Have you ever searched for someone like Mr. Ruggles?

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Before I return to the tedious tasks of wrapping and packing dishes and glasses I want to announce a new blog created earlier this month.

It is called “Looking for Mr. Ruggles”. There is one long entry in this little blog and many precious photos. It tells very simply how Julian Ruggles transformed into Julian Stephen Kennedy and how with the assistance of his son Robert, the family history project has helped answer many questions about what happened to Julian’s mother while he was in foster care as a baby.

Yet, there is one person who has never appeared in any searches and that is the mysterious Mr. Ruggles. Julian is still searching for the connection to any relative in the Ruggles family. Please read his touching story and if you’ve got any research tips or advice please comment at that blog.

And even if you don’t have any leads or search techniques to share we hope you’ll come away with a greater enthusiasm and appreciation for just how deep and far reaching a family tree and research can grow and how beneficial the fruit of the tree can be.

Taking a break…

To All My WordPress Friends and Followers:  As you’ve noticed, my output has slowed down these past few months.  My commeting and participation in discussion at other family history blogs has also fallen off.  This is not due to a lack of interest on my part or a lack of interesting material at the blogs I follow.

I have been in a tiring and prolonged process of moving out of the building where I currently live.  The people and events around me have been intrusive and disruptive causing the need for increased rest and quiet time.

All this is going to change in three weeks when I move into a beautiful new apartment in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.  It is really true that those who love and care about us will reach out even when there have been years of separation and no contact.  In a way I have my Mom to thank for this since it was through the family history project that I reconnected with the relative in whose house I will be living.  It is a beautiful turn of the 20th century brownstone that has been restored to the beauty and simplicity of the era in which it was built.  I am looking forward to setting up my new apartment and resuming the research and blogging after that.

There will be many new postings so please stay tuned.  The first will be an update on the Jacobs and Frank families featuring photos and highlights of accomplishments in the family.  This will be followed by a series of postings with updates on the Torregrossa family provided by the granddaughter of Rosario and Liboria Torregrossa.  These will be especially lively since they will be presented in the formats of the emails and phone converations that we had.  The flow of communications was so good I decided to post the exchanges as they happened.  This permits you to focus on the specific topics.  When the series is completed there is will be an even greater sense of the big picture in progress as the actions of our Torregrossa ancestors continue down into the present.

I wish everyone a great Labor Day Weekend.  See you in the Fall.

The Jacobs Family History Part One: 1904-1940

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Dora Jacobs in her youth.

Highlights of Dora Jacob’s life as related by her Granddaughter, June Frank Curran, August 3, 2014

• The earliest family members were born or lived in Egypt.
• They fled to Paris to escape persecution.
• The family was living in Paris before coming to the United States.
• Dora was born in New York.
• Dora and her siblings were placed in separate orphanages. She grew up not knowing where her brothers were.
• At the age of 13 she was released from the orphanage and obtained employment as a chamber maid at a hotel in New York.
• Dora was determined to find her parents. She saved her money for the time when she would travel to wherever they may be.
• When she was still 13 years old, Dora learned that her Mother had remarried and was living in Boston. She took a bus to the part of town where her Mother and new husband were living.
• Dora’s Mother told her that her new family did not know about her and that she could not let her come to stay.
• Dora returned to New York and despite this event never spoke negatively of her parents. She never mentioned them to others.
• From an early age, Dora had said that she wanted to be a Mother to a boy and a girl so that she could name them after her own Mother and Father.
• Eventually Dora and her brothers found each other. They remained in touch throughout their lives and visited each other from time to time.
• Dora sang in Yiddish at the Jewish theaters in Lower Manhattan. She subbed on occasion for Sophie Tucker, who is described in Wikipedia as one of the most popular entertainers of the early 20th century known for her comical delivery of risqué songs.

Note: In the 1920 Federal Census, Dora stated that Romania was the birthplace for her Mother and Father. During our discussion on Sunday, August 3, 2014, June informed me that a descendant of Dora’s sister has in her possession the map which shows the part of Egypt where the family lived before going to Paris. Further research is needed to confirm the exact ancestral country. On August 1, 2014 I ordered a copy of Dora and Jack’s 1913 Marriage Certificate from the NYC Municipal Archives. Using the names for Dora’s parents as they appear on the Marriage Certificate may bring back earlier census records where Dora’s parents are entered as well as the country of origin they gave to the Census Enumerator.

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The Jacobs Family: Prologue

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Anthony and Frances, circa 1940.

Anthony Tortorici, the son of Thomas Gaetano and Angelina (nee Torregrossa) Tortorici, met Frances Jacobs sometime in 1939 or 1940. Their son Bill was born in 1941. Anthony and Frances did not marry due to disapproval by family.
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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. In addition to the 1 1/2 years of research I spent another 16-18 months considering and reflecting on all the conflicting information about my paternal line that I had absorbed since childhood. I now 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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