Immigrant Carmine Costantino Girolamo Angelo Ferraro was born in 1878 in the Montecalvario neighborhood of Naples Italy and came to America as a Franciscan priest in 1904. He was my great grandfather. Montecalvario is a northern neighborhood in the Quartieri Spagnoli, an infamous section of neighborhoods created in the 16th century by the Spanish rulers. In short, they housed the troops that controlled the populace and crushed rebellions. It is a neighborhood known for high crime and unemployment.
When my great grandfather was born, his father was a merchant and his parents named him after his mother Filomena Napolitano’s father Carmine, in the Italian naming tradition. Carmine was the second son, and would therefore be named after his maternal grandfather. The family lived on Via Pignasecca, #16. See: On This Day in 1878. Carmine was one of 6 children. The others were in order of birth: Antonio (oldest child), Angela Maria, Gelsomina, Elena, and Giovania.
Late in life, my great grandfather wrote an essay on the state of opera in America published in Who’s Who in Music in 1954. At the back of the book was his biography, written by him. He put in there that he attended high school at the Naples Royal Military College/Reale Accademia Militare. It is also known as Nunziatella. This is a link to the English Wikipedia entry on Nunziatella. He also put in there that he attended the Naples Conservatory of Music Naples at San Pietro a Majella. You can read about that conservatory at this Wikipedia link. One more note about his Naples education in the biography was that he had a Ph.D in Literature and Romance Languages. Since his father was a retired military officer, Capitano Angelo Ferraro, I can see he might have attended the Nunziatella, but of course, we don’t know if he attended for a few years or just one year.
By 1899 he was in the Italian Army for two years as a Lieutenant. He stated later in a federal file I obtained here that his Italian military service was completed in 1901. That would have made him 23. He is the only great grandfather I have that I cannot obtain his military record from Italy. The Archives of Naples claims the draft year he belonged to was destroyed by allied bombing in WWII. I wonder if that is really accurate.
In 1904 he acquired a passport to come to America as a Franciscan Priest at the Questura in Naples. When did he have time to study the priesthood? That is a very good question. My grandmother had a letter from him stating he did missionary work in Peru as well. This had to have happened before he first came through Ellis Island. In my previous post about the first time he put his foot on U.S. soil: On this day 112 years ago… he traveled to America with his mother and sisters (excluding Giovania) to meet their father Angelo and brother Antonio in Brooklyn. Carmine was NOT detained at Ellis Island.
By 1906, according to the word of mouth of my forebears, Carmine had left the priesthood. There are conflicting stories on where he was a priest. I have heard NYC and all of the towns in Ohio that begin with a “C.” I did check with the archival center for the Diocese of Columbus to see if he was a priest there. Why Columbus? Because that is where I found him in the 1907 Columbus Directory living with his parents at 394 Goodale. Whatever happened to made him leave is no bother to me, and since I have no document or record to say why he left, you are just going to have to use your imagination. They couldn’t find anything on a priest with his name.
It is my understanding that at that time, if you can believe the librarian at Columbus, Columbus had the largest little Italy second to NYC, so it is natural that they had the Italian language newspaper L’Eco there.
In 1908, Carmen married Helen Kirsch before a Justice of the Peace in Chicago. I would like to take this opportunity to remind my cousins that Carmen and his brother-in-law Jerry Valerioti seemed to move to the same places during this time period. Jerry and Carmen’s sister Angela Maria were detailed a few weeks ago here: Immigrant #2: Angela Maria Ferraro Valerioti – Mother of a Renowned NYC Investigator and a NYC Refuse Company President. Approximately one month before the birth of my grandfather, also named Carmen, in May 1909, my great grandfather filed his Declaration of Intention to become a citizen of the United States with an occupation recorded as “teacher of foreign languages.” In the 1910 census I found what I thought was the incorrect people or was another case of an indexer on Ancestry making the census 1910 census entry whatever they wanted like when they called Fritz Eckebrecht “Grity” Eckebrecht. But the name of the spouse, Helen, and child incorrectly spelled Carmein, and birthplaces of the parents, even though it should say Switzerland for Helen’s mother, was too coincidental. See for yourself-
And I was also thrown off by my great grandfather’s occupation/industry:
The “W” next to fruit stands for “working on his own account, not an employee or employee.” Hmmm…Helen must have been pregnant at the time of that census because their son Angelo was born that year. When he was naturalized in 1911 his occupation was listed as “broker.” Then I knew for sure that was my great grandfather. Also in 1911, Helen and Carmen welcome their oldest daughter Philomena Mesta. Not only was she named after her paternal grandmother Filomena Napolitano, but her maternal great grandmother in Switzerland was named Regina Anna Maria Catharina Josepha Philomena Gentinetta.
Back to that biography he wrote for Who’s Who in Music with a mention of his Chicago education. He stated he had a D.O. from Chicago Medical University. Hmmm….
The family moved 4 times in the following years until 1920, moving between Ohio, New York, Chicago, and back to Ohio and had four more children: Louis, Anna, Helene, and Victor. Before a 1914 move to New York I found an odd newspaper article that referenced C. Ferraro from Youngstown, Ohio in 1912. At that time my great grandfather’s sister Elena was living in there with her husband Angelo Scarnecchia. I am not positive it is my ancestor but below is the article regardless.
