Michelle Ann Kratts

A Bird of Passage: My great great grandfather, Angelo Ventresca

In Niagara Deaths, St. Joseph's Cemetery Records, St. Joseph's Church, The Italians of Niagara Falls, New York on November 15, 2012 at 4:58 am

Jillian Maria Kratts visiting her great great great grandparents’ grave at St Joseph’s Cemetery, Niagara Falls

My great great grandfather, Angelo Ventresca, was what was known as a “bird of passage.”  Many Italian men spent most of their lives going back and forth between America and Italy until finally establishing themselves in the New World.  Family tradition says that he made the voyage six times.  One time, he stowed away and was caught.  The sailors meant to throw him overboard but he begged for his life and in the end they pitied him and he survived the trip.  According to the 1910 Census of Niagara Falls, New York, he first entered the United States in 1889, when he was only 13 years old.  I can only imagine the kind of courage (and desperation) that would drive a man to such extreme measures.

My grandmother has told me a few things about her grandfather.  Born in L’Aquila on September 24, 1879, he died in Niagara Falls on December 13, 1946.  He married Adelina Ventresca (probabably a cousin) who also came from L’Aquila.  My grandmother  lived with him (until his death in 1946) and said he worked hard on the Niagara Junction Railroad.  He spoke English better than most of the other Italians and he reveled in figures and math problems in his free time.  Reading the local Italian newspapers was always a part of his  daily routine.  He was loving but harsh when necessary–especially when it came to his daughters (he had five).  My aunt Phil (my great grandmother’s sister) has a few stories that reveal punishments that may be considered severe by today’s standards.  He was fearful of his daughters being alone at night, distrustful of other men’s intentions — especially the wild kinds of men who took advantage of women, which he referred to as “frusciones”.  He had no patience for men who treated women with disrespect.  And there was an incident about some cabbage soup that was unforgettable–even to a 94 year old woman (that will be a story for another day).   Aunt Phil also remembers  how her father bought her a pair of shoes at a great discount.   They didn’t fit no matter how hard she squeazed her feet into them but he would not accept that.  They were also exceptionally ugly and she was embarassed to wear them to school.  She came up with a little plan to switch them on her way….but he was on to her and she was caught and forced to wear the darn shoes until they wore out.  Angelo’s world was bitter and cruel and he knew the only way to survive was to come out on top.  There was no room for error or silliness.  Every day was a fight to the finish and he would be the winner…or at least his children and their children would be winners because he had been strong.

I have tried to piece his life back together with passenger manifests, census records and newspaper articles.  Luckily, my grandmother and aunt have pictures and memories, as well.  But I was surprised when I realized how early he came to Niagara Falls.  The first passenger record I have found is from April of 1893.  Young Angelo, from Bugnara, is on his way to New York from Naples.  There are others from 1896, 1905, 1910 and 1925.  Of course his name is spelled every which way you can imagine.  I had such a difficult time finding him on censuses and then I punched in “Ventry” instead of “Ventresca” and there he was.  “Ventry” was often a common Americanization of the name.I found him as early as 1910 living in a boarding house at 619 14th Street.  Interestingly, there is also a Carmen, Evangio and Vinanzio Ventry living with him and all listed as Italian born laborers.  Hopefully I can find out who these other men are eventually.  He had a brother named, Vinanzio, so perhaps he lived with his brother for some time.

My grandfather’s obituary states that he lived in Niagara Falls for fifty one years.  In other words, he first made a home in this city in 1895–several years before his oldest daughter, my great grandma, was born.  What an odd life he lived!  Of course my great great grandmother was left to take care  of the farm back in Italy and pretty much raised six children on her own.  He would send her money and stop back in the little town of Torre dei Nolfi every now and then.  She would joke that every time he came home in nine months there would be yet another bambino.  They had five daughters:  Clementina, Fioretta, Stella, Antoinetta, and Felicetta.  In 1917, a son, Vittorio, was born to the Ventresca’s.  Ironically, each voyage to America was ultimately represented by another child.

Obituary for Angelo Ventresca

Angelo Ventresca’s passport

 

 

Notation of Angelo's death in St. Joseph's register

Notation of Angelo’s death in St. Joseph’s register

 

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  1. Enjoyed coming across your piece. My mother’s side of the family is from Torre Di Nolfi. Basically, there were only four surnames in the town. My mother’s family “Bevilacqua” and “Ventresca” are two of them. I also have Ventrescas in my family. Immigrated to Niagara Falls. Moved to California in the thirties. Family still in Torre Di Nolfi and Pescara. Number of Ventrescas in Canada (Whelan area

    • Ken…thanks so much for the comment! We may be related. Which of your Ventrescas came to Niagara Falls? I have also heard there were only a handful of surnames in Torre Dei Nolfi. And yes, many in Welland, Ontario.

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