How does a newborn baby abandoned on a doorstep in rural Abruzzo in 1844 end up sailing into New York Harbor on June 8, 1907 at age 63?
Sometimes generous people are family members who offer refuge and open arms to a loved one. Near the end of his life, Antonio’s daughter Maria offered him a home and family ties in Paterson, NJ.
After the unfolding of Antonio’s story of abandonment, rescue, near-death, and the end of his fostering in Abruzzo – all by age 8 (see part 1 and part 2), we know little about his life until he was drafted for military service in 1865 when he was 21 and living in Rosciano about four miles from his childhood home of Villa Badessa. He was assigned to the 28th Infantry Regiment in 1865, but failed to report for duty. Antonio was subsequently declared a draft dodger, but was eventually acquitted of that charge. Antonio’s decision to resist military service was not unusual. This was a very complicated time in Italian history as the unification of the country was underway.* Many young men did not report for military service. Of the men that did serve, the majority were poor and farmers – like Antonio.
In any case, we next find Antonio four years later, in 1869, in the records for Caserta – about 130 miles away from Rosciano. The Caserta records (on Ancestry.com) show that the births of his first and second children, Marianna, born in 1869 and Maria, born in 1871, occurred before the civil record of his marriage in 1871 to their mother, Teresa di Giacomo whose family had been in Caserta for generations. Antonio and Teresa had seven more children throughout the 1870s and 1880s: Elisabetta (1873), Constantino (1876), Gregorio (1878), Giuseppe (1881), Lucia (1883), Umberto (1885) and Pasquale (1888) who died when only 18 days old on the 24th of January 1888. Exactly one year later Teresa died at the age of 38. I wonder if Antonio felt abandoned again, and desperate about how he would raise his children.
In the next few years, through the 1890s, the older children married and some moved away. Maria married first, in 1890, to Celestino Roselli and moved to her husband’s town of Ponzano Romano in Lazio about 140 miles north. The records also show that Antonio remarried, to Teresa San Lenzio in 1894, and they had a child named Salvatore in 1895.
By 1899, Maria’s husband Celestino arrived in the United States, and in the early 1900s, many of Antonio’s children emigrated from Italy to Paterson, New Jersey where Maria and Celestino eventually settled. Maria joined Celestino (with their three daughters in tow) in 1903. Gregorio and family arrived in 1905, followed by Constantino and Umberto with their families in 1906. Marianna arrived in 1912. We know that at least five of his children were living in Paterson by the end of Antonio’s life.
It is difficult to piece together the exact reasons why Antonio left for the United States in 1907. I can imagine that this must have been difficult for him. At least four of his children were in the United States, but there were children in Caserta as well. I am not sure what happened to his second wife. I’ve spent hours reading the Caserta records to see if I could find out if his second wife had died, to no avail.
The records show he came to the US on the S.S. Germania, and indicate that he intended to join his son Constantino in Paterson. He doesn’t appear in the 1910 census, but we know that by 1914 he was living with his daughter Maria Gasperino Roselli and her family in Paterson, and that he stayed with them until his death in 1919, surrounded by her large and growing family.
Maria and Celestino had seven children by 1912. Antonio was there for the births of Arthur and Clara, her last two. I think about Maria caring for a family of 7 plus her husband Celestino and her father Antonio, and by 1915, the New Jersey census showed that in addition to her immediate family, another twelve people were also living in the home. I imagine her busy days of cleaning and cooking and caring for it all. I wonder what Antonio’s last years were like in that house. He had been left on a doorstep with nothing and no one to take care of him. In his last years he was surrounded by a huge family, including children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren. Yet, the family was split apart as some of his children and grandchildren remained in Italy, a fact that ultimately severed the ties between Antonio’s American and Italian descendants. These ties are being restored today, but that is another story.
Antonio is buried in Laurel Grove Cemetery in Totowa, New Jersey. His granite tombstone is elaborately and beautifully carved with long dark fronds on a light background and the words in Italian, Nato 14 Marzo 1844, Morto 7 Ottobre 1919.
Paying attention to the generous people who allowed the foundling Antonio to survive and live has been a fascinating way to study his life. It has allowed me to focus more clearly on the relationships that shaped his life and our family. I plan to continue this series with a focus on more generous people.
For more on the Italian draft see, Marco Rovinello’s “The Draft and Draftees in Italy, 1861-1914” https://www.academia.edu/11975237/The_draft_and_draftees_in_Italy_1861-1914?auto=download
Our little foundling’s last name, Gasbarrini, given to him by the local officials, changed over the years, from Gasparrini to Gasparrino to Gasparino and finally to Gasperino. In Italy his descendants, I believe, have the name Gasparrino.