Italian Heritage Month: Immigrant 43 ~ Great Grandmother Serafina Merlenghi (Marcella) ~

My great grandmother Serafina Merlenghi was born in 1896 at Contrada Macchie, Farindola in 1896.  In 1948, she arrived at Ellis Island with her youngest child, Alberino, who was a citizen of the United States.  They were going to meet my great grandfather, Cesidio Marcella in Philadelphia.

Serafina had a daughter named Maria in 1916 with my great grandfather.  In 1919, they married and had two more children:  Zia L. and Biagio Filippo.

In 1930, their son Alberino was born.

After decades of living apart while my great grandfather worked in the United States and sent money home, she came to the United States in 1948 with their 18 year old son Alberino.  Because my great grandfather was a United States citizen when Alberino was born, Alberino was automatically a citizen.  Her daughters Maria (m. Iezzi) and Zia L. (m. Generosi) had families of their own in Italy when she left.

Serafina arrived while Lady Liberty’s beacon still shined brightly.

My great grandmother returned to Italy to visit several times before she returned for good after my great grandfather passed in 1980.  She resided in the village of her birth the rest of her life and is buried there.

I loved her name so much, it was my confirmation name.  A cousin shared a story of her in which she described her as knowledgeable in the ways of medicinal plants.  I thank you for the stories.

For more in honor of Italian Heritage Month, please find more on Serafina, her family, and her ancestry in this 2016 blog post that was written for the anniversary of her birth.




Immigrants #41 – 42 ~ Martha Nicolai and Johann Friedrich Gerbing, a Mason and descendant of a Prussian Army Soldier ~

On May 1, 1852, my immigrant fourth great grandparents Martha Nicolai and Johann Friedrich Gerbing sailed from Hamburg, Germany for Quebec City, Quebec with their 5 children on a journey that would have taken approximately three months.  Their city of origin was Vieselbach, Germany (outside of Erfurt).  By the early fall of 1853, they were residing in Chicago, Illinois.

Up until a few months ago, my fourth great grandmother Martha Nicolai was just a shadow on my family tree.  I was not even sure her first name was Martha.  But when a small amount of church records from Vieselbach were mixed in with the Erfurt church records and put on, she became nameless no more.  Wonderfully, the baptisms of her children even contained her town of origin.

Dorothea Gerbing’s was the first baptismal record I found.  I knew I had the right person when the birthdate matched the birthdate we had in America for Dorothea Gerbing.


The first column is Dorothea’s birthday.

The second is her baptismal date.

The third is her full baptismal name: Dorothea Elisabetha Mathilde.

The fourth is the father: Johann Friedrich Gorbing.  Did you notice it is Gorbing?  In Vieselbach it fluctuated between Gorbing and Gerbing in the records.

The last column above is the mutter: Martha geb. Nicolai aus Niederzimmern!

My fourth great grandmother Martha Nicolai was from Niederzimmern!  It is about one mile from Vieselbach.  Sadly, I do not know the names of her parents.


Johann Friedrich Gerbing was born in 1807, according to the Graceland Cemetery record of his burial.  There is a possibility he was born in Vieselbach.  But, Peter Heckert’s website in Germany contains “Zur Chronik der Kirchgemeinde Vieselbach” detailing the church records of Vieselbach.  It specifically contains the surnames listed in the book before 1800.  There are no Gerbings or Gorbings.

On the 1836 baptismal record of my third great grandmother Louisa Gerbing, Friedrich’s occupation was journeyman bricklayer/mason of Vieselbach.  The occupation of bricklayer was also on the Hamburg ship manifest.  See this post: On This Day in 1852…

I suspect Johann Friedrich’s parents were Johann Christoph Gerbing and Anna Martha Engelbrecht.  Johann Christoph was a daylaborer.

According to “Zur Chronik der Kirchgemeinde Vieselbach,” there are many Engelbrecht’s living in Vieselbach before and after 1800.  It also recorded that Anna Martha Engelbrecht left Vieselbach’s Lutheran school in 1796 and received a hymnal.  Engel means angel in German…

A wonderful genealogy angel retrieved Anna Martha’s baptism from the Vieselbach records available at Family Search to members of the LDS.  Her parents were Johann Andreas Engelbrecht and her mother was from Obernissa and named Barbara Magdalena Korner.

