1900-1911: When did Pietro di Lorenzo become Peter Laurence?

Sepia Saturday 577. Second in a photo series on my maternal Italian  ancestors from Gloversville, Fulton County, New York.

A blog series featuring photos of my maternal Italian ancestors from the Laurence-di Lorenzo-Curcio family album. Photo: Molly Charboneau

During a 1992 genealogy road trip with my mother to her Gloversville, N.Y., hometown, we stopped at the local Carnegie Library in search of family history information.

My mom  — Peg (Laurence) Charboneau — became engrossed in a set of Gloversville-Johnstown city directories searching for the answer to a question that had long puzzled her: When did her Italian immigrant grandfather Peter D. Laurence change his surname from di Lorenzo?

It turns out that’s not an easy question to answer. But a few clues narrow down the search — and some of them come from the very city directories (now digitized) that my late mom was so focused on. So let’s take a look.

Studio portrait of Peter D. Laurence/Pietro di Lorenzo (c. 1899). My Italian immigrant great grandfather initially went by his di Lorenzo surname after his 1896 arrival in the U.S. — later alternating with the anglicized surname Laurence for several years before adopting the name change permanently. Scan by Molly Charboneau

Oral history about Peter

For a high school assignment in the late 1970s, my sister Amy wrote a biographical sketch about our great-grandfather Peter based on an oral history interview with our mom. Amy’s paper contains valuable details about Peter’s early years in Gloversville. N.Y. — and his surname change.

His first job was as a dye master, coloring skins in a skin mill. This is where he got his last name Laurence. When he came to America his name was Peter De Lorenzo [sic]. After getting the job in the mill, his employer called him Laurence, claiming that De Lorenzo [sic] was hard to pronounce. Peter became used to this name and had it legally changed. He worked in the mill for about five years.

I remember hearing this story growing up — and I assume it was passed down from Peter to his son Antonio, our grandfather, then on to his daughter Peg, our mother. Many thanks to Amy for writing down this oral history, as it can now be backed up with research in digital records.

House at 5 Washburn St, Gloversville, N.Y. (1992). Peter Laurence/di Lorenzo was a boarder at this address and working as a leather dresser during the 1900 U.S. census — when he was enumerated somewhat phonetically as “Peter de Lorendes.” Photo by Molly Charboneau

Documenting Peter’s name change

Starting at the beginning, Amy’s paper states that Peter “was born in the year 1872 in a small town called Benevento, Italy. This town was in the suburbs of the city of Napoli (Naples) in view of Mount Vesuvius.”

With this curcial information, I was able to find an abstract of Peter’s birth record[1]FamilySearch requires free login to view records. on FamilySearch — documenting his original name as Pietro di Lorenzo. He was born in 2 Sep 1873 in Limatola, Benevento, Campania, Italia to Giuseppe di Lorenzo and Maddelana Aragosa.[2]“Italia, Benevento, Stato Civile (Archivio di Stato), 1810-1942”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org /ark:/61903/1:1:QGYD-GDYS : 12 May 2020), Pietro di … Continue reading

As shown in the table below, Peter initially went by his di Lorenzo surname after his 1896 arrival in the U.S. — as indicated (somewhat phonetically) in his first 1900 census enumeration[3]Ibid. 1.

Then, in subsequent city directory listings,[4]Gloversville, New York, City Directory, 1903, et al., Ancestry.com. U.S., City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. [Original sources vary … Continue reading he used Laurence [incorrectly spelled Lawrence] and Lorenzo interchangeably for awhile — perhaps while he “became used to” the new surname — before settling on Peter D. Laurence as his name of choice from 1911 on. Looks like Mom was onto something looking through those city directories!

And a delayed 1942 birth record for my grandfather Antonio, born 10 May 1902, lists his father Peter with both surnames as “Peter Laurence (di Lorenzo).”

Peter D. Laurence/di Lorenzo in Gloversville, Fulton County, N.Y. records (1900 – 1911) Sources: FamilySearch and Ancestry
Year Item Name Address/ Details Job
1900 U.S. Census Peter de Lorendes 5 Washburn St. (Boarder) Leather Dresser
1902 (10 May) Son Antonio birth rec. Peter Laurence (di Lorenzo) Delayed birth rec. on 10 May 1942 lists Peter with both surnames Father
1903 City Directory Peter Lawrence Residence: 128 E. Fulton Laborer
1904, 1905 & 1906 City Directory Peter Lawrence Residence: 128 E. Fulton Junk Dealer
1906 City Directory Peter Lorenzo Residence: 128 E. Fulton Junk Dealer
1909 & 1911 City Directory Peter Lorenzo Employed & Boards: 128 E. Fulton
1909 & 1911 City Directory Peter Lawrence Residence/Rooms: 128 E. Fulton Junk Dealer

More about Peter and photo details

Peter’s address at 128 E. Fulton St. was the home of his in-laws, Antonio and Antoinette (Del Negro) Curcio. At that address, my great-great grandfather Antonio, a junk dealer, also ran his business — which Peter eventually took over after marrying the eldest Curcio daughter, Mary, and moving in with the family.

