Journey to the Past: The Masino Family

The research is (mostly) done. It is time to take the scary dive into the world of writing. Wish me luck.

Writing is Hard

I keep trying to give myself timelines to complete things in the hope that it will keep me moving forward, but I am really good at dodging deadlines. I spent most of May revising Rosaria’s story, then decided I needed time away from her and Marsico Nuovo. It would be good to focus on other things and revisit her with fresh eyes later.

By now I have started writing Frank’s story. I’m nearly 2,000 words in and it is going fabulously. As I expected, Frank’s story is a bit more interesting for me. By the nature of the information I posses, his story is already written in a much better, more appealing tone than Rosaria’s. I did jump the gun, however, and began writing before completing Frank’s timeline. I did as much as I could from memory, but now the timeline is essential to keep me going. I paused from that today to enter my handwritten revisions onto my digital file of Rosaria’s story. In doing so I have found myself utterly disappointed with what I wrote. It is bland, mechanical and without life. I don’t really know how to avoid this. I have next to zero personal information on these people and I’m trying really hard to make sure I’m as factual as possible and clear what is speculation. My stories are not going to blend very well because the writing is so very different.

I’m not sure what to do about it. Maybe as I continue with Frank’s story I’ll figure out a way to make Rosaria’s story work. Hopefully.

My Personal May Challenge: Back on the Wagon

Well, as usual life found a way to interrupt my project and send me on a two month hiatus.  But that’s ok, I must not fault life for this. It is what it is and all I can do is get back on the wagon and trudge forward.

My goal for this month is to work on the revisions of Rosaria’s Story. I think part of the reason I so easily got away from it was the difficulty I have had in solving a few mysteries and obtaining credible social histories about the time and place to give my story more flesh on its bones. I’ve decided not to stress about this. I am going to work on the areas that I can and do some research at my local library. Hopefully it will yield results, but if not, then I’ll move on. The story does not need to be perfect yet and I don’t want my frustration to prevent me from getting more work done. 

After the revisions are made and I’ve exhausted myself on Rosaria and her complicated story, it is time to move on to Frank’s tale! I hope to have a timeline and outline completed on Frank’s story by the end of the month so that come June 1st I am ready to begin actually writing his story. 

Frank’s story is the more exciting of the three for me. It takes place in Philadelphia, mostly, which is where I am from. I know that city well and am excited to recreate it in the early 1900s. I think Frank’s story will really help to fuel me forward and I expect historical and social information on that period and place to be much easier to find.

Onward and forward!

Challenge Day 26: Success!

I am so pleased to announce that I have met my ultimate goal this month, I have completed the first draft of Rosaria’s Story! Yay! In a crude 8,732 words, some more eloquent than others, I have managed to get out of my head and onto the computer the story of Rosaria’s life in Italy. What an adventure it has been, but it is far from over. There are still a lot of holes in my story, meat that needs to be fleshed out, social histories that need to be researched and added in to give her story life. A life is more than births, marriages and deaths. It is a cumulation of experiences and a way of living life that effects who you are as a person. Rosaria’s life in Italy was not easy. I think the amount of death that surrounded her is enough to gain empathy from most readers, but there is more to her world than tragedy. There is strength and character that can be gleamed in the details of what it was like to live in such a time. She married over 140 years ago and an ocean away. The world has changed drastically since her day and I hope that I capture it with some level of truth and justice.

Total Word Count: 8,732

Challenge Day 22—A Mystery

I can’t believe the 29 day challenge is almost over! I’ve been bad—I went eight days without writing. But I’m back on the band wagon and convinced I’ll be close, if not over, my goal of 10,000 words this month. It’s so exciting!

As I was writing tonight, amidst my horrible habit of sitting on the couch with the TV on and the laptop in front of me, distractions abound writing for only a few minutes at a time, I stumbled into a strange bit of information in my narrative.

I was trying to work out the timeline of events for some births and deaths in the family. There is overlap and it gets a bit confusing. From the records I have found, this is the general gist of the situations:

