Happy Birthday Irene George Veri

Today is Irene George Veri’s birthday!!! Happy birthday Irene. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do on this blog without your fantastic memory and family stories that offer so much background on the George family. And did I mention pictures?

Here are just a few to highlight your special day! Maybe you can add some comments to tell us all a bit more about them. Is this one with the piano in the background at your parents’ house in New Castle?

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And here are a couple more in honor of our birthday girl.

 

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Where are you going all dressed up?

 

 

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Is this your front porch in New Castle?

 

 

The Moonshine Still on Limestone Hill

If you asked me where moonshine originated, I’d say the mountains of North Carolina. And truth be told, I have two jars of it in my freezer right now – gifts from two different people. But here’s a fun diversion from my Giorgio family research to share a story about moonshine.

When Rick and I met Dominic Renzi at his home in Brick, New Jersey in March 2016, I typed furiously as he recalled many stories of his time in Connellsville, PA. His family had a farm on Limestone Hill. Dominic and his brother Gene are connected to the George family because their father married Lena George on September 5th 1939, just four months after their mother died.

Dominic’s father Nick Renzi was born in Italy but came to Pennsylvania as a young boy. Nick’s father was already here when he sent for his wife and two children to join him in the early 1900s.

Nick’s father Dominic and his brother Joseph were stonemasons from Italy. In the Italian naming tradition, Nick’s first son was named after his father. Sadly, Nick’s father and uncle died in 1918, victims of the influenza epidemic. Here’s a picture of Nick as child with his father Dominic (on the left) and his uncle, Louis Renzi.

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So here’s a story – just as I typed it last March as Dominic shared what he knew about his grandfather Dominic.

The Renzi farm was in Dunbar Township on Limestone Hill. My grandfather was into moonshine, which he also had been in Italy when he lived in the northern section near Switzerland. The family was pretty well off. They built a smaller house near the farm house and there was a tunnel that ran between the two houses. When they first moved to Dunbar Township they had pigs on the farm. They built a slaughter house nearby, which would mask the smell of the moonshine operations.

Fast forward to this news from the Connellsville Courier in May 1929, a few months before Dominic was born.

stillonlimestonhill-1929In case you can’t read the names in the article, the two men arrested during the raid were Samuel Joseph and Carmello Strullia. The reason I think this might be the first Dominic Renzi’s still is because the article describes it as being unique because it was constructed entirely of wood. Here’s the continuation of the article.

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I love it when family recollections are borne out in the press. And have I mentioned that there’s nothing like reading old newspapers to get your  mind off the divisions that exist in our country today and the unending stream of political rants that seem to pervade every aspect of our lives?

So yes – it is bit of a diversion from Custode’s story but it is so much fun to get an idea of what life was like in the community and I couldn’t resist sharing an article that I think Dominic Renzi would really enjoy about what became of his grandfather’s still.

 

 

A New Mother for Dominic and Eugene

img023Dominic and Eugene sat side by side on the piano bench in the front room of the strange lady’s house. Their father, Nick Renzi, had come into town to find a new mother for them. The woman who met them at the door was old and her stern expression frightened them. Surely this woman wasn’t going to be their new mother.

A woman with dark hair and round glasses came down the stairs. She gave them only a fleeting glance then looked at their father. She never smiled at him as she shook his hand. Would this woman would be their new mother?

They sat as still as two rambunctious boys of 6 and 10 could sit, crowded together on the narrow piano bench, their dangling legs swinging back and forth, not touching the floor. The tight collars of their dress shirts made their necks itch and they pulled and tugged at their sleeves. From across the room their father gave them a stern look and motioned for them to be still. He pulled his shoulders back to show them how they should sit.

Soon the adults went into the kitchen and continued talking in Italian. The woman with dark hair and round glasses never said a word. Did she even have a voice? They only heard the voices of their father and the older woman. It seemed to take forever before their father came back in the room and said it was time to go.

