Month: September 2020

Down the Rabbit Hole, Part 3

Raffaele Geneti (1867-1949) as a young man, photographed in Hazleton, PA. Raffaele is seated. The gentleman next to him is Pietro “Simone” Zambotti (1869-1939).

Remember our “rabbit hole”? Here is where my research took a new direction and like Alice in Wonderland, down I went into the ancestral void. Allow me to explain!

One of my favorite genealogy resources is Newspapers.com. Old newspapers can yield an amazing amount of information not found anywhere else. As I was scanning through local papers, searching for any clue to our missing children, I began seeing a pattern of references for Raffaele Genetti spanning about 35 years. Many of the clippings fell under the category of license submissions. Noting the dates, I realized they formed a chronological history of Raffaele’s business dealings.

I placed all of the clippings in order according to date beginning in 1895 and extending through 1923. Here’s what I found: Every February anyone involved in the food and liquor industry had to apply for a license to operate or continue operating a business. During the month of March, applications were reviewed and licenses granted at the end of that month. However, there seemed to be only a limited number of licenses available each year. Therefore a proprietor may be shut out of the process and not receive a license for the upcoming year.

The first year I found Raffaele referenced was 1895, applying for a liquor license in Black Creek Township, PA. It appears he was not granted a license for that year. In 1897 he applied again under a restaurant license in the village of “Hopeville”. The license was granted and we can assume that year was the beginning of his saloon business. But I wondered – where in the world was Hopeville? Although there are many little townships in the Hazleton area, I had never heard of this village. After a good bit of searching, I found an online history explaining that Weston was originally called Hopeville. Sometime after 1900 the village changed its name to its current moniker. One mystery solved!

So now we know Raffaele is attempting to establish a business in Weston around 1897. But it’s not until a few years later when he is finally granted a liquor license for his restaurant. We also see that in 1900 he has a license to operate a butcher shop in Union Township East, Schuylkill County. Raffaele’s sister, Angeline Genetti Recla, is the proprietor of a dry goods store in that township catering to miners in Schuylkill County. Since Raffaele and Lucia lived right next door to Angeline, we probably can assume he maintained a butcher business in collaboration with his sister’s store.

Considering these public records, this verifies Raffaele was attempting to build a new business in Weston while at the same time maintaining his original business in East Union before moving his family to his future boarding house establishment in Luzerne County.

From another article published in The Miners Journal dated July 1904, all did not go smoothly for Raffaele’s businesses. It reads:

WANTS $5,000 DAMAGES

Wilkesbarre, July 19 – An action for damage was yesterday commenced by Rafael Genetti, of Hazleton, against Anna R. Davis, of the same place. The plaintiff claims that owing to scandalous words uttered by the defendant about him he believes that his reputation has been damaged to the amount of $5,000 and he brings the suit to recover this amount.

The specific statement of which the plaintiff complains is to the effect that Genetti peddled meat that was not fit to eat and that he took some church money.

When I Googled the value of $5,000 from 1904 translated into today’s terms, I received the answer of a “relative inflated worth” of: $150,116. Obviously Raffaele was very serious about the claims made against him, so much so, that he brought a substantial lawsuit against the alleged defendant. And considering the woman’s claim that he had stolen money from the church, this was a direct personal attack against his reputation. If you remember from our previous posts, I mentioned a disagreement Raffaele had with the Weston priest. It’s a pretty good bet that this claim was the source of his anger! I could find no further reference in the papers for this lawsuit.  We don’t know whether the court ruled in favor of Raffaele or the lawsuit was dropped.

The bad luck streak continued, with Raffaele’s liquor license denied during the years 1905, 1906 and 1907. Perhaps the lawsuit and alleged claims had something to do with the denial of his license. By 1908 things turned around and he once again regained his license to sell liquor at his Weston saloon. And in 1910 Raffaele was granted a license to operate a hotel and farm in Black Creek Township, Luzerne County, thus expanding his business holdings.

Of course, everything changed in 1920 with passage of the Prohibition Amendment. And sure enough, in an article dated February 1923, we find the following incident reported: “… agents had raided the saloons of Raffaele Genetti at Weston and Andrew Enama at Nuremberg where he secured a quantity of whisky and wine.” The article describes how local constables had turned a blind eye for several years to illegal liquor sales as well as gambling taking place at neighborhood businesses. Not trusting the local police to uphold prohibition laws, federal agents descended upon the area in 1923, raiding many businesses in Luzerne and Schuylkill counties.

Raffaele along with 23 other local “speak-easy” owners were arrested for “manufacturing, selling and possessing liquor, stills, spirits, coloring extracts and mash”. The paper continued: “The defendants arraigned were all held under $1,000 bail for court.” And: “The federal authorities will attempt to impose jail sentences upon the principals in every case.”