Rosaria and Isabella are sisters. Rosaria looses her 33-year old husband—cause of death unknown. The next year, a pregnant Isabella looses her 8-year old daughter, Maria, probably to cholera. When she gives birth to a little girl that summer, she names her Maria, presumably after her dead child. She gets pregnant immediately after giving birth to this new little Maria. Then Rosaria gets remarried and then pregnant. The sisters are both pregnant together. The following summer, Isabella’s baby Maria turns a year old on the same day that Isabella gives birth to another girl, Louisa. But sadly, two weeks later, baby Maria dies at just over a year old. I have it all documented. A few months after that, Rosaria gives birth to a little girl, and guess what she names her? Maria. Ok, so it’s likely Rosaria chose the name after her mother, but it may have also been a tribute to the two Maria’s her sister had just lost. So what’s the problem you ask? Well, Rosaria’s Maria falls of the earth after her birth. There are no records for her beyond that I can find. No death records in that town, no marriage records in that town, and she did not travel with her mother and other siblings years later when they came to America. Any number of things could have become of her. She may have married in a different town and I just haven’t tracked her down yet. She may have died and her death record is just MIA. Who knows. BUT THE STRANGE THING… 2 months after Rosaria’s Maria is born, I have a ship manifest indicating that Isabella’s husband, 2 sons and a daughter named MARIA, went to America. ???? The Maria on the ship manifest is listed as 2 years old, but I realize that could be a guesstimate or flat out wrong. WHO IS THIS CHILD? I’m so confused.

So here’s what I’m left to contemplate. It seems Isabella stayed behind in Italy with baby Louisa and 5-year old Joseph as well as her sister Rosaria and family. But what became of Rosaria’s baby Maria and who is the Maria on this ship manifest? Could it be POSSIBLE that Rosaria sent baby Maria to America with Isabella’s husband? Would they have even considered sending a newborn with 3 men on a ship across the sea? This seems strange to me. But what else could it possibly be?

This has totally thrown me askew for the evening. I think I need to sit on it for a bit and try to make sense of it.

Have a theory? I’d love to hear it! Leave me a comment with your suggestions.

Total Word Count: 7,210

My Goals for 2012

I was thinking today about how I am going to complete this project. It seems so incredibly massive, and though I have a rough idea in my head of how to go about it, I decided it was best to write my plan down. Hopefully, this will keep me on track. Here it goes!

My Goal: To complete my Masino Family History book in 2012

February, 2012
Complete draft of Part I: Rosaria’s Story 
Approx. 10,000 words

March 2012
Research areas marked for investigation; revise draft of Part I: Rosaria’s Story with added research.
Approx. +10,000 words (20,000 words total)

April 2012
Complete draft of Part II: Frank’s Story
Approx. 10,000 words

May 2012
Research areas marked for investigation; revise draft of Part 2: Frank’s Story with added research.
Approx. +10,000 words (20,000 words total)

June 2012
Complete draft of Part III: The Girls’s Story
Approx. 10,000 words 

July 2012
Research areas marked for investigation; revise draft of Part III: 
The Girls’s Story with added research.
Approx. +10,000 words (20,000 words total) 

August 2012
2nd draft of narrative complete—Approx. 60,000 words total
Check footnotes, citations; complete front matter (sans TOC)
Send manuscript draft out for review

September 2012
Begin layout and design of book; organization and translations of collected documentation to be reproduced in the book

October 2012
Design and Layout continued; begin revisions to narrative based on feedback

November 2012
Continue revisions, proof reading and finalizing

December 2012 
Continue revisions, proof reading and finalizing; prepare index and TOC

January 2013
Release for print 

OK, so I think it’s a bit ambitious, but realistic. At the rate I am going with Part I, I should have no trouble completing the story this month and hitting somewhere in the ballpark of 10,000 words. It might be more or less, I’m not sure, but there are lots of areas I need to research a little further and then bulk up the story next month. My goal is around 60,000 words for the entire narrative, which is only 20,000 per part. Two months per part seems reasonable to me for a complete second draft.

I realize too that there will be times when this is schedule just wont work. For starters, I will be on vacation for part of April. Then when I get home, I will have about 2 weeks worth of photo editing and layout to do to complete my travel book, something I do after every trip. So I fully expect my April ancestry goals to run right into May. But having this schedule, I think, will help motivate me to catch up and stay on track.

Alright, so there it is. I have written it down and posted it online. Let’s keep the motivation rolling!

Challenge Day 13

It has been a whirlwind two days for my ancestry project. I was a bit behind on my pledge of 250 words per day—ah, that pesky thing called life always getting in the way… I really do need to get myself on a schedule and stick to it. 

Yesterday, however, I gave myself a break. I spent the afternoon interviewing my great Uncle Gus. What a delight that was! Nearly 93 years old and sharp as a tack. He’s such a character too, stands his ground, holds tight to his opinions and doesn’t give a hoot what anyone thinks. Gotta give him credit, he’s true to himself whether others like him or not. He knows who he is and he isn’t sorry for it. I admire that, actually. But let me tell you, he’s a pistol and you best be sure to stay on his good side because he knows how to hold a grudge. If he likes you, he adores you—thinks you the greatest person ever. If you rub him the wrong way, forget it, you’re done—he’ll never have anything nice to say about you.