As they left the house, their father turned to the woman with dark hair and round glasses and said – “Boys, this is Lena George, she will be your new mother.” They looked at Lena and didn’t know what to say or do. She stared back at them with a blank expression. “Say good-bye to your new mother,” their father prompted.

“Good bye mother,” Dominic said, not sure whether he was supposed to hug her or shake her hand so he did neither. The woman stared at them as if she were in a trance – she was looking at them but didn’t see them. She didn’t look very happy about being their mother. Dom and Eugene crowded close to their father, one on either side, as they went down the front porch steps out into the bright September sun.

The next week one of their uncles brought Lena’s suitcases and trunks to the farm and carried them up to their father’s bedroom. Two of their mother’s sisters came to the farm and packed up all of her jewelry, dresses and shoes that had been in the wardrobe and carried everything away.

“Aunt Jennie and Aunt Amanda will take good care of you while I’m away, their father said that night as he was packing his suitcase.

“But Papa, we want to go with you – where are you going.”

“Lena and I are going on a trip to Washington, DC, New York and Canada. That’s what people do when they get married.”

“Can’t we go with you?” they pleaded.

“No, you’re not old enough. It will just be Lena, her nephew Harold and me.”

“Why does he get to go with you on your wedding trip – that’s not fair!” shouted Dominic. He’s only 13 and I’m 10 – that’s not fair!”

Nick sighed and shook his head. He didn’t know why he agreed to let Harold go on their honeymoon. Of all the things Custode demanded when she agreed to let Nick marry her only remaining daughter, this was the most unreasonable. A 13-year old boy going on their honeymoon! He would never hear the end of it from the guys he worked with on the railroad.

But his boys needed a mother and Alverda thought Lena would be a good match. At 33 it was unlikely Lena would ever find a husband on her own. Maybe if they had time alone together she would warm up to him. But that was unlikely to happen on their honeymoon with Harold in tow. Everything Nick had heard about Custode was true – she called the shots. Whether out of love, respect or fear, her grown children did whatever she demanded. And now she was controlling what would happen on his honeymoon. How humiliating!

As their father drove down the hill, his car vanishing into a cloud of dust, Dominic realized this was the first time since their mother died in May that their father had been away for more than a few days. Their aunts had taken turns staying with them at the farm over the summer so why did they even need a new mother? Couldn’t things just stay the way they were?

When Nick came home three weeks later, Lena was with him. They ran to hug their father and he kneeled down and hugged them both –one on each side – his blue eyes twinkling with joy at the sight of his sons.

“Give your new mother a hug,” he said, pushing them toward Lena who stood there with the same blank stare she had when they met her at Custode’s house in Dunbar.

Eugene being the youngest and eager to please his father ran over to Lena and reached up to hug her around her waist. Lena stiffened and pulled away but Eugene clung to her, looking up with his trusting brown eyes, his wide happy smile beaming up at her. He was glad to have a new mother, he didn’t care what Dom said.

Lena looked down at Eugene, and with what Dominic would later describe as her other expression –  eyes squinted and nose wrinkled up as if a most horrible smell had suddenly filled the room – Lena firmly grabbed each of Eugene’s tiny wrists and pushed his arms away, twisting out of his embrace.

Dom ran over and grabbed his younger brother’s arm, “Come ‘on Gene – let’s go outside and play.” He glared back at Lena – trying to match her cold, icy stare. He didn’t care what his father said, this woman was nothing like their mother. Their mother was pretty and always smiling – even near the end when the goiter made her neck bulge out. Dom could still remember his mother’s soft hands as she stroked his forehead when she tucked them into bed at night.

Dom never want Lena to touch him or his brother Eugene. He was too old to be tucked-in anyway. He didn’t want this new mother and no matter what his father might think, he could tell that she didn’t want them either.

 

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November 8, 1928 Wedding of Nick Renzi and Julia Giordano

 

 

The Sad Story of Frank Bell

The 1910 census for Dunbar is the only one that has Adriano (Andrew) and Custode (Christine) living together in Dunbar, PA. The other census from their time together in America was in 1900 in Blairsville, PA. They moved to Dunbar at least by December 1901 because Gene was born there in December 1901 based on St. Aloyius parish records on file at the Dunbar Historical Society.

