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.



November 8, 1928 Wedding of Nick Renzi and Julia Giordano




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.


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 . . . )


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.





#FHWC – Day 3

I’m happy to report that I’ve met my writing goal for the first two days of the Family History Writing Challenge and I’ve been disciplined about writing during the entire time and not getting distracted by research. Next week will be more of a challenge since I have meetings after work on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. My preferred time to write  is as soon as I get home from work.

Some of the things I’d like to know (hopefully some Giorgio cousins are reading this and will respond) have to do with the grocery store that Adriano and Custode had in Dunbar, PA. From what I can tell, they started it around 1904 and ended their shared operation of it when Adriano left town in 1912.

Does anyone remember hearing that Custode ran the store on her own after Adriano left? Did any of the children work in the store? From the lawsuits it seems that Adriano declared bankruptcy at about the same time he left Dunbar – May 1912 so I think that would have put them out of business. No doubt C was a shrewd business woman but would lenders at that time have made loans to a woman? Especially a woman who’s husband left town owing his creditors?

And finally – who can describe the house Custode lived in which is pictured below. I would love some detailed descriptions of what it was like. Lainie has mentioned being forced to drink lukewarm milk whenever she and her sisters visited Custode. Victor mentioned a room that was dark and full of clothes hanging (from the rafters?) that was somewhat spooky. Dominic and Carole Ann remember there was always a piano but don’t recall whether or not anyone ever played it.


I came across a few more articles of interest in the Connellsville Daily Courier. The first from October 1, 1909 indicating that Andy George bought the home of Frank Merchanti on Bryson Hill. Does anyone know if Bryson Hill is the name of the hill that was behind Custode’s house on Connellsville Avenue? If so, the house Andy bought in 1909 might have been the house that Philomena and her family lived in that was behind Custode’s house.

If so, this would be the view looking toward Custode’s house from that house. Look familiar to anyone? I’ve always imagined that Uncle Tony’s garden was in the grassy area shown in the picture.

from Aunt Phil's view.1real-estate-10-1-1909

Next an ad from February 1912 that indicates Andy George was taking orders for eggs and day old chicks. I’ve also added a few pictures of the breeds. As shown below they are: white orpington hens, light brahma chicks and a barred rock. From the descriptions I’ve found different breeds have different personalities, with light brahmas being very friendly.


And finally – though I can’t be sure this is all there is on the matter until I find more court records, this notice appeared in the Connellsville Daily Courier on May 25, 1912, which is just about the time Adriano made the great skedaddle. A debt of $131.76 doesn’t seem like a lot to me, even for those times. Hardly enough to cause him to leave town. So what else was going on?







The Path That Led Us to Custode

It’s time for me to set the record straight. It is true that I currently spend more time than Rick does researching the George family. But it is also true that Rick is responsible for getting us on the path to finding his family.

If you’ve read this blog for awhile you know that when Rick got a DNA test in April 2013, he found a match who turned out to be Terry Colaluca who we met in July 2013. Terry’s great grandfather was Pasquale George, Adrian’s brother.

But before that, when Rick was researching his father’s name in hopes of finding his grandfather, he came across this draft card from 1917 on Ancestry.com.

The card is really cool because:

  1. It has Fred George’s signature, which is VERY neat. Someone made sure he had good handwriting – hmmm… wonder who?
  2. It tells us that on September 12, 1918, Fred George was a clerk at P.R. Rys Co. (a drug store maybe) in Dunbar, Pennsylvania.
  3. It tells us that at age 18, Fred was short and slender with brown eyes and dark hair.
  4. It tells us that a woman named Custode George, who has the same address as Fred, is someone who will always know his whereabouts.

And that’s how Rick discovered that his great grandmother’s name was Custode George. (Finding her maiden name is another story but I’ll save that for another post.)

The discovery of her name (thank goodness her first name was unusual) led him to a google search for “Custode George,” which led him to this result which is from a 1912 lawsuit. He found it on Google Books.



This image is really sad, because the court goes on to rule against Custode on the grounds that the court in one county can’t overturn the decision of a court in another county. It seems that “Andy” and his brother Pasquala George, were in cahoots to find a way to deprive Custode (AND HER 8 CHILDREN!) of the house they lived in.

Okay, I get it, “Andy” may have been trying to escape the Black Hand (one version of why he left Dunbar) but he obviously took time to go to New Castle and give his brother a promissory note for $3,000 before he skedaddled. I may be reading between the lines but it seems that he really had it in for Custode and didn’t care too much about his own children who would suffer the consequences.

