The Tortorici Family 1909-2000: Until I rest with you again…

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Photograph of Angelina’s Monument courtesy of FindAGrave volunteer photographer, Maspeth. Used with permission.

Inscription on the monument placed at the gravesite of Angelina Torregrossa Tortorici:

“Qui Giace
ANGELINA TORREGROSSA TORTORICI
Tolta Al Mondo
Nei Piu Belli Giorni
Della Vita
A Soli 27 Anni
Il di 22 Novembre 1913
L’infelice Sposo
In Memoria Della Sua
Ideale Amata
Pose
Riposa in Pace”

“Con I Tuoi Poveri Orfanelli
Piangeremo In Eterno
La Nostra Sventura
O Gentil Fiore A Noi Rapito…”

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Angelina Torregrossa Tortorici was born circa 1884 in Caltanisetta, Resuttano, Sicily to Alfonso and Benedetta (nee Di Francisco) Torregrossa. Her father immigrated to the United States in the mid-1890s and settled in the Fourth Ward of New York City where he opened a grocery store. Angelina and her mother arrived in New York in 1896. She attended school in the area and completed 8th Grade. In the 1900 Federal Census her entry states that she could speak, read and write English.
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Torregrossa Family: Through the Children, Part 2

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Photo of Rosa Torregrossa’s headstone by FindAGrave Volunteer Photographer, Maspeth.

My Mom used to tell me a story about Buona Fortuna and Mala Fortuna whenever I was a child and questioned why I shouldn’t wish for the good luck to get more money or extra gifts from relatives or friends. She especially emphasized this after Grandpa Al Torregrossa gifted each of his Grandchildren with a $2,000 trust fund for college expenses around 1961 or 1962.

“Don’t get used to it,” Mom used to tell me. “You never get anything for free. If Al and Blanche don’t attach some conditions to it you can be sure life will come along and send you a hit in the head if you start getting so proud about it. Let Daddy and I take care of it. Now forget all about it. Get back to your Barbie dolls or go plan a puppet show with your friends…”
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The Torregrossa Family: Through the Children, Part 1

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I still retain a disturbing impression about my Great Grandparents in connection with the burial arrangements they made for their daughter Angelina and infant son, Alfonso. Their decision to quickly bury each child and the manner of their burial leaves me unsettled. The burial of Baby Alfonso in a common plot at Calvary Cemetery that was used for the poor is quite at odds with the amount of money the family had to begin buying, selling and leasing properties just two years later.

I am now in a position and state of mind similar to that my Mom sometimes exhibited when I was a child. Whenever I questioned in depth exactly where my Grandpa Al got all his money from there were a variety of answers that never satisfied me. Sometimes Mom would say he just got lucky, sometimes she’d say he had worked with the government during WWII on a secret mission involving coding for which he was highly paid. My Dad would mention the latter secret mission, too, and expected me to be satisfied with that. Again details were missing and a hush-hush atmosphere discouraged further questioning. But it never added up and whenever my Mom said, “I really am not sure,” then I knew she was as baffled as I was. Later on I was told about the macaroni factory which made “lots of money” for my Great Grandparents and that ended the questions up until the time I began researching the family history in 2012.

Yet at the same time I do not love my Great Grandparents any less or feel any inclination to move away from getting to know more about them through research and reflection. When I consider the achievements made by my Grandfather, his sisters Betty and Edith and brother Gesuri (a/k/a Jesse) I can say in all honesty they had to have been good parents. The realization does not mitigate the unsettling way in which the pieces to the story do not all come together but I will put aside those feelings and continue with a more positive direction which has led to a happy and productive discovery.

In many ways the achievements of the children in any family speak to us through time of the sacrifices parents made. They also speak of the values and aspirations the parents instilled into their children.

This approach of tracing the values and home life the parents may have created by assessing the achievements of their children is not always foolproof. Sometimes, though, it is the only means of getting some glimpse of what the deeper picture was all about. It is also similar to the way in which it is possible to reconstruct an entire family by starting with the birth and death records of the children and from there going back to the parents and grandparents of that child. I think this works best when one knows the family history intimately. Family stories, memories and anecdotes can all provide details that help bring the information in the vital records to life. And the records can support or challenge the verbal part of the family history.