We know from Lena’s birth certificate in November 1906 that Andy’s job was listed as a merchant. And from Custode’s testimony in 1912, she said they had been in business for 8 years, so I assume they started the store in 1904, which was before they bought any properties in Dunbar.

Okay – so what’s that got to do with Frank Bell? In the 1910 census, Andrew and Christina George are in Enumeration District 18, which includes the whole town of Dunbar. The houses were not numbered with addresses but rather by house number in the order in which the census taker visited each house. They were house #208 and appear on page 20 out of 40 from the online Census Report on Ancestry.com. You wouldn’t know from this census report that they ran a grocery store because Andrew’s job is listed as a laborer at the furnace.

At the top of page 20, in order of the census taker’s visit, house number 201 is Dr. William Warner (who delivered Lena and signed her birth certificate) and house number 204 is Dr. David McKinney and house number 207 (either across the street or next door to Andrew and Christine) is Harry McGibbons, who runs a drugstore. Perhaps what planted the seed in Custode’s mind that her boys should be pharmacists.

But what’s that got to do with Frank Bell?  Okay – I’ll get to the point. On page 14 of 40, at the 140th house visited by the Census taker, Frank Bell and his wife Santina, live with their 16 year old daughter Angeline. Frank is a naturalized citizen who immigrated in 1882 and he is listed as a merchant in a fruit store.

I wanted to develop a back story for some of the people that Custode and Andy may have interacted with in 1910 so I picked Frank Bell. When I searched the Connellsville Courier for articles about Frank Bell, I found this one from July 25, 1914, which is printed below in three sections. It is such a sad ending to what seems to have been another example of a successful Italian immigrant making a new life in America.

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PART 1

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PART 2

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PART 3

 

 

So About those Properties in Dunbar

First, let me say that it’s February 6th and I’ve only missed one day of writing in the Family History Writing Challenge. More importantly, I have truly written for the 30 minutes each day devoted to the task. I have not let myself get distracted by doing research or chasing bright shiny objects (two of my favorite distractions.)

But there are 55 hours in a weekend. Even if you take away 30 for doing things like sleeping, eating and cleaning house, you still have 25 hours for research and writing. I spent about four hours on Sunday pouring over enumeration district maps from the National Archives that are on line through Family Search. It’s a bit of a tedious process and frustrating when I learned at the end of the process that the maps for Dunbar – the town not the Township – were not there.

But instead of what I DIDN’T find – let’s focus on the positive. I spent a good amount of time reviewing the deeds and anything I could find about the lawsuits involving the properties. First let me give a huge shout out to Dominic Renzi – our oldest living relative who remembers life with Custode! There is nothing like first-hand information to corroborate your theories. Dominic provided important information to help me focus in on the location of the various properties I was researching.

So despite a lot of wheeling and dealing that made it look like many properties were changing hands, the real estate holdings of “Andy George” and Custode George essentially boiled down to three properties in Dunbar. The property Custode lived in – located at 128 Connellsville Avenue, the house that Philomena and Anthony Galand and their three sons lived in that was up the hill behind Custode’s house, and the property that I believe was the store that Andy and Custode ran from 1904 to 1912, which was located across Connellsville Avenue from Custode’s house. (Maybe — see comments below this post.)

On the map below, the red dot is Custode’s house, the blue dot is Aunt Phil’s house and the yellow triangle marks the spot that I believe was the location of the store.  (Aunt Phil’s might actually be on the other side of Hayes Street which may not have been a street in 1912.) This theory only holds water if “back in the day” (circa 1910) what is now known as Highland Avenue was known as 4th Street.

