Torregrossa Family 1917-1940: Ethel, Edith or Ida?


My paternal Grandfather Al Terry always told us we were in for a memorable day whenever preparations were in progress for an outing to his sister Edith’s house. My Dad was equally excited as we began the long drive to New Jersey.  Since Grandpa Al and Grandma Blanche didn’t have a car of their own, they depended on their son-in-law Alex, to take them there.  When I knew that Uncle Alex and Aunt Maureen were coming along I knew we’d have everything we needed.  Aunt Maureen spent a lot of time planning what kind of snacks she’d make as well as whether or not she’d take along a little cooler filled with juice and soft drinks.  This was in addition to the thermos of coffee she prepared for Uncle Alex.

It was great fun for me when Grandpa Al would travel in our car.  This gave me a chance to enjoy the ride in Uncle Alex’s car.  He had a stuffed tiger in the back along with bobble head dolls on the dashboard in the front.  The radio was usually tuned to a station playing Aunt Maureen’s favorite big band stars.  Uncle Alex waited for her to get distracted and then he changed the station in hopes of hearing a Connie  Francis song.  Even though we took trips every few months to visit Uncle Alfred and  Pat’s house on Long Island, it’s the trips to Aunt Edith’s that are the earliest ones I remember.  Whenever I hear the word “road trip” today, I still think of Aunt Maureen’s preparations and Dad coordinating the route with Uncle Alex.

We made these trips in the mid to late 1950s, Dad told me that going out to the country would be an experience I’d remember as I grew up.  He was right.  Aunt Edith’s home in New Jersey was that kind of a place—far removed from the noise and crowding of the city.  I felt that change once we started driving deeper into New Jersey.  In the late 1950s there weren’t any large shopping malls or strip malls.  If you can think of a state filled with meadows and grazing cows punctuated by little towns you’ve got the idea.  There were still towns where factories dominated and sometimes a chemical odor filled the air.  But these encounters were limited to the first half hour or so of the drive into New Jersey.  It didn’t take long to enter that place my Dad considered the open countryside.

Dad always spoke of his Aunt Edith as my Aunt Edith. This was the same way Mom spoke to me about the Aunts and Uncles in her family line.  The term Great Aunt and Great Uncle was never used.  So in this posting I will continue to use the designation Aunt Edith.  It’s the one I’m most comfortable with.  This posting  would have come together much earlier if I’d noticed all the little details that supported the findings.  The delay was caused by Aunt Edith using two other names during her lifetime.  I was only able to piece everything together as I finished this posting on Friday night, February 5, 2016.

Brief overview of Edith’s early years

Edith was the 6th of 9 children born to Francesco (Frank) and Caterina (Katie) Torregrossa.  Her parents immigrated to the United States from Sicily in the late 1890s.  Frank was co-owner with his younger brothers of a macaroni manufacturing business that operated out of New York City’s Fourth Ward.  Edith’s siblings were:

Bettina (b. 1894)
Mamie (b. 1896)
Angelina (1899-1905)
Alfonso (1901-1902)
Alfonso “Al Terry” (1902-1964)
Adeline (1906-1991)
Jesse Orlando (1907-1991)
Eleanor (b. 1910)

New York Birth Index entry for Ida Torregrossa.

There is a New York Birth Index entry for Ida Torregrossa born on February 16, 1904 that I put in my Ancestry Shoebox file over 3 years ago.  I wasn’t sure if I’d need.  After all, I thought, I never heard anyone call Aunt Edith by the name of Ida.  Why would she use the name?  The next batch of records challenged my approach.

In the 1905 NYS Census the entry for the family of Frank Torregrossa lists one of his daughters as Ida. When I first reviewed this I thought it was a mistake.  I submitted a correction noting that this daughter appeared as Edith Torregrossa in the 1910 and 1920 Federal Census entries.  I thought the matter was settled and went back to working my way through all the fascinating discoveries about the Torregrossa Brothers macaroni business.