Without the retrieval of that record for me, I’d likely still be stuck at Johann Friedrich and I would not have located an incredibly interesting church record in the Vieselbach records available on  The Lutheran marriage record of Anna Martha’s parents Johann Andreas and Barbara Magdalena from 1780, stated that, Anna Martha’s grandfather Heinrich Wilhelm Korner (my 7th great grandfather), was a Corporal in the Prussian Army, in the service of the Prince-Electorate of Mainz.  This meant he served in the powerful army of King Frederick the Great of PrussiaPlease note the surname Korner contains an umlaut over the o.  The Prince-Electorate of Mainz was a Catholic Bishop and in 1780 was Friedrich Karl Joseph von Erthal.  Anna Martha’s parents were marrying in the Lutheran Church.



Friedrich and Martha in the United States

Little is known of Friedrich once he was in the United States.  The spouse of a descendant of Martha and Friedrich’s son Christian Gerbing shared the Family Burial Card from a Graceland Cemetery file on  It shows that Fred Gerbing (Friederich) was deceased on March 11, 1858 and was buried in Christian’s plot on July 20, 1865.  Thank you KStockmar46!  

Why the delay in years of placing Friedrich in the plot?  Your guess is as good as mine.  Apparently though, Friedrich was moved into the plot the same day as an infant child named Christian Gerbing, deceased in 1857, and an infant child named George Joseph? Lincoln Gerbing.  Immigrants Christian Gerbing and wife Anna Bauer, named their infant after the assassinated President of the United States, who was shot and killed in April of that year.  Perhaps Patriotism was also on their minds when they also named him George.

Sadly, nothing else is known about my immigrant 4th great grandfather Friedrich Gerbing in America right now!  

Likewise, little is known about Martha in the United States beyond the fact that she was widowed and living with her youngest daughter Maria (Mary) in 1860.  The census taker wrote their surname down as “Garvin.” Wow that’s a new one.  The records of Graceland cemetery (where the Schuttlers of my family are also buried) list that she was deceased on August 2, 1869.  That makes two records in America that mention my immigrant fourth great grandmother Martha Nicolai.

The following children of Martha and Friedrich came with them to the United States (with their full baptismal names):

Franz Heironimus Emil, emigrated at age 20 (Frank) m. Elizabeth Schuettler

Christian Georg Istoph Edward, emigrated at age 18 (Christian) m. Anna Bauer

Louisa Anna Elisabetha, emigrated at age 15 (Louisa) m. Johann Schuttler – my ancestors

Dorothea Elisabetha Mathilde, emigrated at age 13 (Dorothea) m. John Schieferstein

Maria Ernestina, emigrated at age 6 (Maria) m. Louis Weick

Martha and Friedrich had a son in 1843 named Karl Wilhelm.  He only lived 7 days and was buried in Vieselbach.

I have been slowly tracing the lives of their children and trying to place the numerous descendants of all of Friedrich’s and Martha’s children so the siblings of my ancestress Louisa Gerbing can be memorialized here in the future.  I think Franz is my favorite so far.  There is no other person in my family tree mentioned in that many newspaper articles in Chicago.  He was a police sergeant and his grandson sat on the Colorado Supreme Court.  


Hamburg Passenger Lists

Vieselbach, Erfurt, Thuringia Lutheran Church Records at

“Zur Chronik der Kirchgemeinde Vieselbach” via Peter Heckert


1860 United States Federal Census

Records of St. Paul’s First Lutheran Church from Chicago via Newberry Public Library and Family Search

Johann Schuttler’s Graceland Cemetery File

KStockmar46 at (Christian Gerbing’s Graceland Cemetery File)

A Ravelry Knitting Genealogist (the genealogy angel)








Women’s History Month and the ABCs of My Genealogy

March is Women’s History Month, making it an excellent time to focus on the ancestresses in my genealogy.  I tried a memory exercise off the top of my head going alphabetically listing names of women in my tree.  I did pretty well, with the exception of Y and X.

I also listed off the top of my head where they lived.  If I could find their profession, station, or husband’s station, I listed that too.  All of these women were born pre-1870 and were born overseas.*  Only two on my list are immigrants.  