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I won’t bore you with the dates of the various transactions but from about 1907, when Custode and Adriano bought their first property, which I call the Fourth Street Property, until February 1912 when Andy “made” Custode sign all the properties over to him (and paid her $3,500 for them) the various transfers between the two of them only involved three properties: the Fourth Street property – aka the store (yellow); Custode’s house, at the corner of Connellsville Street and Highland Avenue (red), and Aunt Phil’s house (blue).

My theory is that what is now known as Highland Street used to be 4th Street – okay actually that is Rick’s discovery from studying the maps (thanks Rick!) and that property was probably the store. It was also the only property of the three that Custode did not end up with at the end of the lawsuits.

This theory fits with Dominic’s recollection which I’ve copied below:

One day talking to William (Bill ) Galand sitting on the wall facing Connellsville Street, Bill said,  “Do you see that building,” which was across Connellsville Street from where we were sitting, “it used to belong to our grandmother.”

Only half of the building was left and I think it was brick, but a mixed color brick, not red or brown. It looked like there might have been a fire, or maybe it was being torn down, but it was facing Connellsville Street on the left corner across from Grandma George’s house. It might still be there.

Sadly – it is not still there. But it makes sense that the properties that Andy and Custode George owned were close together. I’ve yet to find a map of Dunbar that identifies a 4th Street (even though there is more than one 1st, 2nd, and 3rd street in different locations) so I like Rick’s idea that Highland Avenue used to be 4th Street.

So now for the surprise ending – at least for the properties. After all was said and done with the lawsuits, which included:

  1. Pasquale’s case to collect on a $3,000 debt from Andy George (his brother) decided by a court in New Castle in May 1912.
  2. Custode’s case that Pasquale’s claim was bogus and that Andy did not owe Pasquale anything, filed in Uniontown in June 1912.
  3. Andy George’s bankruptcy case, in which William L. Gans was appointed as a bankruptcy trustee on January 31, 1913 ….

. . . Custode got to keep the properties shown with the red and blue dots on the map above and the bankruptcy trustee got to sell the store – aka the Fourth Street property, which is shown in yellow on the map above – at a public auction, which took place on March 27, 1915.

The winning bid, at a price of $720 was none other than (drumroll please . . . )

PASQUALE GIORGIO!!!

What the heck??!!! Clearly Pasquale was invested enough in the process to go to Dunbar (a good 2 hour drive from New Castle today but I’m sure he took the train) to bid on the property that his brother used to own. I might also add, that Pasquale made a trip to Italy in the summer of 1914 to get his second wife, and Rick and I assume, to see his brother “Andy” and fill him in on all that was going on in PA. Of course by the time of Pasquale’s visit in 1914, Andy had already married his third wife and probably had no intention of returning to the US.  (or did he????)

Sooo . .. were they all in cahoots to defraud Andy’s creditors or were Custode and Pasquale at odds with each other (my assumption.) If so, what a burr in her side to have Pasquale owning the property that used to be her livelihood and source of income – the store – ACROSS THE STREET from her. (And we wonder why she was bitter.)

Which is why Rick and I need another trip – SOON – to the courthouse in Uniontown, PA to see how long Pasquale owned that property and who he sold it to.

Oh yes, and there’s that small matter of the lot in New Haven that Custode bought in her own name March 1912. It wasn’t mentioned in the lawsuits and it wasn’t mentioned in her will, so presumably she sold it at some point before she died. Probably, she rented it out as a source of income. It may not have even had a house on it because she only paid $150 for it and the other lots in Dunbar that she and Andy bought ranged in price from $900 to $1,300.

Of course, I like to think that Custode kept it as her “love shack” where she and Jimmy Versace went when she wanted to get away from her nine children and have a little fun- but that’s the fictional version of this tale – colored by a bit too much romanticism – but maybe …

Come on – can’t the girl have a little fun?!?

PS – I should probably stop with the Jimmy Versace stories – I actually don’t think there was anything going on between them. I think that Francis, her last child, was born sometime between September 1912 and June 1913 (I still haven’t found his birth date – he’s more of a mystery than Custode) and I think he was Andy’s child.