In September 2015 I began piecing the information on Francesco and Caterina’s daughters. When I got Aunt Edith’s marriage certificate I discovered she used the name Ida as well as yet another name.  I wasn’t sure if the marriage certificate contained numerous errors or if something else was going on.

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Torregrossa Family 1917-1940: Jesse and Teresa


Jesse was born in the Fourth Ward of Manhattan on December 18, 1907.  His father Francesco was co-owner of a macaroni manufacturing facility called Torregrossa Brothers. His mother Caterina was a homemaker. Jesse’s grandfather Alfonso Torregrossa owned a grocery store in the same section of Manhattan.    The 1940 Federal Census gives Jesse’s level of education as “C4” meaning he completed 4 years of college.  Of all of Caterina and Francesco’s children he is the only one who reached this educational milestone.

1930 Federal Census

1930 Federal Census entry for Jesse Torregrossa.

The Federal Census Enumerator visited the home of Francesco and Caterina Torregrossa on April 11th, 1930.  Jesse lived with his parents at 1353 Bay Ridge Avenue in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, NY.  At the time he worked as a clerk for National City.

Marriage to Teresa Lipani on September 20, 1930

Marriage Certificate for Jesse and Teresa.

Jesse married Teresa Lipani at St. Rosalia’s Roman Catholic Church on Saturday, September 20th, 1930.  According to the weather report in “The Brooklyn Daily Eagle” the weather was fair and cool with temperatures around 74 degrees.  It sounds like it was a good day for a wedding.  Reverend Enrico Parascandola officiated at the ceremony.  The witnesses were Jesse’s sister Eleanor and her fiance Alfonso Lapera.

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Torregrossa Family 1917-1940: Betty, Mamie and Jesse helping each other out


Aunt Betty was living with her sister Mamie’s family in Brooklyn when the 1940 Federal Census was taken. At some point between 1935 and 1940 her husband Giuseppe passed away.  I reviewed the information about Mamie and her husband Christopher to see how Aunt Betty would fit into the household.  Another surprise discovery came when I reviewed the other occupants of the house.  Betty’s younger brother Jesse owned the house.  In this posting I concentrate on Mamie and Christopher.  I think Jesse and Mamie were helping Betty out by providing a place to live.  Christopher and Mamie both worked at full time jobs that paid them very well.  It’s possible that Aunt Betty helped out with child care and housework.

Meet Mamie

Born on July 11, 1896 in New York City’s Fourth Ward Mamie was the second child of Francesco and Caterina Torregrossa and the first of their children born in the U.S.  At birth her name was Mary.  In the 1910 Federal Census her name appears as Mamie.  In 1920 she told the Census Enumerator her name was Mary.  It seems to me that she used both names interchangeably.

Mamie completed the eight years of mandatory schooling required at this time. In 1920 she was working as a stenographer.  Her employer is “USOM.”  I could not locate any information about what this acronym stood for but later Federal Census records provided other employers.  I wonder if in 1920 she was working for the Federal government?

Before her marriage, Mamie lived at home with her parents at 1353-69th Street in the Dyker Heights section of Brooklyn.  She got married on September 30, 1924 at St. Rosalia’s Roman Catholic Church.  The events in the news on the day Mamie got married were very different from those on the day Betty got married.

Events in the News 9/30/1924

On September 30, 1924 one of the headline stories in The New York Times concerned the agreement Great Britain and Germany reached regarding the occupation of Czechoslovakia. Post-WWI relations were improving between Germany and the Western Allies.  It was hoped there would never again be a war between these countries.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle offered brief items on page 6 that reveal how the mood in the country was already in post-war mode. From the Detroit News was a short entitled “America Declining?”  The reporter said that some people like the former Governor of Kentucky thought the country was entering a moral decline because people went to the movies too often.  Other people offered their observations on why the country was going downhill.  The reporter concludes that there is nothing wrong with hard working people enjoying some entertainment once in a while.  In another short entry, mention was made of a Long Island woman who enjoyed dancing on her 102nd birthday.

