52 Ancestors, Week 3: Out of Place

It’s time once again for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks project! This is a challenge started by genealogist Amy Johnson Crow, who sets a different theme for each week of the year. For Week 3, the theme is Out of Place.

The ancestor I’ve chosen to highlight for this one is Giovanni DeRiggi, my mother’s paternal grandfather. My grandfather didn’t talk much about him. Most of his family reminiscences involved his mother, who apparently had a much larger personality and a much more problematic relationship with my grandfather. But he told one story about my great-grandfather that fits the theme and was fascinating — though a bit suspect. I have not been able to corroborate this anywhere. While I believe it may have been based on some kernel of truth, I know who would have heard it as a small child, and I suspect he may have misheard, misinterpreted, or exaggerated it.

The first part of the story is true. My great-grandfather was a Bird of Passage, an immigrant who left his family behind in Italy while he crossed the ocean to the United States to do seasonal work. In Pennsylvania, he worked for the railroad, helping to lay track when the weather was warm enough. He traveled back home in the colder months to see his family, eventually saving up enough for the whole family to emigrate. My grandfather always said his father crossed the ocean nine times. He must have felt out of place in the U.S., at first. After repeated trips, he probably felt just as out of place in Italy.

One year, according to my grandfather, the journey did not go as planned. This happened before Papa was born. On the ocean, the ship his father Giovanni was on ran into some trouble. Something in the engine broke, and the crew managed to limp along and anchor off the shore of an island. They were there for weeks, living both on the ship and onshore, foraging for food while the crew tried to get the ship running again. Then another ship came along, also partially disabled. Between the two broken ships, the crews managed to cobble together enough working parts to get one of them running, and some of them took the operable ship and continued on their journey — or maybe backtracked to their port of departure — to send transport back for the others.

My great-grandfather’s family were told the ship had sunk, and were overjoyed to see Giovanni alive. They had thought he was dead, but really, he was just out of place.

I wish I knew more about this incident, if it happened at all. Until recently, I’d been concentrating my research on my father’s side of the family. I’m now exploring more about my mother’s family. I think it’s time to look into this story, and see what I can find.

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