THE AMERICAN DREAM
As I had stated in an earlier post, people in the beginning years of the twentieth century didn't show their pearly whites very much. The solemn group of students above are posing for their class picture. It is a sixth grade class and the young man in the second row, second from right is my maternal grandfather, Gennaro Ferrara. As the oldest of eight children, he had a responsibility to contribute to the family's economic situation. This was his last year in school. By June 1923, my grandfather went to work at the tender age of twelve.
I am assuming that most of the children photographed above were the children of immigrants, or immigrants themselves. My grandfather was born in Napoli, but arrived in America when he was only five-months-old. He spoke fluent Italian in the household and among his neighbors and coworkers, but his family wanted to assimilate in the American culture. This is probably why my siblings and I were not taught Italian. My parents spoke the native tongue because their parents spoke it, but as the generations continued to plant roots in American soil, the grace and beauty of the Italian language has escaped our repertoire.
In my own research, I had the privilege of discovering many naturalization records. These documents provide a world of information and can really extend your research. My maternal grandfather was not naturalized until he was already married to my grandmother for two years. In 1938, he was twenty-seven-years-old and had already grown accustomed to hard work and diligence. As a young teenager, he lost his right index finger due to an accident at his job in a butcher shop. This accident would prevent him from enlisting in World War II. He also was the first person in America to survive a Diphtheria operation and his story is portrayed in medical books. The operation left his voice very raspy and he became known as, "Cookie Monster Grandpa".
What can a Naturalization document provide for you in your research? Let's look at the following example belonging to my grandfather:
1. This Petition for Naturalization tells me where my maternal grandparents lived in 1938.
2. It also tells me the location of my grandparents' birth--Napoli for Nonno, Vizzini for Nonna. (This information becomes very useful if you want to research records in other countries. Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org gives access to viewing civil and church records of other nations.)
3. This document tells me not only the date my grandfather arrived in America, but it also names the ship that he sailed on. (My grandmother's immigration and naturalization information are stated in this document also.)
4. I can see my grandfather's signature, as well as the signatures of the witnesses, my grandmother, and my grand-aunt.
5. Because I already know that my oldest maternal aunt was born in April 1938, my grandmother was pregnant at the time of this petition. Since my aunt was not born yet, she did not have the option of dual citizenship because both parents were naturalized prior to her birth.
**In some other petitions that I have seen, photographs are present, names of children and parents are present. It all depends on how much information was included, but each one tells a story.
My grandparents kept their Italian traditions alive, but they were so proud to be Americans. The wave of immigration with the extension of becoming naturalized citizens says a lot about the caliber of people entering the nation over one hundred years ago. They were seeking opportunity and a chance for a better life for themselves and their descendants. Obtaining employment was a proud moment because your economic status was eventually going to improve.
If you are a self-proclaimed family historian like me, and have not already perused the naturalization records, I highly recommend that you begin viewing them. You just may be amazed at what you discover!
Thanks for reading and happy hunting!