That article is another one that goes into the “Hmmm category” isn’t it? There was no opera singer named Armanno Vittorio though. I tried to find him. Nor was this tenor in anymore newspaper articles from this time period. But there was and still is a Colon Theatre. It is called Teatro Colon. You can just draw your own conclusions this article because I just don’t know if it means anything or not.
We also have a photo of my great grandfather that I tried to date to the 1910s. He was posing with what looked like a gavel, white gloves, a mantle, and an apron. For a while I thought that was the photo at his naturalization until a friend of mine showed it to her husband, a Mason, and he explained that was a Masonic mantle and with the white gloves it meant he was the Grand Master. I don’t know what town or state it was from.
In 1916, the family was living in Warren, Ohio and my great grandfather was doing what he built his later career on, according to the Warren City directory. He was a vocal teacher. In 1917 they were back in Chicago at the time of the World War I draft: Documental Unearthings Weekend: Carmen Ferraro’s Traveling Opera Business.
By 1920 he was living in Warren, Ohio again and told the census taker he was a grand opera singer. In 1921, Carmen was the Director of the Youngstown International Glee Club in addition to his traveling opera singer business. According to that biography I have mentioned, he wrote that he was an opera conductor since 1922. They had their daughter Gloria in Ohio before moving back to Queens, NY where their last was born in 1924, Romauldo. That should be 9 total children. Also in 1924, my great grandfather toured Europe and took my grandfather along.
One more note about the biography – he wrote he was awarded the Order of the Crown of Italy in 1920. He wrote that title given to him was “chevalier” and that is FRENCH! It should be “Cavaliere!” I have never found anything to prove this or disprove and quite frankly I have no idea where to find out if this Order of the Crown award was given to him.
My great grandparents and family were living in Youngstown, Ohio when Carmen’s father Angelo died there in 1926 according to the Youngstown Directory, and his occupation was listed as music teacher. However, he was back in Chicago in 1927 owning and running the International Opera Association and Music School in Chicago when my great grandmother Helen died. Great Grandmother Helen: Witness in the 1906 Murder Case of Mrs. Louise Gentry. Helen Kirsch Ferraro (1887 – 1927) – Find A Grave Memorial. He wrote a song dedicated to her memory in the 1950s.
At this point, my great grandfather didn’t go anywhere for a few years and ran his music school. In October 1931 he married Natalie Schinitz. The following week he was arrested on suspicion of alien smuggling and ended up serving a prison sentence in Leavenworth for 1 count of mail fraud. This is the Chicago Tribune link to the article about his arrest. Basically he took money from people to bring their relatives into the country. He was a model prisoner, worked in the prison infirmary, and was released after serving only 1 year of his 2 year sentence. The only objection to his being paroled came from his brother-in-law, Helen’s brother, Albert Kirsch. Yep.
His 9 children were split between three homes while he was in prison. Two daughters when to live with a niece in New York (probably Margherita Valerioti, I have no proof), the oldest boys, including my great grandfather, went to live with my great great grandmother Anna Heinzen Kirsch, and the youngest stayed with Natalie. While he was in prison, there is a bit of evidence that Natalie divorced him, so I believe then the youngest children would have gone to live with their grandmother Anna Heinzen Kirsch. I have no proof of that though.
By 1940 he had moved back to Brooklyn and was living with two of his daughters. He began using the name Mario Carmen and was listed as vocal instructor with the industry “opera” in the 1940 Federal Census under the name Mario Ferraro. He taught singing until he suffered a heart attack in 1962. He passed away on September 5, 1963 and the name Mario was used on his death record with Carmen.
Final Thoughts on this Posting
There are a ton of oral stories associated with my great grandfather. I only stuck to what was found in the paper trail he left in Italy and across the country. It was very easy to find records about him and to locate articles about him. I have no doubt that I haven’t found everything yet-this includes all of the articles about my great grandfather’s federal case in the Chicago newspapers and also one from the New York Times. You may be reading this and think I should have included more of them. Maybe you are right.
I have a story about trying to get his birth record from Italy the same time I was trying to get a copy of his case file from the Department of Justice by filing a Freedom of Information Act Request. The Department of Justice told me I couldn’t have the United States Attorney’s file on a man born in 1878 because: 1. I hadn’t proven he was dead, even though he was born in 1878; and 2. They weren’t positive I was a United States citizen.
So I appealed their decision on my Freedom of Information Act Request. That same day that I mailed my appeal to Washington D.C., which is about two hours away, I mailed my request off to the Commune of Naples, in Campania, Italy. It was October 31st. Naples is a place that is over the ocean on another continent and stuff… Two weeks later to the day I had my great grandfather’s birth record in my United States mailbox. Then on December 27th, I received a letter from the United States Department of Justice that they were reviewing my appeal. It is easier to get records from Italy you see. I never got the case file from the Department of Justice.
Columbus, Chicago, Warren, and Youngstown City Directories
The New York Times
Wikipedia and Various Travel Websites
Cook County Birth, Marriages, and Death Records
Warren County Death Records
New York City Death Records
Who’s Who in Music, 1954
Family photos, memorabilia, documents, and letters
The nice people at the Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court
Diocese of Columbus
next immigrant: My other immigrant great grandfather