Throwback Thursday: Giovanni and Rosalina

My great grandparents on my maternal grandfather's side.
Giovanni DeRiggi and Rosalina Ambrosini DeRiggi

Lately, my genealogical researcher has shifted from my father’s side of the family tree to my mother’s. And here is a photograph from her ancestral line.

This is my mother’s paternal grandparents, my great-grandparents. They are Giovanni (John) DeRiggi and Rosalina (Rosa) Ambrosini DeRiggi.

John DeRiggi (1878-1955) was born in Cicciano, a village outside of Naples, in Campania, Italy. He was what was known as a “Bird of Passage,” an Italian immigrant who traveled back and forth across the ocean several times to do seasonal work, and bringing money back to his wife and children in Italy until he had finally saved up enough to move his family to the United States. My grandfather always said his father made the trip nine times, though I suspect he meant nine one-way trips, not nine round trips.

John finally arrived for good in 1908 or 1909, and settled with his wife and two oldest children in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where his other six children were born (one died in infancy). He worked as a coal miner for the first part of his career. Sometime between 1920 and 1930 he began working for the railroad, and stayed with the same company for the rest of his career. When he was too old to lay track, he was moved into the train station to do janitorial work. That train station is now a rather nice hotel in Scranton. I have stayed there, and watched my son toddle across the intricate mosaic floors that his great-great-grandfather must have kept clean.

My great-grandmother, Rosa Ambrosini (1877-1948), was also born near Naples, though I am not sure if she was from the same village. I am fairly certain I have her surname correct, but it is listed differently on various documents. Her birth name, Ambrosini, must have been too difficult for non-Italian census takers and clerks to get right. I’ve seen it spelled Ambrosino, Andersini, and even Prosini or Prosino, with the first syllable left out altogether. My grandfather always said she gave birth to his brother Michael, or Micky, on the immigrant ship coming over from Italy. I have found no evidence of that, but I also haven’t found evidence that it’s not true, so I’ll keep an open mind.

His mother was a formidable presence in my grandfather’s life, much more so than his father. She seems to have ruled the family with an iron fist. When he was 13 and wanted to leave school, she said he could, but only if he found a job. On pay day, he was required to turn his wages over to her. She disapproved of his marriage to my grandmother. In fact, he said that when they told her they had gotten married, she chased them out of the house, trying to hit them with a broom! They ended up having to live in that house for the first months of their marriage. That must have been excruciating. I find it amusing to know that, despite her stern reputation, my formidable great grandmother was also a skilled castanet player.

I wish I could have known them both.

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