I recorded my uncle for over two hours, reliving stories of the past and getting to know long lost relatives. I tried my best to get him to recreate West Philly Italian life in the 1920’s. I was fascinated by the descriptions of the cast iron coal stove with legs and even an icebox with ice delivered every few days. If you needed hot water for a shower or bath, you’d have to go to the basement first and light the pilot on the boiler. He was also the youngest of three boys who not only shared a bedroom, but shared a bed! I can’t even imagine… Such a fascinating way of life, it’s easy to take modern conveniences for granted. Gus was a delight, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with him.

Today it was back to writing, finally. I had been stuck, actually, which made my excuses not to write these last few days all the more appealing. This part of my story focuses on Rosaria and her life in Italy. However, they did live in Pennsylvania for 2 years… This two year span of time is really integral to my story. It not only outlines the birth of a son born in the US, but it introduces us to another branch of the family whom I wish to write about. So what’s the problem? Well, I haven’t much information on their two years here, that’s what. My head had also been so heavily involved in life in Italy, that I hadn’t thought about life in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh yet. I knew I’d get to it in the next generation, and I am actually very excited about it, but having to work it into this part of the story kind of took me by surprise. I didn’t know what on earth to write.

When I sat back down to write, rereading only the previous few paragraphs, something clicked and the words started to flow out. It’s still not perfect prose, but it’s something, and I’m moving along—happily.

Today’s Word Count: 1593 (and counting)
Total Word Count: 4853 

Challenge Day 10: A Sad Discovery

It has been a long week and life exhausting. I have much writing to catch up on this weekend. I watched a new episode of Who Do You Think You Are? tonight, focusing on Marisa Tomei’s research into her Italian ancestry. It was so much fun watching Marisa venture around Italy, looking at old documents in Italian handwriting and uncovering a big family mystery. The episode used several newspapers as references in her search and it got me wondering if my family’s poor, little town actually had a newspaper and IF it might be archived and available for me to research.

I have scoured the internet over the years for any hits on Marsico Nuovo. While not entirely obscure—there are occasional mentions—the village is largely MIA from the internet. I have found a few articles from the New York Times archive that speak vaguely of the town. One topic that seems to continually appear in conjunction with Marsico Nuovo is brigandage: groups of vicious men who terrorized southern Italy and ran rampant for much of the 19th century. There is one clipping that intrigues me because it is smack dab in the middle of the opening of my story, 1870:

From Italy.

Florence, Nov. 1.—considerable excitement has been occasioned here by the massacre of eleven persons by brigands, near Marsico Nuovo, a city in the province of Naples.

This exact sentence appears in several New York state newspapers.

This is very important information for my narrative. It means that a year before Rosaria and Giuseppe were married, when Rosaria’s sister Isabella was around six months pregnant with her fist child, there was a major massacre occurring near by at the hands of the brigands. Certainly this event had a bearing on my ancestors if in no other way than an emotional state of fear and uncertainty. It was clearly big news if it managed to find its way all the way to American newspapers.

I’m not having any luck in finding specific information about this event. However, I decided to check the death register for Marscio Nuovo for November 1, 1870 to see what turned up. There is a neighboring village called Paterno that appears to use the larger town of Marsico Nuovo for it’s civil needs. I presume the town was too small to have it’s own government and thus all of its records are mixed with Marsico Nuovo’s. I was not surprised to find death records for the Village of Paterno in this collection.

I have been able to locate 8 death records for November 1, 1870:

  • Giovanni di Noia and spouse Filomena deGregorio as well as his brother Augustale di Noia are recorded as having died on this day.
  • Vito Tardugno and spouse Rosa Mazzeo, along with their 3-year old son Giaunario Tardugno and Vito’s father Giuseppe Tardugno also passed away on this day.
  • The eighth death is Michele NotarFrancesco, a 2-year old boy.

Entire households dying on the same day is more than suspicious. Were these the families that were massacred by the brigandage? I got tears in my eyes as I started to connect the dots. So incredibly sad. Hopefully I’ll be able to dig up more information on this horrible event.

I’m dizzy from this discovery. Tomorrow it’s back to writing.

