Since the previous posting was a long one, I’ve placed the supporting documentation into this posting.
December 9, 2013
Dear Great-Great Grandmother Benedetta: I do not believe that in 1910 you or anyone else anticipated the changes that would take place in the family after Great Great Grandfather Alfonso passed away. Although documents supplying the information for this period are limited, I still sense and see directions taken that I believe would not have been possible if he had lived longer and remained the central patriarch around whom the rest of the family revolved.
Great-Great Grandmother, I feel so close to you in some ways. You managed to carry on with your life and undertook some big changes yourself. In the 1915 New York State Census, I was happy to see that you were not alone. Your youngest son, Antonio, was still living at home and your niece, Frances Devita was also living with you. Frances was working as a typist, Antonio as a lithographer and you, too, had a job. The Census records state you worked as an “Operator”. At first I thought you may have been a telephone operator but on reflection I think you most likely went to work as a sewing machine operator. I have seen the word “Operator” applied to other relatives in the extended family who in earlier State or Federal Census records were recorded as working in some part of the garment trade.
There are still many things of my late Mother’s that I have not gone through. For some reason I just couldn’t face having to make a decision about any of them.
Then on my birthday I decided to go into her closet and consider anything I found to be a birthday present from her to me.
I’ve never actively followed Linda’s career or her music. That hasn’t stopped me from admiring the strength and quality of her singing. Even my Mom enjoyed her music throughout the years. In fact, I remember when Linda first broke the charts around 1967 with the Stone Pony’s. My Mom said to me that Linda had a quality that set her apart and that her singing would appeal to all age groups if she continued to be in the spotlight.
Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s I remember hearing her in the background wherever popular music could be played. Malls, department stores, cars driving by with the radio on during a summer afternoon in Dyker Heights, beauty parlors where I got my hair styled or even Scaturro’s Supermarket where the radio is often tuned to a pop station when Italian songs are not playing in the background. Linda Ronstadt was, to me, a familiar and recurring voice through the years.
I thought she’d continue to be there never noticing that for some time only her earlier songs are broadcast on the oldies and contemporary format radio stations.
The years 1905 through 1910 was a period of growth for the Torregrossa family. Business seems to have been doing well since the three oldest boys of Alfonso and Benedetta Torregrossa continued to run the family’s macaroni factory and grocery store (or stores).
During the summer of 2013 I made another discovery in the Library of Congress Archives. The October 26th, 1906 edition of the New York Journal contained an announcement of another transaction involving the business of Frank Torregrossa & Brothers.
I have found the City Directories for Manhattan and Brooklyn to be very valuable tools in tracing the movements of my Great Grandfather and Great Uncles during the period 1900-1910. When I first began saving images of the City Directory Business and Residential listings for the Torregrossa family I considered it something of use to determine where they lived. Gauging which neighborhoods they settled in when they came to Brooklyn gave me a sense of how their economic situation was at the time. Most of the information I have about Brooklyn in the early 1920s through the 1970s is a combination of recollections, anecdotes, family stories and personal histories I’ve heard from family and friends. Often what I’ve heard throughout the years agrees with what I’ve read in articles which some of our local papers run about the neighborhoods of Brooklyn, past and present.
I’m very glad now that I also saved the business listings from the early 20th century City Directories. If I hadn’t I would have missed a large chunk of information that proved valuable in piecing this timeline together.
I surfed into the Library of Congress’ website last Autumn not sure of what I was looking for. I clicked around and gradually found my way to the section where old newspapers are archived. I never thought anything about Torregrossa family would appear in any newspaper. At that time I still envisioned my Great-Great Grandfather Alphonso and Great Grandfather Francesco as being businessmen of very modest means, working very hard to be a success and living very frugally. I never expected what the search results brought back after just one entry to the LOC search engine.
I have spent the last 3 weeks recreating a time table spanning the years 1904-1909 which reveals a series of events providing insights into the nature of my Great Grandfather’s macaroni manufacturing business.
I first started saving the bits and pieces that ended up as the source material for the time line during the summer of 2012. At that time I began to realize that my Great Grandfather used the name Frank as easily as he used Francesco at different times. Still, I had doubts that perhaps some of the info I unearthed could perhaps refer to a different Frank Torregrossa. Surely, I thought, my Great Grandfather couldn’t have had the means for all the business deals and real estate activities I was coming across.
