I wasn’t planning to write about my husband’s great grandmother for this post since I wrote about her in my very first 52 ancestor post last April. https://wordpress.com/post/66239798/137/
But sometimes there’s a mysterious quality to an ancestor that draws you in and makes you want to know more. In that sense, my genealogy is often a creative pursuit because I like to build stories around the skeleton of the person that is created by the few facts available.
Uh oh – I heard the collective gasp from the “real” genealogists out there – but I do try to differentiate between fact and fiction. I just want to know these people and without family stories passed down from one generation to the next, I’m forced to create my own.
Custode Iacobucci George was one tough lady and continues to be tough to research. She was born in Italy on May 27, 1880 and died in Connellsville, PA on December 27, 1967 at age 87.
She arrived in Pittsburgh PA sometime around 1896 or 1897, though I’ve yet to find her immigration record. She married Adriano Giorgio (aka Andrew George) in Pittsburgh on February 13, 1899 and their first son, my husband’s grandfather, Frederick William George, was born on November 19, 1899. The consent to her marriage was given by her “guardian” – Vincenzo Iacobucci. The fact that he identified her as his ward makes me think her parents stayed in Italy or were dead. Perhaps she came with an older brother or uncle or other relatives. But Vincenzo Iacobucci isn’t too easy to find either.
By December 18, 1901, the birthday of their second son – Luigino Anthony George (Gene) -Custode and Andrew had moved to Dunbar PA. We found Gene’s birth listed in the parish records of St. Aloyious Church at the Dunbar Historical Society, but none of the other children’s births were recorded there. We also know that one of their daughters – Lucia Lydia – died from scarlet fever in 1916 at age 7 and is buried in the St. Aloyious cemetery. So as with any mother who has to bury a child, life gave Custode her fair share of heartache and pain.
From the 1910 census report, we know that Andy and Christine (a name she tended to use more than Custode) were living in Dunbar with Nick (Andy’s son from his first marriage to Marianne Frattura, who died in childbirth in Italy in 1896), Fred, Gene, Victor, Philomena, Lena, Hubert and Lydia and Custode’s sister Rosa Botsella (probably Buzzella) a widow. From the court records of a 1912 lawsuit we know that the last time Custode saw Andy in Dunbar was May 1912. By June 1913 he had remarried a woman in Italy named Maria Flamminio and from what we can tell, they lived in Castel di Sangro and he never returned to PA. Family stories place his estimated date of death in the early 1950s but I’ve yet to verify the exact date.
From the Italian genealogy records we have on the Giorgio family, which were compiled by someone in Italy, the record of Adriano’s life in the US (including his wife and their eight children) is not mentioned. It’s as if it never happened – but my husband and our children are proof that it did – as are several other descendants of Fred George with his second wife Elizabeth Collins as well as the children and grandchildren of Adrian’s and Custode’s other children, most of whom were born in Dunbar between 1900 and 1911. So as far as mysteries go, Custode and Adriano were quite a pair, but surely someone out there has something to share. To clear up some confusion Adriano, Adrian, Andrew and Andy all refer to Custode’s husband, it just depends on which record you’re looking at.
As if the English version of Italian names isn’t confusing enough, there are often multiple cousins with the same first and last name (following the Italian convention to name the first born son after the father’s father) so it becomes important to differentiate between them. It also gets confusing when there are multiple generations with the same name so let me introduce the characters who all share the name – Frederick William George. The first one – we’ll call Fred George, is the first-born son of Custode and Adriano.
His son, my father-in-law, is Dad and my husband is Rick. That is the wonderful thing about a name like Frederick – you can get a lot of different names without resorting to Junior or little Freddy. As an interesting aside, Dad’s given name (although again – I haven’t found his birth certificate) was probably Frederick William George, Jr. but somewhere along the way it was changed to Frederick William George, III.
Dad never talked about his own father’s family because his parents divorced when he was young. He was in his teens when his mother Evelyn Clark married Ben Williams. When Rick was growing up, he never even knew he was ¼ Italian. Dad finally confirmed that fact when Rick was 22 – the occasion was Dad’s second marriage to a woman whose maiden name was Sartoretto. She says she knew Dad was Italian the first time she met him.
Dad passed away in 2000 without providing too much information. Rick spent many evenings visiting Dad with the specific purpose of finding out more about his Italian roots, but for some reason Dad was reluctant to share much information so the mystery grew. Whether it was from lack of knowledge or reticence to speak of his Italian heritage, the only things Dad told Rick were that his father had brothers named Gene,Victor and Hubert and that he remembers visiting his Italian grandmother where there were lots of people gathered round the table enjoying her delicious gnocchi. He went on in great detail about the wonderful texture of the gnocchi – so clearly food-linked memories have staying power.
In 2011 Rick started using Ancestry.com to fill in the gaps. From the WWI draft registration for Fred George he found the name Custode George at 128 Connellsville Road, Dunbar PA listed as Fred’s mother. This is the same address that Custode has in all of the census reports, from 1910 through 1940 but her first name in those Census reports was always Christine or Christina so she was not showing up in our searches for Custode George in the census reports.
A Google search of “Custode George” revealed a 1912 court case in which the sheriff of Fayette County (where Dunbar is located) was trying to evict Custode and her eight children from their home. The order to sell the home came from a court in Lawrence County (where New Castle is located) and was issued to satisfy a judgment note for $3,000 that Andy gave his brother Pasquale George.
RED FLAG – you “OWE” your brother $3,000 and he goes to the trouble of a court proceeding to get a judgment that is used to evict your wife and children from their home and within a year you leave for Italy where you remarry and never return to PA again – whoa there has GOT to be a story there! (Spoiler alert – Custode fought back and got to keep the home.)
Thus began our search for the illusive Custode Iacobucci George. Of course, we didn’t know her maiden name until we made a trip to New Castle and Dunbar in the summer of 2013. All of the census records listed her as Christine George. When we met relatives who knew her as their grandmother they didn’t know her maiden name and had never heard the name Custode – as far as they knew her first name was Christine or Christina and she had always lived on the main street in Dunbar. Her daughter Philomena lived in a house behind hers.
After a week of visiting the county courthouses surrounding Pittsburgh and meeting cousins Rick found through his DNA test, we were getting a bit frustrated that nobody knew more about Custode. We finally hit pay dirt when we got to the lovely old courthouse in Uniontown PA and found the marriage license applications for Custode’s two daughters – Philomena and Lena.
The July 1923 license for Philomena George’s marriage to Antonio Galand, lists her mother as Custode Yacibucci, living in Dunbar and her father as Andrew George, living in Italy. Lena’s application to marry Nick Renzi (several years later) also lists Custode’s maiden name as Iacobucci (spelled differently) but indicates that her father Andrew is dead.
It was a happy day when we finally discovered Custode’s maiden name. We also found her 1966 will which listed her living children and revealed a new mystery about her youngest son Francis, but that will be a story for another day. But despite the thrill at finally knowing her maiden name and the discovery since then of many family trees with the surname Iacobucci – Custode is keeping her secrets. Her name – Custode or Christine – doesn’t show up on any of the trees we’ve found, but we have to believe she is related to some of the Iacobuccis in those trees. Maybe the branches just don’t stretch far enough to include her. Or perhaps she is just as hard for others to research as she has been for us.
Indeed – Custode Iacobucci George – is a tough nut to crack.