Sunday, December 9

Ellis Island - Board of Special Inquiry

While approximately one in five were detained for the Board of Special Inquiry, only 2% of the 12 million immigrants processed at Ellis Island from 1892 to 1954 were ever deported and sent back to their home countries.

The most common exclusion was "Likely Public Charge," taken from the section of law which excludes anyone who might become a burden on the public. Many of these cases were coupled with medical certificates, because it was a medical condition or physical disability which caused officials to think the immigrant would not be able to earn their own living. Three Inspectors sitting on a Board of Special Inquiry would question the immigrant further and decide whether to admit them.  

Estella Giardino Rosso was given BSI status. But in my grandmother’s case, it was granted as she had a child in the hospital allowing her to continue her stay. The full record (snippets below) shows she arrived on February 20, 1915 and was released to Antonio Rosso on March 5 at 1:15pm after spending a total of 14 days at Ellis Island. Caterina Russo (my aunt Catherine Rosso) is also shown on this BSI listing separately. 

Tell me your thoughts and if you can add to my family story! If you enjoy this blog, I'd be very grateful if you'd share with a never know who may be a potential cousin!

Sunday, December 2

Ellis Island - 29 Questions

During their crossing, immigrants were required to complete 29 questions upon arrival at Ellis Island. Their answers were scrutinized by the Immigration Inspectors in the Great Hall.  Any issue might put an immigrant in front of the dreaded Board of Special Inquiry, who would ultimately decide if they could stay in the US. Imagine your fate being determined in two minutes with an inspector and the following questions.

1. Your manifest number (from your ship)
2. What is your full name?
3. How old are you?
4. Are you male or female?
5. Are you married, single, widowed or divorced?
6. What is your occupation?
7. Are you able to read and write? 
8. What country are you from?
9. What is your race? (note: no question was asked about religion)
10. What was your last permanent place of residence? (city and country)
11. What is the name and address of a relative from your native country?
12. What is your final destination in America? (city and state)
13. Your number on the immigration list?
14. Do you have a ticket to your final destination? 
15. Who paid for your passage?
16. How much money do you have? 
17. Have you been to America before? If so when, where and how long?
18. Are you meeting a relative here in America?  If so, who and their address?
19. Have you been in a prison, charity almshouse, or insane asylum?
20. Are you a polygamist?  
21. Are you an anarchist? 
22. Are you coming to America for a job?  What and where will you work?
23. What is the condition of your health?
24. Are you deformed or crippled?
25. How tall are you?
26. What is your skin color?
27. What color are your eyes and hair? 
28. Do you have any identifying marks? (scars, birthmarks, or tattoos)
29. Where were you born? (city and country)

The key questions the inspectors focused on were purposely scattered throughout – 6, 16 and 22.  In other words, would you be able to contribute or will you become a burden on society? Only after all was in order, physical and questionnaire, would they be released.

Once cleared, they could grab a hot meal in the Dining Hall, locate their baggage, exchange their currency for dollars, and then be ferried to train stations in New Jersey.

Tell me your thoughts and if you can add to my family story! If you enjoy this blog, I'd be very grateful if you'd share with a never know who may be a potential cousin!

Monday, November 26

Ellis Island - Arrival

I often imagine my grandparents leaving all that they knew – their former life completely behind – with the hopes of a better world in America, the land of unlimited opportunity. Perhaps they were fleeing war or poverty. A small satchel carried all their worldly possessions – a change of clothes, a treasured picture.  They spoke no English.  They survived a wave-tossed Atlantic crossing in the  overcrowded 3rd class conditions of a steamship with sea-sick passengers.

Medical inspection at Ellis Island
Arriving in New York Harbor looking out from the ship with the first view of the Statue of Liberty and the tall buildings of Manhattan. So different from the small villages they had left behind. Ellis Island was known to the Italians as isola di lacrime (Island of Tears) or isola di speranza (Island of Hope) depending on their families experience. Surely in my grandparents minds was the fear that upon entering America they would not be deemed worthy of staying and sent back on the next steamship.

Newly arriving 1st & 2nd class passengers were left off in lower Manhattan with a quick scan of their papers. Immigrants in third class steerage however were ferried by barge, with their few possessions to Ellis Island. As they disembarked at Ellis Island, officials known as “groupers” shouted to them to form two lines: women and children in one, and men in the other. Each person was tagged with a color-coded slip of paper (indicating the steamship line) inscribed with a manifest number, the name of the steamship, and the immigrant’s name.