But of course, the REST of the story is that Custode did not take one adverse ruling against her as an answer. She pursued legal action for at least two years and in the end she got to keep two of three properties.

When Rick and I stopped by the courthouse in Uniontown on our way out of Pennsylvania last July, we didn’t have long enough to study things thoroughly, but in the deed books it seems that Custode may have owned several more pieces of property than the two that were the subject of this lawsuit. We definitely need to plan another trip for some more research.

How can you not be totally impressed with Custode Iacobucci George?

A young Italian immigrant woman who had been abandoned by her husband had the wherewithal to fight against what she knew was wrong and to keep fighting until she prevailed. This was before women could even VOTE in this country! After less than 10 years in America she owned property in her own name! And even though her husband forced her to sign it over to him, she fought and got it back.

That is ONE AMAZING woman who leaves so many of us (probably more than she ever knew) forever indebted to her.


So let’s not forget to thank Rick for setting us on the path that brought us together.




Searching for Aunt Rosie

The sunny blue sky outside makes it a little harder than yesterday to take the day off and do Ancestry research. It’s also the day Rick and I have agreed that it’s time to DE -DECORATE from Christmas – (sigh) we both love how our house looks when it is decorated for Christmas. And let’s face it, unless you’re one of those people who has your naked Christmas tree out by the curb on December 26th, does anyone really have as much fun taking down Christmas decorations as they do putting them up?

I did spend a little time  this morning searching Pennsylvania death certificates for Buzzelli because I’m still trying to find Aunt Rosie’s child who died at a young age and her husband Peter. Other than her last name, the only thing we know about Rosie’s marriage is from Carole Ann who mentioned that Rosie had been in an abusive relationship and had some permanent damage to one of her arms from an injury inflicted by her husband. Carole Ann also knew that Rosie had a child who had died at a young age. She thinks there was something wrong with the infant because it (she doesn’t know whether it was a girl or a boy) cried a lot.

Here are the results of this morning’s search. There were 96 death certificates for people in PA with the last name of Buzzelli in the years from 1906 – 1964. But only one Peter who had a wife named Sally Antinerelli, which I’ve copied below. It is unlikely he could have been Rosie’s husband who remarried because this Peter would have only been 18 in 1900 and the census for Peter and Roseanna Bootsaddle list their ages as 28 and 26, respectively. That’s a pretty significant discrepancy in age.


We don’t know when the “Roseanna and Peter Bootsaddle” from the 1900 census parted company. It is possible that they had a child who was born and died before 1906, which is the earliest year for the online birth and death records. It is also possible that Peter died before 1906, which is why we can’t find his death certificate.

We do know that a “Rosa Botsella” is living with Adriano and Custode in Dunbar in 1910 but the census doesn’t indicate her marital status or how many children, if any, she has. It does give her age as 35 and indicates that she is a servant in a private home. If you can enlarge the image below, Rosie is listed 12 names up from the bottom of the page and is identified as the sister-in-law of the Head of Household – “Andrew George.”


So again, we come up empty handed in our search for Aunt Rosie’s past. So I’ll just close with a picture of her holding Richard Galland, the youngest son of Philomena (George) and Anthony Galland.


And one more picture from Domenic Renzi’s collection of Rosie at the Renzi farmhouse on Limestone Hill. Domenic remembers Rosie living at the farm when Lena came to live with them (beginning in the fall of 1939) and remembers her as being very kind and loving. She provided a buffer between Dom and his brother Eugene and their stepmother Lena George. Dom also remembers driving to the farm to take Rosie to church, even after he had moved away.


It looks like the dress in this second picture might be different but the apron seems to be the same as in the picture with Richard. Since we know Richard Galland was born in March of 1943, we can get an approximate date of when these pictures were taken – probably summer 1943. Given her birthdate of 2 Mar 1877, Rosie would be 66 years old in this picture (although some sources suggest she was born in 1874 or 1875). She died on 19 Apr 1969.


Lainie McGreevy sent me the picture of Aunt Rosie’s funeral card but I’d love to here from anyone who remembers attending her funeral. Does anyone know where she was living when she died in 1969?

From other information about Aunt Rosie, her birthdate could be as early as 1874 (her age was listed as 23 in the immigration records of her arrival on 2 Apr 1897) or 1875 (her age was listed as 35 in the 1910 Census).

Well, I’ve procrastinated long enough and now really must get to work.