The Nigro Family
I have learned about my great grandfather, Dominic (born John Dominic) Nigro, who immigrated to America from Italy. This information came from my great uncle, Louis Nigro, and Phyllis Bentz, my grandmother, who are two of Dominic Nigro's nine children.
My great grandfather, Dominic Nigro, was born in Accede, Italy, on April 23, 1887 and died on May 13, 1977 in Vistal, New York at the home of his son Joseph Knight. His parents were Luigi Nigro and Maria Michaela Zanella, and their family was called La Famillia di Fra Paolo.
He had an older brother, Celestino, and an older sister Philomena. (My grandmother was given a form of this name). Accede is located about 30 miles west of Foggia, Italy. It is a mountainous area and famous for having three springs of water.
My great grandfather was an excellent storyteller. He not only told his children and grandchildren traditional folk stories, but often told of life in Itlay. One of the interesting customs that my great uncle remembers was that of a wedding. Before a wedding, there was a procession from the bride's home around the town and to the church. All of the families would be dressed in their wedding clothes. The bride would display her dowry of new clothes, blankets and bedding, tablecloths, kettles and china on a wagon for all to see. This probably made the groom's family all the more generous to know that their gifts would be displayed and the bride's family proud to show what a fine dowry their daughter had brought.
Dominic's father was a farmer who owned his own land, which produced grapes (from which they made their own wine), wheat, which they took to the local mill to be ground into flour, and olives, which were crushed to make olive oil. Dominic also had several goats which he tended, and made a special cheese from their milk.
My great great grandfather was a strong believer in education. All of his children, even his daughter, were taught to read and write. My great-grandfather was sent to the local priest to study.
His brother, Celestino, had two sons, Antonio and Domenieo, and a daughter, Maria (called Mariueei). My Uncle Louis and my Aunt Mary went to Italy in June 1976. They visited Accede and met these cousins and other relatives. These people lived in the village and went out daily to tend to their farms. The only transportation they had was a small donkey to carry their loads.
Italy, when my great-grandfather lived there, had compulsory miliatry service, called up by age groups. Dominic served his tour of duty in Sardinia and did not like it.
Because of the poverty in Europe, many people came to the U.S. to accumulate some money and then returned home. Dominic, who was a young teenager at the time, did this, working on the railroads in West Virginia. He would tell stories about this time to my mother. One of the stories he told was about the cook for his railroad gang. She was one of the black woman who would travel with the gangs to cook for them. She supplemented their food with things found naturally in the area. He told of her cooking plantain, which is a tough weed that grows in many parts of the U.S. including my yard. She would boil the weeds, throw the water away, and boil them again. Today we know that she threw away many of the vitamins, but he said it still filled them up.
A few years after he returned to Italy, the country was embroiled in war in Ethiopia and the government began calling up the reserves. Dominic, seeing this, asked his father if he should go to war or go back to America. They decided on returning to the U.S. This time six other cousins made the same decision and they all came together. They came over "steerage class", which was the cheapest class.
The seven cousins scattered. Two of them ended up with Dominic in Buffalo, N.Y. That year, 1913, he and Catherine Petrino were married. They were introduced by friends and could only "date" if a chaperone went with them.
After hard railroad work, the three cousins ended up gardeners and handymen for wealthy families in Buffalo. They not only took care of their yards but rose early in the morning to stoke the furnaces with coal, and shovel snow in the winter. The work was still easier than railroad work and supported his family through the Great Depression.
Dominic and his new wife, Catherine, had nine children. Dominic continued his father's belief in education. Seven of his children went to college and six got thier master's degrees.
An Italian Doll
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