Challenge Day 7

I’m sorry to say that life interfered with my ability to complete any writing on day 6, so I attempted to make up for it yesterday. I started writing about Christmas traditions in Italy. Interestingly, they call the holiday Nativa. They don’t, or at least didn’t back in the 19th century, put up a Christmas tree. Instead, they put out nativity scenes that could be quite elaborate and take up a lot of space. I thought it even more interesting to learn, however, that Italians actually extend the holiday out until January 6th when they celebrate Ephiphany. Apparently, this is when an old witch fills childrens’ stockings with sweets and trinkets if they’ve been good and coal if they’ve been bad. She’s a good witch, not a bad one, who lost her way when invited to go see baby Jesus with the three wise men, and now wonders about looking for them.

These Italian families had a lot of children, and I’m finding my story becoming a bit redundant as I go through these births. I will need to skim over some to keep the story moving, but I needed to go through the emotions of Rosaria loosing her first baby and how frightened as well as happy she must have been giving birth to her second baby. Do you think she’d be more happy then scared or the other way around? I lean toward fear. Even in that first week after the birth of her second baby, she was probably watching him like a hawk to make sure he wasn’t sick. I wonder how long it took her fear to subside? I don’t think that a mother’s fear for the well being of her child ever goes away, though.

Today’s Word Count: 487
Total Word Count: 3260

Challenge Day 5

Well, today was a bit harder for me. I found it difficult to find the motivation to do much writing and it took a trip to Barnes and Nobel with my laptop to get me in the zone. I’m happy to say I was able to get out 722 words today.

This particular bit of writing was really hard. I have so many dates of events, but little substance in between. Today I was trying to recreate the birth of a baby in 19th century southern Italy. I know it was common to use a midwife, if one could afford it. Chances are, my family couldn’t afford it and opted to deliver this baby themselves. Rosaria’s mother and sister were probably there to help. I assume Rosaria would have breast fed the baby, or perhaps given him some milk, probably from a goat, but I’m not sure. What else would the baby have eaten? What would she have swaddled him? Did she weave or knit her own cloth or did they buy it from a merchant? Did she sew her own clothes and make wrappings for the infant? What would it have been made out of? Where would the infant have slept? For that matter, where did any of them sleep?

I know that the living situation was tight. Rosaria and Giuseppe lived with her parents. There may have only been one bed in the house, though. Who got to sleep on it, the new couple or the old couple? Did they make a crib for the baby or did he sleep in bed with mom and dad? And for crying out loud, in a one room house with so many people, how on Earth did these people find time to procreate anyway?

So many questions, so few answers! Sadly, this baby died at 10 days old. what would the funeral have been like? I have no idea… 

It was an emotional few paragraphs I typed today. A lot of loss and sadness. But I believe this toughened Rosaria. I imagine her as an older woman who is jaded and hardened from a rough life filled with loss. She always went on, though. She found a way to continue on and do whatever she had to do for her family. She was a strong woman. God bless her.

Today’s Word Count: 722
Total Word Count: 2777

Challenge Day 4

I don’t know what it is that prevents us from writing. Perhaps it’s fear. Fear of writing badly, fear of not having anything to say, fear of what you say being wrong. I found myself procrastinating all morning and I’m not exactly sure what my fear is, probably all of the above. I even opted to pay bills instead of writing! When I finally did sit down to write, with a roasted potato casserole baking for an hour in the oven I thought it a perfect time to give myself exactly that hour to just write. But before I knew it the entire hour had been killed checking references and scoping out new leads. Sigh…

Fortunately, my potato casserole needed an extra 20 minutes in the oven so I forced myself to use that time to write. And write I did. The 20 minutes flew by and I was disappointed to be interrupted by the beeping of my oven. My stomach was much obliged to be fed, but I anxiously returned to my writing so as not to loose my train of thought.

All told, I wrote over 800 words today, and I hope to write some more. I planned a lazy day indoors with the hopes I’d be inspired to write. So far, I’ll say, so good.

I’ve encountered some interesting topics in my narrative thus far. Trying to recreate 19th century southern Italy is no easy feat. I find myself posing more questions than I have answers for. What kind of clothing did they wear back then? At best, I’ve been able to find paintings of peasants from this time period, but no descriptions so I’ve no idea what to call these items of clothing. What fabrics were they made out of? Where did they get the clothes? Did they make them? What about shoes? What did they look like? What was it like to be pregnant in those times? How much did it cost to hire a midwife to deliver your baby?

I am excited that I found a website for a museum in Matera, Basilicata, Italy, which is not far from my ancestral home town. The museum is dedicated to peasant life in the Basilicata region and they have lots of amazing pictures depicting homes, tools and belongings of the era. It’s great to have pictures, but I sure wish I knew what it was all called.

Today’s Word Count: 838
Total Word Count: 2026