Here we go:

A is for Apolline Weyland, 9th great grandmother, Liederscheidt, Moselle, France, a laborer’s wife

B is for Anna Saveria Barbacone, 5th great grandmother, Rione di San Giovanni, Penne, Pescara, Italy, a contadina

C is for Cecilia “Cilla” Vocciero, 7th great grandmother, Talanico, Kingdom of Naples, unknown

D is for Dorotea Frattarola, 7th great grandmother, Farindola, Pescara, Italy, landowner’s mother

E is for Elisabetha Stauder,  8th great grandmother, Schweyen, Moselle, France, laborer’s wife

F is for Karolina Friederika Wilhemina Fehlig, 3rd great grandmother, Grohnde, Hameln-Pyrmont, Niedersachsen, Germany, master tailor’s wife

G is for Anna Dorothea Maria Grabe, 4th great grandmother, Grossmehlra, Schwarzburg-Sonderhausen, Thuringen, Germany, miller owner’s wife

H is for Anne Marie Aloisia Heinzen, 2nd great grandmother, Brig, Canton Valais, Switzerland, immigrant – dress-maker

I is for Ignota (Italian for unknown), mother of Panfilo Zenone, husband of Maria Giustina Marcella, Panfilo’s mother left Panfilo at the foundling wheel in Penne, Pescara, Italy

J is for Elisabetta di Julio, 6th great grandmother, Farindola, Pescara, Italy, unknown

K is for Kunigunde (No Last Name Known), 9th great grandmother, Hornbach, Sudwestpfalz, Rhineland Palatinate, Germany, unknown

L is for Laisa Girardo, 8th great grandmother, Talanico, Kingdom of Naples, unknown

M is for Marie Louise Koppel, 3rd great grandmother, Koerner, Sonderhausen, Thüringen, Germany, immigrant – miller owner’s daughter

N is for Vittoria Di Norscia, 6th great grandmother, Rione di San Giovanni, Penne, Pescara, Italy, a lacemaker

O is for Odile Kolsch, 8th great grandmother, Vinningen, Germany, wife of the Eschevin de Justice

P is for Veneranda Paolucci, 6th great grandmother, Farindola, Pescara, Italy, a contadina

Q is for Anna Elisabetha Dorre-mother of Quirinus Eckebrecht, 4th great grandmother, Grossmehlra, Sonderhausen, Thüringen, Germany, laborer’s wife

R is for Laura Rosa, 5th great grandmother, Contrada Tavo, Farindola, Pescara, Italy, a contadina

S is for Sandra Dragone, 5th great grandmother, Talanico, Kingdom of Naples, unknown

T is for Tommasina Secondina, 10th great grandmother, Kingdom of Naples, unknown

U is for Ursula Magliulo, 7th great grandmother, Talanico, Kingdom of Naples, unknown

V is for Vittoria Gambacorta, 5th great grandmother, Rione di San Giovanni, Penne, Pescara, Italy, a lacemaker

W is for Caroline Christina Wilhemina Julianne Geselle, 5th great grandmother, Sankt Andreasberg, Goslar, Niedersachsen, Germany, wife of silver mineworks supervisor

X is for all of the women in the tree with no surname.  They were in France, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy.

Y is for Magdalena SteYer, 5th great grandmother, Huberhof, Nuenschweiler, Rhineland Palatinate, Germany, a farmer

Z is for Anna Apollonia Ziehl, 7th great grandmother, Monbijou, Leichelbingen, Rhineland Palatinate, Germany, farm manager’s daughter

*I only have one female ancestor in my tree that was born pre-1870 in America – Katharina Schuttler Eckebrecht.  Her parents were immigrants.

Can you find one for every letter in your tree?

For my next entry this month, I plan to focus on a female ancestor we only know by her first name.



Great Grandmother Helen Kirsch Ferraro: Witness in the 1906 Chicago Murder Case of Mrs. Louise Gentry

Great Grandmother Helen Kirsch Ferraro: Witness in the 1906 Murder Case of Mrs. Louise Gentry


Helen Anne Marie Kirsch was born on September 22, 1887 in Chicago to immigrant parents Louis Fritz Kirsch and Anna Heinzen.  She had a younger brother named Albert. Before she married Carmen Ferraro and had 9 children she was part of a murder investigation that involved an international manhunt on 3 continents.

Helen was 19 when she worked as a cashier at an Italian “bootblacking” shop near the County building on Clark Street in Chicago when she had become casually acquainted with a frequent customer of the shop – Frank Constantine. According to newspaper articles at the time, the shop was apparently frequented by Italians. Frank Constantine was described in the Chicago papers as “showy type of man with his money and wore a lot of diamonds, and a man with many girlfriends.”

