Michelle Ann Kratts

Some Salvatore and Fabiano Family History by Natalie Lane Eden

In The Italians of Niagara Falls, New York on November 9, 2012 at 4:42 pm

My Great Grandmother Teresa Fabiano came to Niagara 100 years ago

Recently I discovered that April 2012 is the 100 year anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.  Something peculiar about the date caught my attention when I realized that not only was the sinking on the day of my husband’s birthday but also the year of my great-grandmother Maria “Teresa” Fabiano’s arrival to the United States.  When I checked the date I discovered that the landing of my great grandmother’s ship on Ellis Island was in May 1912.  Her ship, the Duca D’Oasta, crossed the Atlantic from Naples, Italy.  I can’t help but wonder if her boat had touched the same ocean at the same time as the famous ill-fated vessel. Theresa was a 29-year-old single woman who immigrated to America in search of a future.  As a peasant, she most likely did not have the First Class comforts and travelled in steerage.  Her occupation was listed as a “house servant.”  From what I can determine she came alone.  Although there were several others listed on the manifest from her village of Gimigliano in Calabria.  What she experienced on that voyage is forever lost.  But we do know that her vessel did not sink and so I am on this earth today, along with my numerous ancestors, cousins, and descendants.

Her difficult journey did not end at Ellis Island.  She married my great-grandfather, Francesco Salvatore, within a year.  Teresa’s first sone was named Benedetto  and died as a small infant.  Family members say that her broken heart weakened her immune system because soon after she contracted polio and lived in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. On the US Census she is listed as “crippled.” From the wheelchair she gave birth to my grandfather, my great aunt, and great uncle (Joseph, Catherine, and Ernest Salvatore).  At least two of my great grandmother’s brothers immigrated before and after her.  Angelo Fabiano lost his arm in a machine accident.  Her other brother, Francesco Fabiano, was a shoemaker.  They all settled in an infamous part of Niagara Falls, NY.   It was infamous because later the city had to change the street name in an effort to change the area’s reputation.

We can look at these histories and say that they were all ill-fated.  But on another level they were filled with opportunities and even blessings.  The Titanic sunk, but no one has stopped talking about it and its known passengers are forever immortalized in stories.  My great grandmother was a poor peasant who was confined to a wheelchair, but gave me and my family life.  Her life is a great example of the wavy seas that life might bring to each one of us.

My Grandfather Joseph Salvatore

My Grandfather was Joseph Salvatore, the son of Francesco and Maria Fabiano Salvatore.  Grandpa was a man for stories.  His tales were something that I thoroughly enjoyed as a wide-eyed kid.  Sitting on his lap, I always wanted him to share the same ones over and over again. His grandkids heard them around bonfires during many of his camping trips. This natural troubadour’s repertoire included everything from two characters he created named Chitty Pop and Pop Chitty that spit water melon seeds, to a tale of a ghost cat that walked on a piano, to a recitation of “Mushy Meow” in Italian, to recapping Bible stories and parables, and to perking our curiosity as he spoke of “undiscovered territory” that he claimed still existed on this planet.

A descendent of Christopher Columbus?

My Grandfather Joseph Salvatore also has been known to tell family members that he was a descendant of Christopher Columbus. However, this was something that none of us took very seriously— until recently.

Grandpa Joe not Joe

It was with great shock recently that my cousin obtained his birth certificate. The Grandpa who had always been called “Joe” was actually named “Benedetto Columbo Salvatore” at his birth in 1917. This was also the name of an older sibling who had predeceased him as an infant. We had always known Grandpa as Joseph Benjamin Salvatore. We discovered that his birth certificate was amended in 1941. Benedetto Columbo was literally crossed out and replaced with “Joseph”.  We don’t know the reasoning behind this change. Most likely, he was actually called “Joseph” all of his life as the name Joseph appears in the old census records.  It is possible that he just didn’t want to be named after a deceased older brother.

We don’t know much at all about Grandpa and his family that came from Italy.  And the emergence of Columbo on his birth certificate does perk everyone’s curiosity as to the fact and fiction behind Grandpa’s claims of ancestry to Christopher Columbus. Fact or fiction, we may never know.  One thing is certain is that Columbus made an impression on my Grandfather Joe’s family.

I will be bold in saying that my Grandfather Joe’s love for discovery and the unknown was seen in his stories and life.  Particularly curious was his ranting about territories that were yet to be discovered.  Could it be that he indeed had a gene that was part of our infamous Explorer Columbus?  My Grandfather did go about discovering his world in the best way that he knew for his resources and state in life as a factory worker at the Union Carbide plant.  His Santa Maria was his homemade travel trailer that he took on cross-country trips from Niagara Falls, New York to California.  Not once, but several times. It was quite an adventure in the mid 1940-70s.  I was even invited to go once, but was talked out of it by my Mother who convinced me that I would have been uncomfortable travelling across Death Valley in a station wagon with no air conditioning.

Researching the ancestry of Christopher Columbus is a formidable task including the fact that everything that is published is surrounded in controversy.  I tried to find a connection to the family name of Salvatore with Columbus and Colon (the Spanish version) but so far came up empty-handed. I have only scratched the surface of such an investigation. This is a job for someone beyond professional. The generations are shrouded with name changes and migrations across countries and even continents which are not atypical for most families.  Tradition has it that Christopher Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy in 1451. He moved to Spain and controversy still exists on where he actually died. I have even found some sources that speculate that Christopher Columbus had some Jewish ancestry as well.

I have also discovered that Grandpa Joe’s father Francesco Salvatore came from Mignano, Italy, which can be evidenced by Francesco’s green card.   It is not known if Mignano was my Great Grandfather’s last stop before New York or if it was a centuries-long family foothold.  I do know that a street in Mignano bears the family name:  Via Salvatore.  There is also a Via Columbo.  But also in Italy, names like Salvatore and Columbus are as common as Smith and Jones in America.  A quick google of Christopher Columbus genealogy returned a file that said the name Christopher Columbus appears in over 59 million profiles.

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