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.


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.


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.



November 8, 1928 Wedding of Nick Renzi and Julia Giordano



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.


Tuesday Tidbit

It’s hard to believe that a week ago Rick and I were at breakfast with Dominic Renzi and his friend Diana. After breakfast we went back to his apartment and he shared enough stories to inspire Tuesday and Thursday tidbits for a long, long time.


Grandmother Renzi in front of the farmhouse on Limestone Hill

As a “self-taught” genealogist, one thing I’ve read over and over, is that you should  start with your oldest living relative and get his or her stories before it’s too late. Yes Dominic, by my calculation, you are the oldest living relative but thankfully I don’t think you’re going anywhere too soon. I hope that I will have half the energy (physical and mental) that you do when I’m your age.

Just to update anyone who isn’t familiar with the family tree, Dominic is part of the George family because Lena George was his step-mother. His mother Julia Giordano  died in May 1939 after what should have been a simple operation to remove a goiter. Apparently the surgeon did not properly suture the incision and she bled to death the night before she was supposed to come home. According to Dominic, the doctor responsible was never seen again, perhaps hurrying out of town because of the reputation of the Giordano brothers who were none too happy with the tragic death of their sister.

The Renzi family lived on a farm on Limestone Hill but Nick Renzi had a full time job on the railroad. Although his sisters took care of the boys immediately after Julia died, Nick needed a wife to be with the boys since he was often gone for days at a time. Dominic remembers that his father visited a few other ladies before he chose Lena as his wife. Although he didn’t come right out and say it,  I think one of the earlier candidates would have been Dominic’s choice (he even remembered her name!) Thankfully for us, we get the benefit of Dominic’s memory because, for whatever reason, his father chose Lena.

Carole Ann has mentioned the story of Dominic and his younger brother Gene sitting in the parlor while his father and Custode negotiated the terms of Nick’s marriage to Lena – in Italian. When the negotiations were over, Nick and the boys left and on the way home, he told them, “I think you just met your new mother.” This was only three months after Julia died.

A few things stand out from what Dominic told me about his father’s marriage to Lena. First of all, Lena did not participate in the negotiations. She was in the room but never said a word. She sat in silence and never expressed any affection or warmth when Nick and the boys left.

Secondly, even though Lena was an accomplished pianist, Custode refused to let her take the piano to the farm. Apparently this was out of spite because from what Dominic remembers, Custode did not play the piano, she just didn’t want Lena to have it. In her view, such a refined item had no place in a farm house.

Finally, and perhaps most shocking of all, (although at this point, nothing I hear about Custode surprises me) Custode insisted that  Nick and Lena take her grandson, Harold Galand on their honeymoon. Harold was 12 (just two years older than Dominic) when he got to visit Canada and the New York World’s Fair.  A great opportunity for Harold, but what a damper on any chance for romance between Lena and Nick.

Even though Lena was not a good mother to Dominic and Eugene, the combination of her brother Gene and Aunt Rosie made up for it. According to Dominic, Lena was mean to Aunt Rosie and often made her cry but Rosie did her best to shield the boys from Lena’s fury. Many times during our visit last week, Dominic shared a story of Uncle Gene’s kindness and generosity. Uncle Gene loved the farm and would often stop by to visit Aunt Rosie and to soak in the fresh smell of newly plowed earth. On leaving he would always admonish his sister to be good to the boys.

Nick Renzi died in 1949, ten years after he married Lena. Although he left the farm to Lena and the two boys in equal shares, Lena refused to leave and also refused to let the boys live there (not that they wanted to.) Eventually, Gene arranged for the boys to “buy out” Lena. He got Lena a job at the hospital in Connellsville and convinced her to move to an apartment there.

Dominic lived on the farm and was making repairs to the house which had fallen into disrepair while Lena lived there. On one visit when Gene saw that Dominic had converted the back seat of his car to carry loads of materials needed for the repairs, he commented that Dominic needed a pick-up truck.  A few days later, Gene called and asked Dominic to meet him in town.  When he got there Gene was parked near a truck and as the two men talked, Gene asked what Dominic thought about the truck. Dominic thought it was nice and Gene said – “Good – because it is yours.”When he asked what he owed him, Gene said nothing – it was a gift. Dominic needed a truck and Gene got it for him.

Just one example of Uncle Gene’s many acts of kindness, which are perhaps a big part of  why Dominic is not unhappy about his father’s choice of his replacement mother.


Nick Renzi on a visit to Canada (probably before his honeymoon)



January 27, 2016 -Where’d She Go Wednesday – Rosie Buzzelli

This is beloved Aunt Rosie at the Renzi Farm on Limestone Hill, PA. From Dominic Renzi’s notes on the back of the photo we know it was taken around 1947. I’ll add a bit more to what we know about Aunt Rosie later today. She is about 70 in this picture.

Most sources indicate that Rose Iacobucci Buzzelli was born in Italy in 1877. She is Custode’s older sister. She lived with Adriano and Custode George in Dunbar in 1910, but her marital status was not listed in the Census report.

She died in 1969 and is buried in Saint Rita’s Cemetery, Connellsville, PA.