The first step was medical inspection. In particular, doctors looked for rashes, fever, birth defects, limps, labored breathing, excessive coughing, lice, contagious eye disease and even feeble mindedness. Anyone with suspected health issues was marked with chalk on their clothing and sent to the Ellis Island hospital, where their ultimate fate would be determined. Upon passing the physical examination or release from the hospital, the next step was to be questioned by Immigration Inspectors.  An immigrant’s fate literally depended on these men and the 29 questions they were required to complete during their voyage. 

Tell me your thoughts and if you can add to my family story! If you enjoy this blog, I'd be very grateful if you'd share with a never know who may be a potential cousin!

Monday, September 17

Sunday Best

I recently found this photo of an unknown family arriving in Ellis Island. This photo was taken at the same time Grandma Rossow would have been arriving, giving us a visual glimpse into what the world looked like at the time.

Immigrants arriving would put on their 'Sunday Best' before the ship landed.  Most Italian immigrants had only two sets of clothing along with their church outfit. The bags likely held their clothing and any small items of value brought with them. Southern Italians averaged the lowest amount of money, $8.67, brought with them over all other immigrant races. Northern Italians averaged $23.53, almost triple their southern neighbors. They faced overwhelming prejudice and poverty in a strange country. 

This photo is a great reminder that despite the circumstances our ancestors endured, our family flourished and stayed strong thru prayer and hard work.

Tell me your thoughts and if you can add to our family story! If you enjoy this blog, I'd be very grateful if you'd share with a never know who may be a  potential cousin!

Sunday, September 2


September is here! My garden is slowing down finally. Its been a great season but we are tired...very tired. I know most wouldn't agree but I am actually looking forward to cooler weather. In my haste to get the last post up, I failed to add a couple of facts and pictures so lets back up a bit.

Grandpa Rossow arrives in the U.S. with his wife's family, the Giardino's.

Isn't that quite a group! This is the only document that I have found that has Grandpa Rossow listed as Antonino Russo. The ship manifest is completed in the port of departure so I fully believe this was his birth name. Looking to the right you see when asked 'final destination', he answers - Geneva and then 'who you leave behind', the answer -his wife Stella- S. Pietro Maida. (I think its how it's worded but each time I read this on a manifest I get a lump in my throat.)

Antonino traveled on the S.S. Canada, departing from Naples, Italy on June 18th, 1913 and arriving in NYC on July 1st, 1913. (105 years ago this past July!) At 26 years old with $17 and a dream of a new life for his family. I can't imagine how excited and terrified he was!

SS Canada

Remembering to check the following pages on any document, I find reference to a cousin sponsoring him, Nicola Ventura. This name is completely unknown in all of my family research and haunts me in my sleep as I cannot find ANY information on him...yet.

Next, I notice that Estella's siblings answer- 'leave none'- when asked 'who you leave behind' which tells me their parents had already passed away by 1913. They were seemingly young as Giuseppe, the oldest child, was only 27 years old. These are the facts we often miss as a beginning genealogist. In our rush to fill out the trees branches we leave behind tidbits of information that may answer questions later. I suggest a notebook to track seemingly unimportant details. I was taught to 'park it in the garage' in case you need it in the future. If you've seen my actual garage you'd cringe but the idea holds true in genealogy research.  

We see he arrived with siblings in tow, Angela, Caterina, Domenico and Antonia as well as his own children ranging in age from 2-13 years old. If you're a numbers girl like me, this stopped me in my tracks.  Giuseppe would have been 14 years old and his wife Mariantonia 12 years old when their son, Francesco was born. My genealogy software even asked me to confirm as the age of 12 is not "of child bearing age".  Although I didn't appreciate the judginess, its a valid point.

There are a number of possibilities for this. Could Francesco really be his brother and been marked incorrectly in the confusion?  Could his age be written wrong?  Could his mother's age be incorrect?  Or {gasp}could her age actually be correct and she was 12?

Tell me your thoughts and if you can add to our family story! If you enjoy this blog, I'd be very grateful if you'd share with a never know who may be a  potential cousin!

Saturday, August 25

Mapping - Rosso line

My garden is in full force this week and tomatoes have taken over the house. There are cherry tomatoes in the dehydrator, sauce cooking down in crockpots and baskets of fresh tomatoes in the back hall waiting to be processed. It's exhausting but worth it come winter.

My genealogy falls to the wayside every August when tomato-nado hits but I was able to sneak in a couple of research hours early Sunday favorite time of day when the house is still and quiet.