It was through the children that I learned what happened to Angelina, the sister of my Great Grandfather Francesco. The discovery happened by accident during a trip to Calvary Cemetery by a Maspeth, a volunteer photographer at FindAGrave. Angelina’s nephew Rodolfo Dante Torregrossa was the catalyst and another relative, the beautiful Rosa Torregrossa, led us forward. I felt as if the spirits of these two children were calling out to us, leading us onward to the spot where Angelina was interred. At the same time, unknown to Maspethand myself, Angelina’s Great Grandson, Jon Frank, was searching for more information about her at Ancestry.

What follows in the next postings will be about the amazing and wonderful way this all seamlessly came together. I do believe Angelina was calling out to us and that it was the children, Rodolfo and Rosa, who initiated the series of events that led to this connection and reconnection.

Torregrossa Family-The End of an Era, Part 3

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Note: Links to postings about my Great Grandfather’s business and real estate deals, as well as about his children who died young appear at the end of this posting. You may read them for a better idea of what is covered in this posting.

Date: Wednesday, July 02, 2014
Time: 6:35 p.m.
Weather: Humid. Grey skies. Rumbles of thunder in the distance.
Mood: Disturbed

If only vital records, old newspaper announcements, census records and business records could provide the answers to what is troubling me I’d find hope. Hope of some resolution to what bothers me and what does not come together as I complete the first 18 months of research into my paternal Torregrossa Great-Great and Great Grandparents’ lives.

I would very much like to have concluded (for now) my discoveries on a very upbeat note. I’d have liked very much to say that much light has been cast into what was once not a dark corner but a very dark house in which the past lives of my Torregrossa Great-Great and Great Grandparents had been locked by my parents.

The truth is I cannot. There is something bothering me beyond all my expectations.

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The Torregrossa Family-End of an Era, Part 2

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It has been 1 1/2 years since I began researching and blogging about my paternal ancestors, the Flashenberg and Torregrossa families. I feel much closer to the times in which they lived thanks to the wealth of vital records and census records now on the family tree. Connecting with newly discovered relatives and reconnecting with those I’ve known and loved as a child has brought a personal dimension to who the Great Grandparents were. In turn this provides a glimmer of what the Great-Great Grandparents were like as well.

And yet as I look through all the vital records compiled for the Flashenberg and Torregrossa families, as well as the relatives by marriage like the Kennedy and Dickerson families, there is one lone person on the tree that I do not have any documentation for at all.

What bothers me most about this is that I never noticed until now!

What is it that leaves me blank when Great Grandmother Caterina Torregrossa arises like a mist and then vanishes as quickly? Continue reading

Torregrossa Family: The End of an Era, Part 1

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Yesterday, June 21, 2014, was the first day of Summer. It was a most beautiful day here in Boro Park, Brooklyn, NY. The sun was bright, very bright. The usual sticky, humid weather typical of a summer day in the New York City area seemed to be banished forever. It was truly glorious to be outdoors and feel a lovely breeze throughout the day. Fragrances of flowers and wet earth in watered gardens mingled with the aromas of Italian, Spanish and Mexican cooking as I made my rounds on my weekly shopping.

As I have researched, reflected and entered into the past during this time with my paternal ancestors, I consider the arrival and first generation of the Torregrossa family in America to be something like that transition from a harsh cold winter and spring into a glorious summer day. The previous years of hard work and difficult living reaped a harvest that saw the family transition from the harsh conditions of New York City’s Fourth Ward to the middle-class life complete with homes in a safe community of Dyker Heights. Increasing educational and occupational vistas opened up for the second generation of the Torregrossa family in America.