Considering how many businessmen were hauled into court at this time, Raffaele was certainly not the only saloon owner attempting to keep his business open by selling illicit booze. We even see a reference about illegal alcohol in Stanley Genetti’s biography, describing his brief dealings in the early 1920’s with a local bootlegging gang (see pages 21 – 22 of Stanley’s biography).

On April 3, 1923, Raffaele went before the court accused of “selling high voltage beverages.” Unfortunately we don’t know the outcome of the trial as I can find no follow-up reports in the 1923 newspapers nor can I find any court documents from that time.

But all was not lost! We know Raffaele bounced back from this set-back.  From the memories of Raffaele’s granddaughter, Helene Smith Prehatny, we learn the former saloon/ dance hall was used from time to time for gatherings and events.  Newspaper advertisements from the late 1920’s and early 1930’s announce public dances held at Raffaele’s establishment, proclaiming the “Big Tyrolean Dance at Genetti’s Hall Weston. Everyone welcome – good music!”

Raffaele concentrated his business efforts on farming and raising chickens, with help from his sons, who were by now grown men.

In 1933, the Prohibition amendment was repealed, allowing saloon owners to once again provide legal alcoholic libations to the public.

From the photos we have of Raffaele, I always thought him to be a dashingly handsome man. But now I also knew him as an interesting and colorful individual! You have to admit, the Genetti family was never boring!

Read more:

Family Memories by Helene Smith Prehatny

Autobiography of Stanley Genetti

Down the Rabbit Hole, Part 2

Family of Raffaele (1867 – 1949) and Lucia (1865 – 1952) Genetti. Probably photographed in the mid-1940’s. Raffaele is standing in the middle, with Lucia seated. Their children from left to right: Mary Genetti Hudak (1901 – 1992), Elizabeth Genetti Smith (1904 – 1964), Silvio Genetti (1899 – 1982), Albert Genetti (1906 – 1990), Anna Genetti Nenstiel (1909 – 1974) and Leona Genetti Hayden (1903 – 1979).

We received an excellent comment from Conrad Reich suggesting I check parish records for baptismal and funeral information about little Alessandro and Raffaele Jr. I agree with Conrad, this appears to be the most logical place to search. Many of you are probably thinking the very same thing. I thought I should explain why this genealogical direction contains so many roadblocks.

If we look at public record, the family of Raffaele and Lucia Genetti were living in North Union, Schuylkill County, PA in 1900. Matter-of-fact, they were living right next door to Raffaele’s sister, Angela Genetti Recla. Soon after the 1900 Federal Census was recorded, the young family moved to Weston in Luzerne County, but we don’t know the exact date. Since both sons appear to have died right around this time, the question is what parish did the family belong to? Did they attend church in Schuylkill county or were they members of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Luzerne County? Without exact birth and death dates, or knowing the family’s parish during these transition years, makes it extremely difficult to locate records.

The next hurdle concerning parish records is accessibility. You may not realize this, but the Catholic Church simply doesn’t share their records. Although you will find parish registries for some Catholic Churches in Europe through LDS catalogs at FamilySearch.org, the church has completely cracked down on allowing access to their records through any genealogy data base. If you search for Pennsylvania church records on Ancestry.com, you will find many registries for various Protestant faiths – but absolutely none for any Catholic Church in the state. This means the only possibility of gaining access to baptismal records would be to go directly to the church (remember, we don’t know the specific church the family attended at the time of the two boys’ passing) and inquire with the local priest. You may also find that the baptismal records you are seeking are no longer kept at the church but archived somewhere else. Plus Catholic priests are notorious for not responding to genealogy requests!

Since I live in New Mexico, making personal contact with the priest at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Weston and tracking down the appropriate records is simply not feasible. Of course, if anyone else would like to undertake this task, I would be most appreciative!

Grave of Raffaele and Lucia Genetti, Calvary Cemetery, Drums, PA

Adding to this confusion is another issue. At our last family reunion I was told Raffaele had a discrepancy with the priest at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. As a result, Raffaele , Lucia and most of their family are not buried in Weston, but in Calvary Cemetery in Drums. Searching online cemetery records, it appears neither Alessandro nor Raffaele Jr. are buried near their family at Calvary. And I have yet to find an online grave listing for either of them in Weston or Schuylkill County.

FYI – this type of challenge is referred to in genealogy as a “brick wall” – and it can take years to break through!

However while I was conducting research about the family, I did stumble upon a series of notations published in the local newspaper containing enticing clues as to why Raffaele may have had a conflict with the priest in Weston. I’ll tell you all about it in our next blog post: Down the Rabbit Hole, Part 3!