio — An Update

Our recent story of the migration of my grandparents, Antonio and Maria, from Southern Italy a century ago has generated a fair amount of discussion. Piecing together their journey has been like assembling a jigsaw puzzle with several pieces missing. That first picture was assembled from fragments —  sketchy stories from sources living and dead, old photographs, and a sprinkling of facts. Since that first story appeared, we now believe we can paint a clearer picture of when their journey happened, how it happened, and why. The following is ‘Version #2’ of that story based on some renewed recollections, adjudication of some contradictory stories, new online research, and a little luck. One central piece of the puzzle remains lost and I’m still looking.

In our imagination, let’s rewind the story of Antonio and Maria, not back to the beginning quite yet, but back to a time and place where we have recently ‘found’ Antonio’s family. The date is August 18, 1910. On this day, we meet Maria with her two sons — twelve-year-old Giovanni (John) and four-year-old Giuseppe (Joseph). We find them on a ship called The Regina d’Italia, on the last day of a voyage that took them from Naples, across the Mediterranean, through the strait of Gibraltar, and across the Atlantic. Since they were below-decks in steerage, they were unable to watch the approach of a 23-year-old Statue of Liberty as they entered New York Harbor. It wasn’t until the ship docked at Ellis Island that they were able to climb up the stairs to the main deck and get their first look at the ‘Lady in The Harbor,’ who had invited them.

So, how do we know for sure that they were on that boat on that particular day?

On line 25 of the passenger list for the Regina d’Italia for August 18, 1910, we see something that we had not seen before when searching under Maria’s married name. Under her maiden name, we find three pieces of information that confirm that this is ‘our’ Maria:

1. “Zappia, Maria G.” — Her point of origin was listed as the village of Savelli, consistent with my Aunt Isabel’s story, and her age, 34, is the right age for ‘our’ Maria. She was born in 1876.
2. On the facing page, we see the annotation “Husband Sapone” — this is ‘our’ Antonio, but he is not a passenger on this ship. This is consistent with Isabel’s disputed story that Antonio came to American first.

3. Beneath this entry, on lines 26 and 27, the clincher: we see listed her two sons, Giovanni (Age 12) and Giuseppe (age 4) — father’s name: Sapone. They are the right age and have the right names, traveling with their mother whose name was listed as Zappia. — ‘our’ Maria’s maiden name.

The ship, by the way, had room for 120 1st-class passengers and 1,900 in ‘steerage (where Maria and the boys traveled). Coincidentally, The Regina d’Italia served as a hospital ship after the earthquake at Reggio/Messina.

Still Looking for Antonio

So, now we get to the tough part of the story. It has become clear that my grandfather did not arrive at Ellis Island on the Konig Albert on April 27, 1910, as previously reported here.  A closer look at the hand-written passenger manifest shows four problems: for this ‘Antonio,’ the closest living relative in the country of origin was listed as his wife, “Mirolina”; it names his destination was “Pittsbugh, Pa”; and it states that he had previously been to that city. So, none of the passengers I have found in this database so far with my grandfathers name match what we now about ‘our’ Antonio.

We do have some evidence that may enable us to close in on him. Since we know that Maria gave birth to my father, Albert (Umberto) on October 10, 1910, in Red Jacket, West Virginia, we know that she was seven months pregnant during this 12-day voyage across the Atlantic on The Regina d’Italia! That fact also dictates that, if Antonio was Albert’s father, he had to have sailed to America no sooner than January of 1910 (in order to have been on the right side of the Atlantic to have participated in his conception).

What Next?

The Ellis Island database has some new search features and there are other sources to explore.  We are still looking for answers:

  1. When did Antonio sail, from which port, and on what ship?
  2. What can we learn about their three-year life in West Virginia?
  3. What more can we learn about their life in California before Antonio’s death in 1927?

So, I have more work to do — the search continues.


One Response “Found Maria, Still Looking for Antonio — An Update”

  1. Bunny says:

    Really interesting to me, Dan. I admire your persistence! Thank you for pursuing our mutual history. I didn’t remember that our Dad was the youngest brother of the three, although I did remember that our aunt, Kitty, was the youngest child. Was she born in Ca. or W. Va? Will that be another search or do you know?