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Torrgrossa Family 1917-1940: Betty, how did you manage?


Bettina Torregrossa was my paternal Great Aunt. She was Grandpa Al’s big sister and one of Dad’s favorite Aunts.  She used to babysit for us from roughly 1957-1959.  I grew up knowing her as Aunt Betty.  Each of my parents shared many stories of their childhood and adolescence with me.  As I grew-up I learned that encouraging them to tell me these stories was one way to assuage the raw nerves that arose when my parents had disagreements.  I’d sit with one or the other and listen as they relived happy memories.  The telling of these stories drew me into their world in such a way that no distinction was made between their generation and mine.  Mom and Dad called their aunts, uncles and cousins by those names.  I never used the terms Great Aunt, Great Uncle or First Cousin one time removed.  Since this is so against the spirit of the memories I have I refrain from using these terms now.

I was the child who stayed home the most even as a teenager and college student. I stayed at the table after dinner and in the house in the evenings.  As a result, I was privileged to learn so much about their families.  Yet, for all the memories my parents shared I now realize they presented a very select and controlled vision of the past.  I accepted it as they told it knowing that it was not the entire story.

Aunt Betty existed in my Dad’s present when he needed her to babysit or when he reminisced about the past. But for all that he never went too deeply into the little details that make a person come to life.  He praised her as a kind and cheerful woman but that was it.  It was with great interest that I pieced together a very rough timeline based on the findings from Ancestry.  They are not extensive but they give me some insights.  At the same time I’m left with more questions that I have no answers for.

1894 to 1910: From Sicily to New York

Bettina was born in Caltanisetta, Resuttano, Sicily in 1894. She was the eldest child of Francesco and Caterina Torregrossa.  Francesco and his father Alfonso arrived in New York first setting up a grocery store and then a macaroni manufacturing facility in the Fourth Ward of Manhattan.  Caterina and Bettina came to New York in 1896.

Bettina soon had more siblings to share her life with. They were in order of birth:

Mamie (Mary) (b. 1896)
Angelina (1899-1905)
Alfonso (1901-1902)
Alfonso (Al) (1902-1964)
Edith (1904-)
Adeline (1906-)
Jesse (1908-)

The names of the siblings in bold font will be covered in subsequent postings that make up this series.

Life in Manhattan’s Fourth Ward was rough. The area was congested, dirty and crime ridden.  Like other immigrants who managed to save some money, Francesco and Caterina left Manhattan sometime after 1910 and before 1915.  They moved to Dyker Heights, Brooklyn.

In the 1940 Federal Census, Bettina told the Enumerator she completed 7 of the 8 mandatory years of public education.

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Torregrossa Family 1917-1940 : St. Rosalia’s Roman Catholic Church

Main altar of St. Rosalia’s Church.

St. Rosalia’s Church in Brooklyn is claimed by three neighborhoods as their own. Residents of Boro Park, Dyker Heights and Besonhurst each would like to say it resides within the boundaries of their particular community.  The Church, actually stands at an intersection of all three.  Located at the corner of 63rd Street and 14th Avenue in Brooklyn you can walk just 3-4 blocks  and be in Dyker Heights, Boro Park or Bensonhurst depending on the direction you go in.

St. Rosalia’s parish came together in the early 1900s as a store front church. In 1904 the parish was formally created.  Members  agreed to  raise funds, and begin construction of a church building. From its beginning, St. Rosalia has been an immigrant church.  The first parishioners were from the Italian immigrant community.  Masses were offered in Italian and English according to what I learned from my maternal grandparents when they were alive.

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Belated Hanukkah Greetings

Hanukkah was December 6th through 14th this year.  I hope all my readers and relatives through the Flashenberg and Rosenbaum lines had a beautiful time with family and friends.  May the joy of the holiday be with you in the days and months ahead.

EmilyAnn Frances May
Child Out of Time


Public Domain Image