So why am I sitting here this morning on June 22, 2014 wishing I was back at the point in the family history sometime between 1910-1925? That was when the macaroni and grocery business was going strong and the family was still living very, very close to each other.
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The Torregrossa Family, 1940: The results of an American Education for the Younger Generation

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I’ve read many news articles about how young people are getting through the Great Recession of the early 21st Century. There is a sense of frustration and pessimism that pervades many interviews. This feeling is especially dominant for those who have pursued higher education, graduating from leading schools with top grades and achievements. Settling for a minimum wage job if they are lucky to secure one does not assuage the anxieties of those who will soon begin making hefty monthly payments on their student loans. And then there are others who are using their down time between jobs to take advantage of educational opportunities available at community colleges and technical training institutes. Although these young adults are also concerned about their futures, the change to get more training lends hopes to a vision of a better job and income up ahead.

There are also those recent grads with families who can afford to support them through another round of schooling, so they go on to pursue advanced coursework and/or degrees in the hopes that by the time they are finished the Great Recession will be over and the world will have a place ready for them and their talents.

As I review the educational achievements of the younger generation of the Torregrossa family, the benefits of further education is evident. And interestingly enough, it looks like some of them decided at the start of the Great Recession of the 1930s to go back to school rather than take work whenever and wherever they could.

As I reviewed their educational levels as recorded in the 1940 Federal Census I was very pleased to see that not only had the girls gone on for more education than their mothers had, but the boys advanced further than their fathers did. Another interesting development were the choices in professions. My impression is that the American educational system enabled my First Cousins 2x Removed and my Great Aunts and Great Uncles to pursue occupations by choice and inclination. They were no longer bound by the more limited education of their parents to follow a family run business or engage in a similar trade that a parent might have had to engage in.
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The Torregrossa Family 1930-1940 Part 2: Of Neighbors, Communities and Moving Apart

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The end of the Great Depression of the 1930s marked the passing of an age in the history of my Torregrossa ancestor’s lives. Little by little some of the tightly interwoven links that bound their common world had loosened. Others no longer existed. The three brothers-Francesco (my Great Grandfather), Rosario and Joseph- who developed and worked at the macaroni manufacturing and grocery businesses prior to the 1930s came out in 1940 unemployed. It appears, too, that the business was no longer in existence. The 1940 census lists Francesco as retired while Rosario and Joseph were unemployed.

The 1940 Federal Census entries for all four Torregrossa brothers (Francesco, Rosario, Joseph and Antonio) at first reveal the employment status of the heads of each household. But a deeper shift had taken place. In fact, I do not consider it a change that happened all at once. It is more an ongoing process of change that is part of the assimilation which occurs as immigrant families establish themselves as part of the American society. In each succeeding Federal Census record the four Torregrossa brothers and their families are living further away from each other with an increasing diversity of people for neighbors. In previous decades the extended family lived on the same block or the same building or within a few blocks of each other when they were in the Fourth Ward of Manhattan.
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The Torregrossa Family, 1930-1940: Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, N.Y, Part 1

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In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, Dyker Heights was a small, exclusive suburban community. Wealthy families of English descent lived in the most luxurious of the mansions built in the area with a concentration around 79th Street to 86th Street between 10th and 13th Avenues. Many of the wealthy residents worked for city government or large corporations.

When development of Dyker Heights was in its early stages, there were not many Italian-Americans living in the area. Walter Johnson, one of the main developers of the area, paid $600 to the Italian tenants on one of his properties to get out. He thought their presence compromised the quality of life in the community. By 1940, the majority of residents in Dyker Heights were of Italian descent.
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Spring Break 2014 Conclusion: Photos picked up and on their way!

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In addition to the over 50 envelopes containing photos grouped by category, I had many large studio portraits. These larger photos are framed by the large, ornamental cardboard frames that seem to have been popular and used by professional photography studios during the 1930s and 1940s. In order to keep everything safe for the trip to DiJiFi, the scanning service I’m using, I bought a very large plastic storage box at a local variety store. It looks something like a Rubbermaid Clear Store container.

I placed the larger, framed studio photos at the bottom of the container, and then placed the envelopes on top of them. To minimize any movement I used tissue paper between the spaces.

Then, after I’d packed everything I realized that I had not made a list of the envelopes so that I could check for each one when the scanning was completed and the photos returned. Sunday was spent numbering each envelope and then entering the number and the Category Name of each envelope into a notebook. After packing everything again, I took the rest of Sunday afternoon off.

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