If you are a regular reader of this blog, you’re probably wondering where I’ve been since December. Well I’m currently “Down Under” in Australia, exploring and soaking up the warm sunshine of Brisbane, Sydney, Manly Beach and Uluru. Yes, my husband and I love to travel. With every trip, I learn about other cultures, make new friends from far away countries and expand my personal universe just a bit more.
As I walked around the grounds of the beautiful Sydney Opera House, watching the busy harbor hum with ferries and ogling the massive cruise ships that put to port everyday, I couldn’t help but think of my ancestors.
Although they had lived in the same mountain valley for hundreds of years, a poor economy and no job opportunities had forced them to travel far from their ancestral home. From the mid-1870’s through the 1920’s, entire families left the Val di Non for a better life. They traveled to the United States, Canada, South America, and other parts of Europe. Unlike our ability to board a plane and be half-way around the world in less than a day, our great-grandparents had a much more difficult time traveling.
My branch of the Genetti family left their village of Castelfondo in the Austrian Tyrol for the city of Hazleton, Pennsylvania. Their journey would have transpired somewhat like this. First they would travel down the valley to the city of Trento. Today this takes about an hour by car. But before the era of automobiles, our ancestors road in a horse and cart loaded with children and baggage or they walked. It would have taken the better part of a day to reach the city. Once in Trento, the family purchased train tickets to the port of Le Havre, France as well as their tickets to board a ship to New York City. After traveling by train through the mountains to the French port, they boarded a large steam ship with hundreds of other immigrants.
Due to the expense of moving a big family to a new country, my great-grandfather traveled to America first, bringing along his four oldest children. The passage by ship would have been about 10 days at sea, most likely docking in New York City. I say “most likely” because I have yet to find the ship records for this particular crossing made by Damiano and his children who arrived sometime around 1903.
Three years later Damiano’s wife, Oliva, arrived on December 3, 1906 at Ellis Island with the couple’s five youngest children. The little one, Angela Maria, was just three years old. We do have ship’s records for Oliva and the children. They traveled steerage. It must have been a long and difficult journey for a mother trying to keep track of five young children. In New York City they joined their Papa, boarded another train and reunited a few hours later with their older siblings in the new and strange city of Hazleton.
I have much respect for my great-grandfather. From online records I know he made the arduous journey between Hazleton, PA and Castelfondo, Austria (now Italy) at least seven times, between 1877 and 1930.
Even by today’s standards of air travel, I know it’s not easy to reach the village of Castelfondo, tucked in the alpine meadows. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been 100 years ago.