Sneaking in a couple hours to myself

Sometimes it seems I try to reach so far back in my family tree that I miss what's right in front of me.  With this is mind I've tried to refocus on my tree beginning with my paternal grandparents. There are so many missing pieces on this family branch but for now I am trying to trace their route looking for exact home locations to add to their visual story. This hasn't been as simple as I hoped... definitely a work in progress.

So the story begins with Estella Giardino Rosso arriving in the US, following an almost 2 year separation from her husband. After a month long stay in the infirmary on Ellis Island,  Antonio arrived to whisk them off to beautiful Victor, NY. Antonio, arriving in 1913, stayed with Estella's family in Victor until he could raise the money for his family's passage. Frank, their first son and first child born in the US, arrived during their stay in Victor.  Surely outgrowing the home they shared  with family, they made the eventual move to North Tonawanda, NY, my hometown.

Carruthers Street apartment in 2017

After leaving Victor, they rented the upstairs portion of a home on Carruthers Street in North Tonawanda where their daughter Jennie was born in 1917 and Dominic 18 months later. By today's standards living in this 2 bedroom upper apartment with five children under the age of 5 would be unthinkable but something tells me they felt they were doing just fine, cramped maybe, but working hard toward the American dream of owning a home.

Tell me your thoughts and if you can add to our family story! If you enjoy this blog, I'd be very grateful if you'd share with a never know who may be a  potential cousin!

Wednesday, August 8

Cellar Bakery

As with most families, my own has stories from the past that have carried thru time. As genealogists we might feel drawn to one over another. That is how I felt hearing the story of a bakery in Hemmingford, Quebec owned by my maternal great grandfather, Joseph Cote.

I've loved to bake since i was very young. Before the electric mixers I would hand mix the batter for cakes, cookies and even egg whites for meringue cookies with a 'human-powered' hand mixer. If you've only seen these in 'antique' shops...keep it to yourself. Trying this now would end with a day off of work to recover.

'human-powered' hand mixer 

So, hearing this story made me very curious if this were true. Could my passion for baking have been passed down thru my DNA?  The research on this particular story has been on my desk now for about 6 years. I have notes of conversations with family but I was determined to find proof. I can't even begin to add up just how many  hours I've spent on this brick wall with no luck.

Imagine my surprise when early (so 2am) on a Sunday morning I came across a book named "Hemmingford, 200 Years of Hope and Challenge 1799-1999" sold thru the town's archives. My heart raced as I found the online index and there was the name I hoped to find, Mr. Cote, my maternal great grandfather. No other details were given only a page number which was enough for me to place the order.

Two weeks later, book in hand, I opened to page 48 and there he was Mr Cote, baker.  My great -grandfather had purchased a building to open a bakery. Mystery solved, family lore proved.  But right when I thought I could close the book (literally) on this I found Mr. LaPlante, my other maternal great grandfather, on the same page listed as ... a baker.  This explained more than the baking mystery for me. I often wondered how the relationship between the Cote' and LaPlante families came about. Three children from each family had married on the same day, including my grandparents. Were they arranged marriages? It's a definite possibility. For now I've added it to the 'research needed' folder on my desk.

Our families give us so many things that are unseen. These genetic likeness' that are passed down can be very strong, even generations away. As I make my favorite scones this weekend, I'll think of these men making bread in cellar bakeries so many years ago and smile.

This is a handwritten recipe I found in an old family cookbook. I'm not sure of the origins but like to think it was a family favorite since its become one in my home.  Enjoy!

Bacon-Cheddar Scones

2 cups Flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
4 tablespoons cold butter
1 cup coarsely grated cheddar cheese
1/3 cup snipped fresh chives
1/2 pound crumbled bacon (about 1 cup)
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons heavy cream 

Preheat the oven to 425°F with a rack in the middle. Lightly grease a baking sheet.

Whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar. Work the butter into the flour until the mixture is crumbly, with some of the butter remaining in larger pieces. Mix in the cheese, chives, and bacon until evenly distributed.

Add 3/4 cup of the cream, stirring to combine. Try squeezing the dough together; if it won't stay together, add cream until it does. Transfer to the baking sheet.

Pat the dough into a smooth 7" disk about 3/4" thick. Use a knife to cut the disk into 8 wedges, spreading the wedges apart a bit on the pan.  Brush the scones with a bit of cream to help browning.

Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, until they're golden brown. Remove them from the oven, and cool right on the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tell me your thoughts and if you can add to our family story! If you enjoy this blog, I'd be very grateful if you'd share with a never know who may be a  potential cousin!