Italian Roots

Italian Roots
Nona Angela with sons Guiseppe and Dalciso and her sister-in-law, Genoa Italy, 1908

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Nona's First Voyage

Angela was 22 when she married my grandfather.  She told me he was quite a catch with blond hair and blue eyes!  But even though they were in love and starting a family, life was hard in their little hamlet of Zeboraglia.  Nona told me she went right back out to work in the fields after my uncles were born.  They subsisted on the crops they grew, chestnuts and the wild porcini mushrooms that sprouted all around.  The men also were skilled hunters.  But they had to work very hard for meager results.  So when Nono decided to go to the United States to make a better life, she agreed.  It had to be such a difficult decision and only made in the most desperate circumstances because Italians families are so closely knit.  And these people had lived for centuries in the coastal mountains off the Riviera.  Besides occasional trips to visit the seacoast, few people ventured farther than a couple miles from their home base.  America was so far away.


My Grandfather, Sebastiano, left his little family in 1907 with his brother Domenico to travel to San Francisco where there was promise of work because of all the rebuilding after the 1906 earthquake.  Plus San Francisco and northern California were similar in climate to northern Italy.  He boarded the ship Lombardia in Genoa on March 28 and arrived in New York at Ellis Island on April 11, 1907.

Dalciso and Sebastiano

Nona stayed behind for four more years while Nono worked and saved to pay for her voyage across the Atlantic and then across the United States.  Finally, in July of 1911, Angela set off for Genoa with her two little boys in tow.  Sebastiano, named after his father, was 6 years old now and Dalciso was four and a half.  How brave my grandmother was to venture off to parts unknown all alone except for her two little ones.  She boarded the ship Luisiana* on July 19th and sailed for three weeks reaching Ellis Island on August 9th, 1911.


I try to imagine what it must have been like to arrive in a strange country alone like that without speaking the language.  Nona did tell me the story that while she was in New York City trying to buy some cheese in a butcher shop, she didn't know the English word for cheese and was very frustrated.  My uncle Chis was acting up and she shouted his name which sounds very much like "Cheese" and the butcher suddenly knew what she wanted.  "Oh, you want Cheese!" he said.

*Genealogy Note:
When I was researching my grandparents' ships and manifests using the Ellis Island site and,  I fell into a little trap that is so easy to do.  For eight years I had saved the manifest of the ship, Hamburg, sailing in 1909 certain it was my grandmother's voyage since I found an Angela Ferrando listed there accompanied by a Giuseppe Sciandra, but not my uncles.  But, just yesterday, while researching on another Ferrando cousin who came over to San Francisco around the same time, I found both uncles' names on another ship manifest.  There it was, my grandmother listed as "Maria" not Angela and using her maiden name, "Damino!"


  1. Bunny, thanks for the GREAT research you are doing, i see my Father smileing from the 18th hole!

    Cousin Bob

  2. Thanks Bunny.
    This is great. Eric and I just read your latest post. It's very interesting and entertaining!
    Love the story about the cheese. Too funny!

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