Frank Constantine was boarder in the home of Mr. Arthur and Louise Gentry on LaSalle Street and was always borrowing money from the Gentrys. While Mr. Gentry was at work on January 6, 1906, Frank Constantine slashed Mrs. Gentry’s throat in a motive involving money. Fleeing the scene of the crime he ran into a neighbor and asked for a hat, to help hide his identity. The neighbor ran inside to get a hat and encountered the dying Mrs. Gentry.

Constantine didn’t wait for a hat. He ran down the street and hailed a cab. Helen just happened to be going to dinner and stepped outside to see Constantine drive away in the cab and remarked to her friend that “Mr. Constantine must be leaving town.”

The neighbor of the Gentry’s rang the police.  Even though the police were stationed on street corners leaving the city, and at the train station to look for Constantine, he was able to hawk one of his diamonds for cash, purchase a new hat and disappear. With the help of his mother he was hidden in Brooklyn.

Great grandmother Helen and several other witnesses identified Frank Constantine as the murderer. A grand jury indicted him.

A nationwide manhunt ensued for anyone having an “Italian/Jewish face,” and a trademark gold tooth like that of Frank Constantine’s, according to news articles from those days. Illinois newpapers detail country-wide witnesses giving false leads, false arrests, including a story of a local priest that feared he gave the murderer $5 when he was just trying to help a stranger on the road.

In actuality Constantine was probably not even in the area anymore. Local Chicago headlines joked “You may be arrested for murder today…” because of the number of false arrests around Chicago.

In July, 1906 while visiting a sweetheart near Poughkeepsie, NY, Frank Constantine was apprehended by the local Sheriff. Assistant Chicago Police Chief Schuettler, purportedly a friend of the Kirsch family, as the Tribune made it seem, because Schuettler and Kirsch were both German, had hidden Helen’s identity from the press.  They had been calling her Helen Schrieber for months. Assistant Chief Schuettler sent Helen “Schrieber” to Poughkeepsie alone to identify him.

Unfortunately, the press ended up discovering Helen’s true identity while she was there, because she dropped a receipt for a prescription in her hotel in Poughkeepsie. The Chicago press went to the Kirsch’s home and pestered Helen’s family. The following is an excerpt from The Chicago Tribune dated July 27, 1906 in which her mother Annie Heinzen Kirsch gives a statement:



Click on the excerpt to make it bigger and easier for reading.

The Kirsches ended up leaving their home in the care of a neighbor to stay on the other side of the Chicago while the press surrounding Constantine’s capture calmed down.

Positive he was who she thought he was, Helen identified him as Frank Constantine. The next day she sent a telegram to Chicago authorities stating: “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the man under arrest here is the man who killed Mrs. Gentry. I know Frank Constantine too well to be mistaken. It is he.” (The Inter-Ocean, July 27, 1906.)

Authorities were prepared to bring him back to Chicago until his roommate at the Gentry house gave him an alibi. Constantine was released. His mother sent him back to her hometown in Italy anyway. There was even a story that Constantine’s mother had him kidnapped to Europe to keep him safe during the previous year.

Meanwhile, new evidence came to light in an older, similar murder in Colorado. Chicago police finally decided to re-apprehend Constantine when a man that had been on a ship with him while they traveled between Europe and America came forward saying he confessed to the murder of Mrs. Gentry.

Over a year after the murder of Mrs. Louise Gentry, and after Constantine had travelled between three continents spending time in Italy and Argentina with the help of his mother, a girl he had loved and left in Brooklyn gave him up to the police. Constantine was apprehended on the docks minutes before he could board a ship to Italy with a ticket his mother had bought for him.

Assistant Chief Schuettler went to NY to bring him back to Chicago himself. The case had gained so much nationwide attention that passengers on the train Schuettler and Constantine boarded in New York to head to Chicago asked for Costantine’s autograph! He refused.

After several more delays, Constantine trial’s started in September, 1907. Helen was one of the witnesses to testify as to the identity of the killer. Constantine took the stand and testified on his own behalf saying Mrs. Gentry committed suicide because she was in love with him and he was leaving. According to newspaper articles, testimony proved the wounds were too severe to be self-inflicted.

The actual criminal case file has since been destroyed by Cook County so no transcript of this case exists. After 2 and ½ hours of jury deliberations, Constantine was found guilty. In 1908 he committed suicide in prison according to this New York Daily News Article.

Helen probably met Carmen around the middle of 1907, based on the photo dated in August of 1907 that she gave to him. It is possible it was at the shoe shine shop frequented by Italians…


The New York Daily News

Chicago Birth, Marriage, and Death Indexes