Reverse side of studio portrait of Peter D. Laurence/Pietro di Lorenzo (c. 1899). The back of the photo contains what appears to be a brief description of my great grandfather — perhaps in case a colorized version was later requested. Penciled at the top, are “Eys. D. Brown, H. Black Curly” — along with other writing that is hard to make out. Scan by Molly Charboneau

Meanwhile, this post features a family photo of a handsome, prosperous-looking Peter in civilian dress — taken around 1899 at the same studio as his previous military-uniform photo.

As a bonus, the back of this photo contains what appears to be a brief description of my great grandfather — perhaps in case a colorized version was later requested.

Penciled on the back, at the top, are “Eys. D. Brown, H. Black Curly” — along with other writing that is hard to make out. As with his previous photo, Peter D. Laurence is stamped on the back  — possibly a rubber stamp used by Peter for his business signature — and “Peter Laurence” is penned in red.

Up next: Peter Laurence/di Lorenzo and friends pose for a group portrait. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants.

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References

References
1 FamilySearch requires free login to view records.
2 “Italia, Benevento, Stato Civile (Archivio di Stato), 1810-1942”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org /ark:/61903/1:1:QGYD-GDYS : 12 May 2020), Pietro di Lorenzo, 1873.
3 Ibid. 1.
4 Gloversville, New York, City Directory, 1903, et al., Ancestry.com. U.S., City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. [Original sources vary according to directory and year.]

13 thoughts on “1900-1911: When did Pietro di Lorenzo become Peter Laurence?”

  1. Hurray that Amy’s little homework assignment was saved. And well-done tracking Peter’s name through time. Seeing the different ways his name was listed in the directories now makes me wonder how names were obtained. Was there an enumerator like for the census? Did people submit their information? How did those bits of genealogy creep into a city directory (for example, noting a woman was widow of so-n-so)?

    1. Thanks, Wendy. And this is why you are so good at researching your ancestors’ stories. You come up with the greatest questions!

  2. People change their names for a wide variety of reasons. I don’t see “di Lorenzo” being especially hard to pronounce (?), but some people’s surnames can defeat even the most talented pronouncer which would be a good reason to change. Or perhaps your surname or given name is embarrassing? Another good reason to change. I have a relative, however, who simply decided she wanted to change her fairly common given name to something with a little more dash by adding an ‘e’ to the end of it, and did so legally. She claimed it was in line with ancestors who spelled their name that way. Whatever floats her boat, I guess.

    1. I agree with you about the pronunciation issue. How hard is it to pronounce di Lorenzo? Not that hard — yet the census taker could only get “de Lorendes” as Peter’s surname from someone at his 5 Washburn St. address in 1900 (I’m sure it was not from Peter himself). He may have just gotten fed up with the bad mispronunciations and given in to using Laurence.

  3. Another fascinating study, Molly. Not long ago I listened to a radio report about the history and huge variety of Italian surnames. I think even in Italy today there are constant problems when using official records to make accurate identifications.

    The watch fob on Peter’s vest caught my eye, and I wonder if his decision to change his name might be due to joining a fraternal society. Some immigrants chose to stay within their native community and others tried to assimilate into English speaking American culture. As you know, fraternal societies were the way to do both. I’m also impressed with his signature’s penmanship . That’s a mark of skill and pride too.

    1. Thanks, Mike — and good catch on the watch fob. Peter was in fact part of an Italian fraternal group, which I will be writing about in a future post. It never occurred to me that the watch fob could be related to his membership — but maybe so. Will have to see what I can find.

  4. You definitely had a challenge here. My son’s wife’s family also came from Italy, and at some time or another the Rogers family was on Sicily. Good to see all your efforts paid off. I’ve found that foreign names became a burden to immigrants at times that Americans were at war with someone or another.

    1. Thanks, Barb. I am gratified that I have finally found an answer to my mom’s question about the time frame during which Peter changed his surname.

  5. My husband had family arrive from Sicily around the same time. I was able to verify one name change on naturalization papers, but others are still a mystery. Peter was a handsome man.

    1. I have been unsuccessful in locating Peter’s naturalization papers, so turned to other documents/research as a workaround.

  6. I’m wondering why he changed his name and how much he shifted it around. For example, if he was a member of a church, did he change it there or if he was part of an Italian social group, which did he use. I can see that someone would find it easier to use an anglicized name, but I like Pietro better than Peter. 😉

    It’s his choice, not mine.

    1. Great questions, Susan. The fact that he retained the Lorenzo surname for more than a decade implies that you are correct — he must have continued using it when it mattered, probably within the Italian community, but gradually moved toward “Laurence” for official business. I agree, it’s a shame many immigrants gave up their wonderfully melodic birth names.

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