Still, I avoided dismissing these finds and copied everything and stored it in a folder on the laptop. Over the rest of 2012 and through this year I continued to place findings in that folder. When I sat down to review everything in late September I had in front of me a very chronological timeline where one activity supported the following activity. By the time 1909′s events were in place I realized my Great Grandfather was not the humble, striving man I had first pictured.
What emerged was a businessman with foresight and enough saavy to participate in leasing larger spaces for what were most likely the workrooms where the macaroni was made. The business listings in various directories also changed as his younger brothers joined the macaroni making business.
I am breaking this timeline into a series of separate postings so that each section is as tightly focused as possible. This will give the concluding post more impact.
Dear Great Grandfather Francesco: In 1904 you welcomed your fifth child into the world. Were you able to enjoy watching little Edith grow up during her first year without the worries of life in New York City’s Fourth Ward lurking in the background each day?
By now your older daughters Bettina and Mary were old enough to go to school. I have tried to find maps of the Fourth Ward that show the location of Catholic and Public Schools in the area but have not located any just yet. Whether the school was close or distant I think it must have worried you each day when they left the apartment and went out into the streets.
Your son Alphonso, who was now two years old would, when he married and became a father himself, insist that his children go to school together with the neighbor’s children. Usually they would be accompanied by one or two of the mothers of the children in the group. I like to think that you would have insisted on your children being accompanied by their friends when they went to school, too.
Unlike your brothers Joseph and Rosario you did not move away from the Fourth Ward after Antonina’s death. Instead it is almost as if you were even more determined to stay in the community where the family grocery stores and macaroni manufacturing facility were. You had made an investment in the community and were now drawing a livelihood from it. You were not going to let fear rule your life.
The Torregrossa macaroni manufacturing business got another good write-up in New York’s 1903 Annual Report of the Commissioner of Labor. Were you the President of the company? What roles did your brothers Joseph and Rosario have within the company?
It seems to me that even in the early stages of our branch of the Torregrossa family’s life in the United States, a pattern of success in business alternated with loss and sadness in the family life.
In 1905 your third daughter Angelina developed bronchitis on June 1st, 1905. She was attended by Dr. Bardini of 47 Catherine Street for 24 days before passing away at 2:00 a.m. on June 24th, 1905. Angelina was just 6 years old and I think she did not have the strength to fight an attack of bronchitis. There are a few of your Great-Grandchildren who also have respiratory weaknesses. I should now, I’ve suffered attacks of acute bronchitis from time to time and it is debilitating for an adult. A child will find it even more difficult to fight off the coughing and the congestion.
I do not believe that the tenement where you lived made life easy. How you all kept warm in the winter and cool in the summer must have presented many difficulties. I’ve seen illustrations from period newspapers that show how tenement dwellers would hold rooftop gatherings or congregate on their stoops or street corners after sunset during the summer months. Even the babies and little children were outdoors late at night to escape the stifling heat of the tenement apartments. Some people even slept on the fire escapes.
I have the record of Angelina’s death, including the information that her burial was handled by the firm of Charles Bacigalupo & sons at 26 1/2 Mulberry Street. She was buried at Calvary Cemetery in Queens, New York on the same day she passed away.
I think of Angelina often each day. I have set up a memorial for her at FindAGrave. But due to some oversight on the part of cemetery management, no record can be located for the exact plot where your little angel was buried in June of 1905.
Although I cannot place flowers at Angelina’s resting place, I have added her name to my prayer list and I hope that she is with you and Great Grandmother Caterina in that place of infinite love, peace and light which I as your Great Granddaughter call our true home.
We will all be together again, one day.
I remain proud of what you accomplished and closer to you as I learn about the losses and sufferings you went through which are in some ways familiar to me.
Your Great Granddaughter,
EmilyAnn Frances May
P.S. Frances is my confirmation name. My Dad, Frank, was so pleased when I chose that name. I didn’t know it was the feminine version of your name. But now that I know more about you, I am so happy I chose it and now use it as part of my name.
1900 Federal Census
1902 Manhattan City Directory
1910 Federal Census
Death Certificate for Angelina Torregrossa
Phone calls to Calvary Cemetery
FindAGrave Memorial for Angelina Torregrossa