Super Sleuth

Super Sleuth
Digging Up The Past One Relative At A Time

Saturday, May 7, 2016


     Five generations of women; four of them were mothers.  As we prepare ourselves to celebrate these brave and determined women, we must dig deep within the roots of our own families to understand how their stalwart nature helped to mold the very people we view in the mirror every morning.  Kindly allow me to introduce to you the women presented above.  From left to right:  Domenica Maugeri (my 2x-great-grandmother), Sebastiana Inserra (my great-grandmother), Giuseppa d'Angelo (my maternal grandmother), Anna Ferrara (my mother), and me (Elizabeth Ann Esposito).  

     Domenica and Sebastiana (mother and daughter) braved the Atlantic Ocean to begin better lives of opportunity in America.  They made their voyages at different time periods; Domenica arrived in America with her son in 1914 during a time when the world was in conflict.  Her daughter, Sebastiana, aged twenty-seven, arrived at Ellis Island in 1920 with her husband and six-year-old daughter.  Regardless of the timeline, these women left behind their homeland and a slew of friends and relatives to find the promise of stability and safety.  Domenica was in her forties.  What interested me in Domenica's story was the fact that she left her husband behind in Vizzini.  He was sixteen years her senior.  Perhaps it was an arranged marriage that went sour.  Perhaps she didn't really love him.  I'll never know the truth, but what a progressive woman of the time to leave her husband and travel thousands of miles to live on her own, earn her own living, and be her own person.  According to my mother, my 2x-great-grandmother had a boyfriend!  You have to love those feisty Italian women!  In the photo on the right, we have Sebastiana Inserra to the left and her mother, Domenica Maugeri to the right.  Both of them stood no taller than 4'11".  
     This passport photo of my maternal grandmother, Giuseppa, and her mother Sebastiana was always a favorite of mine.  As a child, I looked at this photo with a bit of fear because they looked so sad and uncertain.  I didn't know at the time that you are not supposed to smile in passport photos, but these expressions went deeper than that.  My grandmother, a child, faced a journey of the unknown.  She would be unfamiliar with the language and unfamiliar with the customs.  Her mother being older has an expression of hardness.  She almost seems bitter about leaving her homeland for America.  Her whole life was centered in Vizzini.  Would she ever see her loved ones again in her homeland?  To answer that question, no, Sebastiana never returned to Sicily.  She arrived in 1920 and passed away in 1994 almost reaching the age of 101.  Unfortunately, Sebastiana spent the last fifteen years of her life in a nursing home suffering from either Dementia or Alzheimer's Disease.  My grandmother lived down the block from the nursing home and walked there every day to spend time with her mother even though her mother didn't recognize her anymore.  Grandma and Nonna leaned on each other and were very good friends as well as mother and daughter.

     When Giuseppa grew up, she married my grandfather, Gennaro and had three children.  My mother (pictured as a child, right) was the middle child.  Her gentle nature and her eagerness to always keep peace in the family did not go unnoticed.  Mom often used comedy to remedy some of the uncomfortable situations of a strict, male-dominated Italian household.  Mom always tried to please her parents and make them happy.  She succeeded in this quest by providing four grandchildren for her parents.  Grandma and Grandpa visited us almost every day.  After all, they lived only a mile away from us.  Since we were their only grandchildren, they doted on us immensely.  My brother always quips that our grandmother should have been canonized.  Although I laugh at this statement, I do agree with him.  Grandma's only downfall was that she was a jealous woman of anyone who would take her grandchildren's attention away from her.  She loved us so much and taught us so many wonderful life lessons.  We were her only family and we couldn't hold anything against her in that respect.  Grandma always had something special for us at her house.  She had a miraculous garden in her backyard that boasted the most beautiful flowers and delectable vegetables. In the Spring and Summer months, we would spend hours back there.  Grandma was meticulous in telling us the names and varieties of the treats present in her garden.  She was a very devout Catholic, attended daily Mass, and taught us the proper way to say the Rosary.  She had a connection with the Blessed Mother and prayed to her daily for peace of mind and heart.

     When my own mother grew up, she married a wonderful man and had four children.  Although mom lacks self-confidence, she excels in generosity and empathy.  Mom always tries to offer help to those in need even if it means that she would have to go without something herself. She never likes to see anyone suffer.  When my great-grandmother was living out the remaining years of her life in a nursing home, my mother volunteered as a Nurse's Aide there working the graveyard shift just to make sure Nonna was comfortable and without want in the evening hours.  She would occasionally slip some money in envelopes for family members who were having a rough time financially and although we certainly were not rolling in cash, there was always a little bit extra for someone who needed it.  She is the only woman I know who was able to stretch a meal beyond capacity.  Although mom and I had a rocky relationship when I was a teenager, our relationship had improved by the time I was an adult.  I owe a lot to my mother.  She is widowed now and it has taken a toll on her both emotionally and mentally, but every once in a while, I get a smile out of her.  My wish for her on this Mother's Day is that she have peace of mind and happiness in her heart.

To my beautiful mother and to all the moms out there, I wish you a very happy Mother's Day!  Thank you for all you do!  Thanks for reading and happy hunting!

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