Monday, October 29, 2012

Christmas visitor

     My mother told a story once about a Christmas Eve when she was a young girl.  It was the 1940's when money was tight due to the war.  In those times, children didn't receive the amazing bounty of gifts we do today.  They were lucky to have an old stocking filled with some hard candy, nuts, maybe even an orange or other piece of fruit.  But they were special times, warm and cozy.  Families gathered for their meager meals. Prayers were said around tables thanking God for his goodness.  Stories, laughter and songs were shared.
     It was on such a Christmas Eve night that while cleaning up after a family meal, a knock sounded at the front door of my mother's aunt's house.  My mother and a  young cousin went to see who it was. A strange, disheveled fellow stood upon the porch, barely dressed in enough warm clothing for the snowy night.  He asked if perhaps their family would be able to spare some food for him.  The children ran to their mothers who were washing dishes from the evening meal, explaining about the man and his odd request.
     My aunt packed a bag of food for him, knowing she was perhaps giving away some of the meal they could have had themselves in the upcoming days.  But they had big hearts, these poor Italian people and would give the last of what they had to help another.
     The stranger left after he took the package of food from my great-aunt, and the women folk went back to the kitchen to finish washing dishes.
     My mother and her young cousin were very curious where such a person would go on such a cold, snowy night.  But as they went out onto the front porch and looked in every direction, the man was nowhere to be seen.  The strangest part was, there wasn't one footprint in the snow which had fallen earlier, not one.
     They talked about this for years in our family of the strange Christmas Eve visitor.  This story has been handed down several generations now with always the same outcome.  None of us have ever questioned that it really happened.  And we all are pretty sure who the visitor might have been...
     Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.  Hebrews 13:2


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A gracious lady

     She's in her mid eighties now, skin still smooth and lovely, a warm smile on the pretty face I know and love so well.  She taught me so much in my twenties, those formative years where you teeter on the brink of becoming a woman, while holding fast to your rebellious, teenage ways.
     When I first met Rose, we immediately clicked.  I had been brought up in an old-fashioned Italian home much as she'd been and we bonded over stories of our upbringing and similar family backgrounds.
     She was elegant in a Jaclyn Kennedy sort-of-way to me.  Soft spoken and kind.  Yet this woman could out work any man as she went about daily chores.  I marveled at her strength physically and emotionally.  She was small, yet with unshakeable courage and a poise which made me want to emulate her.
     She taught me graciousness, she taught me patience and forbearance.   I learned how to become a gentle woman of God with her as my guide.  Even though our ages were almost thirty years apart, I felt a kinship with this woman, a friendship.
     To this day, when we speak on the phone, or on the occasion where I am fortunate enough to visit with her, I still feel the calming presence, the warmth and familiarity of a woman who I will always consider like a second mother to me.
     Thank you, Rose.  All my love.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Ellis Island

Posted: 05 Oct 2012 08:35 PM PDT
Karen Malena is today’s Adventurista 
What was it like for newcomers passing through Ellis Island?
I wondered this, and more, about the brave souls who left the old world to pass through ports of entry like Ellis to begin a new life for themselves.
Did you know you can find the names of the actual ship that carried your loved ones to Ellis Island? I found my great-grandfather’s ship, the Verona, and a sketch of what it had looked like back in the day, along with the names of other passengers who travelled with him.

Ellis Island, circa 1918 (photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)
In the early 1900’s, European immigrants travelled to America seeking new and better opportunities for their families. They would board a huge ship, and those who couldn’t afford to pay the fare for the upper decks were relegated to an area just below the main deck called “steerage,” an area originally designed to be a cargo hold.The conditions were crowded, with hundreds of people crammed into cramped quarters.  Nighttime was especially uncomfortable with tiny, closely-packed palettes for beds.
When they arrived at Ellis Island, New York, the poor immigrants were ushered into a processing center which daily herded thousands through for screening. Inspectors questioned them first, and then they were poked and prodded by doctors and nurses looking for diseases or handicaps.  This process took about four hours, and then they were free to leave.  If they didn’t receive approval, they were sent back to their place of origin.
In the thirty five years of operation, 1892-1954, Ellis processed eight million immigrants. In 1897, a fire destroyed many of the records. 1907 saw the most, when 1,004,756 people passed through the portal. Estimates are that over a hundred million Americans can trace their ancestry through Ellis.
Italian immigrants settled in the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia areas. They worked as  carpenters, brick-layers, shoe makers and clothiers.  Many found jobs in the newly fabricated steel mills.  As soon as they saved enough money for passage, and could arrange for accommodations, their families left behind in the old country joined them, processing through the same ports of entry.
Besides searching the records from Ellis Island, you can type a loved one’s name into the Google search engine. I recently searched for my grandfather’s history and found lots of details our family had forgotten. often has free trials so you can get a taste of how easy it is to search.  The more information you have, such as spouse’s and children’s names, and where they were born, the more information you’ll turn up.

My grandfather Pietro Biancuci, who emigrated from Italy through Ellis Island
While I searched, I noticed that someone had corrected some misspelling of our family’s last name, and had left their email address.  I wrote her, and a new friendship was forged. We laughed and cried together over dear loved ones, long gone.
My long lost, now found, relative gave me the name of another site.  Family Search lets you search for free.
One of the search engines, Find a Grave, revealed the  final resting place of my great-grandfather, Pietro. I found it, and as I stood there, tears coursing down my face over the end of my quest, I gave thanks for being born into a family who had such a strong patriarch, brave enough to leave the old world, pass through Ellis Island, and begin a new life in America.

My grandmother’s wedding party, with her father, my great grandfather, Pietro, standing directly behind her. (photograph property of the author)
With the power of the internet, and because of the meticulous records, your search for your ancestors might turn up even more than mine did, and I promise you’ll enjoy the adventure. I’d love to hear about what you turn up.
Find a Grave
Norway-Heritage Across the Sea
Family Search

Karen Malena
Karen Malena has several compelling stories about the search for her ancestors available on Amazon and Goodreads. A devoted mother, daughter and wife, she hopes to convey the ups and downs of true-to-life situations in her writing. Coming from an Italian family has given her passion, and a love of reading has given her the desire for creativity. Karen is a member of Ligonier Valley Writers, and Pittsburgh East Scribes.When she’s not tracking down distant relatives, she works in the dental field, where she developed a compassion  for people of all walks and ages.
Contact her at Visit Karen’s Facebook page, and learn more about her books.
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