Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Voyages Not Taken, Circuitous Routes, and the Meaning of “Gibbous”

Last Friday was a straightforward Happy Dance Day, but the path I took from that point - or actually, the path that took me - was, to say the least, indirect.

The mailman brought me the death certificates for two of my husband’s great-great grandparents, Benedetto Davi and Maria Terzo. I was surprised at their prompt arrival only a little more than a week after I had mailed off the requests. The difference from the last time I had sent off to New York City Department of Records and Information for death certificates was that this time I had the dates of death and the certificate numbers (thanks to The Italian Genealogical Group website).

Both deaths had occurred in 1934, which meant the death certificates contained a decent amount of information about the deceased; this included the names of the parents of the deceased, except for the name of Benedetto’s mother - unfortunately, Maria had provided her own maiden name instead of her mother-in-law’s maiden name.

Benedetto’s father's name was given as Joseph (= Giuseppe) Davi. I have learned that you should always check to see (1) whether the parents of an immigrant also came over to this country and (2) whether an older relative’s name appears in later generations (i.e., among Benedetto’s siblings or children). So I started to look for a Giuseppe Davi in census and immigration records.

1902 manifest

This yielded an interesting hit: a ship manifest dated 10 September 1902 with a Maria Terzo and four children traveling from Palermo to New York City - and their names were all crossed out. This of course indicates that for some reason they did not make the trip. And I do have a ship manifest for the trip they did eventually make on 24 August 1903. I hadn’t found this 1902 manifest from searches for Maria Terzo, because her name had not been indexed correctly, and I stopped looking after I found the 1903 manifest (which corresponded to the year of immigration that appears for her on the census records).

1903 manifest

But there was one striking difference between the family information on the two manifests: the 1903 manifest shows only three children. Giuseppe is not there. And a glance back at the 1902 manifest revealed a comment in the “Deformed or Crippled/Nature and Cause” column: “gibbous.” Well, I know what a gibbous moon is. According to Webster’s II New College Dictionary, gibbous also means “having a hump, humpbacked.”

Was Giuseppe too ill to travel? Did he die before the 1903 voyage? His health was reported as “good” in the “Condition of health” column. Or was his deformity a possible bar to getting through the health inspection upon arrival in the United States? Perhaps the trip was cancelled for another reason? Was he left behind with relatives?

Sometimes you search for one thing and find something else.  And that something else leads to more questions.


  1. Well, my my. Good research there Greta.

  2. Well done! Genealogical research is often answering a question with another question.

  3. Catchy and very fitting post title. Isn't it amazing how much information these old records contain and how fascinating the questions are that arise? Enjoyed the analysis of your findings.

  4. good job, good post, my searcher-friend.

  5. Great job! I wish I could find anything on my Russian Jewish ancestors. Getting a few more clues...but your work here is top notch!

  6. Carol - Thank you for your kind comment!

    Bart - What I want to know is, why is one question replaced by several questions?

    Janice - Thank you; I never envisioned what kin of arcane things I would learn in family research.

    Joan - Thank you - and I love that you call me a searcher and call me a friend - both make me feel very honored!

    Debra - I would be absolutely fascinated to hear anything you learn about your Russian Jewish ancestors (need any translating help?). For my husband - it's Romanian Jewish ancestors, but I never learned Romanian.

  7. Whew, there is so much important information in this post. Great sleuthing! I work in the area of special education and the questions surrounding Giuseppe's missing name on the second manifest really make me want to learn more about disability policies in the early 20th century.

  8. Sheryl - Thank you for your encouragement. And I agree - I'd really like to know what the story behind this is.

  9. Hi Greta,
    I've found really important new information on manifests, pieces to puzzles, as well as new questions. Your comment on the "gibbous" and humpbacked (like that moon, as you said) under crippled, made me think of the sadness of not being allowed to enter. I recently deciphered a letter that tells a sad story of not making it -- that I'll be posting soon. Great sleuthing here!

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