For anyone out there wondering if you should go to the trouble of organizing a family reunion – take a look at the picture below and see what you might get if you ask attendees to bring pictures and memorabilia.
Yes – just some faces to go with the names you’ve been searching for however long you’ve been pursuing your genealogical obsession. Just a wedding photo from 1923 of the oldest daughter of your family matriarch. Richard Galland brought this photo of his parents’ wedding to the Giorgio family reunion on July 24, 2016. His mother Philomena had just turned 18 and his father, Antonio Galanti, was 29.
Most Giorgio descendant’s remember the bountiful garden that Uncle Tony grew between his house and Custode’s house that was just down the hill on the main street in Dunbar PA. This is a picture I took the morning of the family reunion. The grassy patch behind the fence is where Tony’s garden once flourished. Out of view but to the right is the house on High Street (now Highland) where Phil and Tony raised their three boys. To the left, also out of view, is Custode’s house on the corner of Connellsville Avenue and Highland Street. The small shed is now the garage for that house.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see the old school in the distance restored? I’m glad to see it’s still standing – it’s where all of Custode’s children went to school. I think it would make a great location for a museum that pays homage to Dunbar’s heyday – when there were multiple banks, at least four hotels and an Italian grocery store run by Adriano and Custode Giorgio. The days in the early part of the 20th century when the railroad provided good work for new immigrants and the coke ovens were still booming. It is hard to imagine all of that today when you visit Dunbar. Maybe we need to start a “Save the School” campaign.
Ofcourse, another reason for having a family reunion is the stories – the wonderful stories that need to be compiled before they are lost. Stories like the one that Richard Galland, one of the youngest of Custode’s grandchildren, told. He remarked that her children feared Custode, but he never did. To him, she was a doting grandmother. He grew up close to her and by the time he came along in 1943, she may have mellowed some. He remembers coming home from school and asking Custode, “Grandma, the kids at school say you are a witch. Are you a witch Grandma?” And as Richard said with a chuckle, she didn’t deny it – she just gave a hint of a sly smile.
As someone who has a New England witch in her family background (or so the Kingsbury family lore goes), I’ve always thought that witches get a bad rap. I tend to think that most women believed to be witches were assertive women who did what needed to be done to take care of themselves and their children, perhaps even other less fortunate people in their communities. They probably understood herbal medicine and had plenty of “home remedies” that were essential in the days before doctors were readily available.
I am fascinated with the Italian legends of stregas and malochio. I love thinking (and I do) that Custode was a strega – practicing the craft that had been handed down through her maternal line for centuries before she came to America. So of course, the lingering question is which of her daughters inherited her craft? Or sadly, were they too much of the modern generation to believe in those ancient ways? The fact that Philomena and Lena burned everything that belonged to their mother after she died (in 1967) perhaps to ward off evil that might be lingering in her possessions – suggests that whether or not they practiced the craft – they believed in its power.
Rick’s favorite story from the family reunion was one that Richard recounted when Custode asked him if his father spoke Italian. To which Richard replied, “Grandma, of course he does – you know my father speaks Italian.”
“No – he speaks “hillbilly” Italian,” corrected Custode. (There’s an Italian word that she used but it equates to what we would call hillbilly or less refined speech.)
This offers another clue that Custode held herself and her upbringing in high regard and did not think so highly of other immigrant families – even the ones that married her daughters. This certainly fits with other grandchildren’s recollections that Custode was from a wealthy Italian family and/or schooled in a convent and was able to read and write English and Italian at a time when many other immigrants could not.
So enjoy today’s Friday Foto Feature and help me figure out who the people in the picture are. We know the bride is Philomena George and the groom is Antonio Galanti, parents of William, Harold and Richard Galland. Richard identified the girl on the front row, far right (as you face the picture) as Aunt Lena. She would have been 16 at the time this picture was taken on June 27, 1923. Is it possible that the man standing to the right of Philomena is her brother Gene? He seems to have blue eyes and we know that Gene had blue eyes. Gene would have been 21 at the time this picture was taken.
One of my favorite things about genealogy is looking for common dates and connections between the generations. For example, my German immigrant ancestor (on my mother’s side), George Samuel Broeske, who immigrated to western VA from Darmstadt, Hessen Germany in 1852, was born on November 22nd (somewhere between 1814 and 1818) and my mother (his great great granddaughter) was born on November 22, 1933. I also like finding relatives who were born or died on the birthday of living relatives. For example, Irene Veri’s brother Anthony’s birthday is April 24 and so is my husband’s Rick.
So what’s the relevance of June 27, 1923, the date of Philomena’s wedding? (Hint – it might explain why her older brother Fred George, did not attend her wedding in Dunbar that day.) Two days prior, on June 25, 1923, Fred’s first wife, Evelyn gave birth to their first son – Frederick William George, Jr. – Rick’s father and our connection to the Giorgio famiglia.
As to the identity of the other girls in the photo – if anyone knows the Galanti family structure, it would help to know if Antonio had younger sisters or nieces. Any ideas – please share your thoughts.