Circa 1904: My long-lost great-granduncle Antonio di Lorenzo

Sepia Saturday 578. Fourth in a photo blog series on my maternal Italian ancestors from Gloversville, Fulton Co., N.Y.

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

Valuable family history information often gets lost with each succeeding generation — unless it is recalled, retold or written down.

Yet sometimes, even in the recalling and retelling, a story or a person may be inadvertently left out.

That appears to be what happened with my great-granduncle Antonio di Lorenzo — brother of my great-grandfather Peter D. Laurence/di Lorenzo.

Fortunately, unearthing family history is a collaborative effort.  That’s how oral history, genealogy research and a serendipitous photo caption by various family members helped resurrect Antonio and restore him to the Laurence/di Lorenzo branch of our family’s tree.

Studio photo of Antonio di Lorenzo (c. 1904). This photograph, captioned by my maternal grandmother, was taken by an upstate New York photographer, confirming that Antonio — brother of my great-grandfather Peter D. Laurence/di Lorenzo– spent time in the U.S. Scan by Molly Charboneau

Forgotten in the 1970s

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 Peg (Laurence) Charboneau, who did not recall any of Peter’s family coming to the U.S.

Not much of his life [in Italy] is known, but it is known that he joined the Italian army at the age of 20. After four years of service he came to the United States. He was the only member of his family to come and unless he met a friend here he didn’t know anyone.

Mom was just 18 when her grandfather Peter died on 15 Nov. 1944 — relatively young for her to know much about his earlier life, let alone that he had a brother.

Resurrected in the 1990s

Fast forward 20 years to 1992, when my mom and I made a family history trip to her Gloversville, N.Y., home town. While there, we interviewed two family members: Mom’s grand-aunt Rose Curcio (Peter’s youngest sister-in-law) and one of Mom’s Italian-American cousins.

Imagine our surprise when they each told us Peter had a brother! His name was Antonio — and they said he came to Gloversville, N.Y., where he stayed for a while, but he didn’t like it and returned to Italy.

Peter’s obituary, which Mom and I got on the same trip, corroborates their story.

The survivors are his wife. Mary, and two sons, Joseph and Anthony Laurence, the former proprietor of a drug store in the North-end; also one brother, Anthony of Italy.

Antonio’s U.S. studio portrait confirms the story

Of course, family tradition could be the source of the obituary detail. But when I recently began digitizing my Italian ancestors’ photos, I discovered the above studio portrait of Antonio — taken in the U.S. — which more tangibly supports the oral history.

Studio photo of Antonio di Lorenzo (c. 1904), reverse side. On the back of the photo is faint, blue printing that says “W. H. Pearse, Photographer” with what appears to be a State Street address. A 1915 city directory gives a State St. address in Schenectady, N.Y., for the photographer, confirming that Antonio spent time in the U.S. Scan by Molly Charboneau

My maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence — wife of Peter’s oldest son Tony — thoughtfully noted Antonio’s name and relationship on the front of the photo. On the back, faint blue printing says W. H. Pearse, Photographer with what looks like a State Street address.

On Ancestry, I found a 1915 Schenectady city directory that lists William H. Pearse, photographer, at 459 State Street in Schenectady, N.Y.[1]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. William H. Pearse, 1915, p 423.

Schenectady is not far from Gloversville — and earlier city directories show that W.H. Pearse previously operated his photography business from nearby Syracuse, N.Y., and Utica, N.Y., from the late 1800s. Pearse’s stamp on this photo confirms that my great-granduncle Antonio di Lorenzo did indeed spend time in the U.S.

Up next: Antonio di Lorenzo’s ship arrives in New York Harbor. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants.

© 2021 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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References

References
1 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. William H. Pearse, 1915, p 423.

17 thoughts on “Circa 1904: My long-lost great-granduncle Antonio di Lorenzo”

  1. What a wonderful family discovery. It’s always exciting when something like this happens and I’m sharing your joy!!!!

  2. How great it was that you took that trip to visit family. I can imagine your excitement when you were shown this photo. His story could easily have been lost forever. Antonio looks very dashing.

    1. You are so right! The genealogy trips I took with my Mom and Dad in the early 1990s were incredibly rewarding — both for spending quality time with my late parents and for what we discovered about our heritage.

  3. Yes, info can easily get lost from one generation to another. Since the brother returned to Italy, he wasn’t personally known by succeeding generations. In my family, I found a baby’s death cert quite by accident that showed a great uncle whose name wasn’t familiar to any of my cousins because he had been only a month old when he died. It’s great to add these names to the tree and honor their memory in that way.

    1. I totally agree, Marian. Restoring lost/forgotten family members is one of the humbling tasks of genealogy research.

  4. It’s really great that you found an uncle that had been lost/forgotten. So many people on my family tree have no known parents or siblings…thus the are a “dead end” of that branch. This is a story that at least adds your uncle into the family again.

    1. Thanks, Barb. I always feel gratified when all of the pieces fall into place, as they did with Uncle Antonio, to bring a family member back into the fold.

  5. Antonio looks slightly uncomfortable in front of the camera, but his cigar adds a personal touch. His must be one of the most common stories of immigrant families, “the lost uncle.” The twigs of a family tree are brittle and sometimes it doesn’t take much to break one. My wife’s English family has a similar story about a brother who went to America in the 1900s , sent one letter/postcard home, and was never heard from again. What interests me is that Uncle Antonio returned to Italy. I think this was far more common for immigrants than is generally known. I hope you can learn a reason for it. A family obligation? Employment? Legal or financial? So many possibilities.

    1. He does look a bit uncomfortable, doesn’t he? More so than his brother — my great-grandfather Peter. I was also surprised to learn that Antonio had returned — hoping to find out more as the sleuthing continues.

  6. I always look forward to the stories of your genealogical searches each week and the stories of your ancestors. Keep them coming.

  7. Do you realize how close you were to losing Antonio’s story forever? If it hadn’t been for that 1992 trip . . . . I scare myself thinking about the times I was lucky AND the times I have not been.

    1. Yes, a scary thought indeed. Who knows how many near misses we have all had while on the ancestor hunt? I am so glad that all the pieces came together on Antonio’s story.

  8. You are persevering very well with your ancestry trek re: your great grand Uncle Antonio. Kudos! 🙂

    1. Thanks so much! I am fortunate to have many family lines, so when a brick wall emerges in one, I move on to another. I am so glad I moved on to my Italian ancestors as I am again making new discoveries.

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