(April 2003 -- Bernardston, MA)
From where did your family emigrate and when? Who emigrated
(self, parents, grandparents) and what were their names?
My grandfather, Giuseppe Montiglio, came to America from Casale
Monferrato in 1905 at the age of 21. Soon after arriving, he changed
his name to Montilio. My grandmother, Adele Casarico, came from
Viggiù in Lombardia in 1909 at the age of 19. As the story
goes, they met on a ship as they were returning to Italy for a
visit and crossed paths again three weeks later, at which time
Giuseppe proposed and Adele accepted. They were married 60+ years
and raised six children.
What led them to their destination (relatives
already there, hopes of a job at a mill, mine, etc. Please explain)?
From New York, Giuseppe made his way across the US and back, working
as a coal miner in Pennsylvania and later a lumberjack in Washington
State, before settling in West Quincy, Massachusetts. Although
the reasons for his settling there are not known, West Quincy
had a large Italian-American community in which the family worked
hard and prospered. They started out by purchasing a bus to transport
workers to Fall River. They built houses and started a variety
of family businesses, including a night club, bocce courts, and
a restaurant, in which it is said, they served "black coffee"
in mugs during Prohibition.
The family endured its share of hardship, losing a great deal
of their property and savings during the Great Depression. George,
or "Chick," a decorated member of the famed 101st Airborne
Division, was wounded by "friendly fire" a few days
before the end of WWII and died a few days just after the war
ended. Johnnie was killed in an industrial accident at the granite
company owned by his wife's family. The restaurant was later transformed
into a bakery, which was passed on to the eldest son, Ernie, and
became very well known for creating ornate cakes for presidents,
celebrities, and people from the area. The other children, Joe,
Val, and Lillian all worked there at some point. They all married
and raised families of their own. There are 22 grandchildren and
a number of great-grandchildren.
Were they part of a migration chain?
My grandfather came over with a friend. Other relatives came later
and settled in the same area, including members of the Cavallo
family. We're not sure of what brought my grandmother over.
Did they emigrate to another location before
or after (Argentina, France, England, etc.)?
Not that we know of, although they both traveled through Le Havre,
France, which was common at the time.
Did they settle among other Piemontesi and were they members
of a Piemontesi society (fraternal, mutual aid, etc.)?
West Quincy and greater Boston became home to a great many Italian
immigrants, many of whom were Sicilian and worked in the local
granite quarries and in the construction and restaurant trades.
Did your family maintain Piemontesi traditions -- language,
culture, history, cuisine, etc.?
Family tradition has it that an ancestor had been chef for the
Italian king, and food was always important, especially the delicious
home-made wine, ravioli, gnocchi, risotto, and polenta my grandparents
made. There were plenty of large family meals that lasted hours,
at least for the adults, while us cousins played around my grandparents'
house and yard. We knew better than to make any noise as my grandfather
watched opera on black-and-white TV, often with tears in his eyes.
On the other hand, my father says that his parents only spoke
Italian when they didn't want the kids to understand what was
being said, so he and my aunt and uncles only speak a little.
I think I'm the only one to study the language.
Did your family return home to visit or to live after the initial
emigration? Did they maintain contact with family back home?
My grandfather returned often, sometimes for months at a time.
My grandmother returned just the one time in which she met my
grandfather on board ship.
Do you identify yourself more as American, Italian or Piemontese?
I've always been very aware of being Italian, thanks to my grandparents'
influence and because of my uncle's bakery and the people who
passed through there. Visiting Piemonte, reading about its history,
and seeing our name in a variety of places have left an indelible
mark. Today, I'm more aware of my Italian heritage, which I can
trace back to 777, than my American heritage, which runs just
a few generations.
Have you visited your family's town(s) in Piemonte?
What was your experience like?
Yes, I've been there seven times and can't get enough of it. The
first time, in 1996, I learned of the town of Montiglio (now Montiglio
Monferrato) by a stroke of luck in a bookstore just before leaving
the US. We spent our first night in Casale Monferrato, and it
was to be a simple day trip to Montiglio before moving on.
In Montiglio, we stopped at the town hall and were befriended
by the former assistant mayor, Renato Corsino, who was kind enough
to give us a tour, show us a place to stay, and help us purchase
a history book written by the town priest. We stayed in touch
and during my second visit, traveling alone, I visited their home
to meet his wife, Rosanna, and mom, Carolina, expecting to perhaps
join them for lunch or dinner. I was amazed by their offer to
stay at their home, which was a real treat. We've been great friends
In 1998, to celebrate his retirement, I had the pleasure bringing
my father to visit his parents' birthplaces. Helping with the
grape harvest in the Corsino family vineyard is always a highlight
of the trip. A couple of years ago, I waited until my American
girlfriend and I were in their vineyard to propose marriage. Fortunately,
she said "yes," and we enjoyed telling our friends,
in Italian, what had taken place. We changed our name back to
its original spelling, Montiglio, before the wedding. I hope to
visit there as long as I can. We've talked about living there
part-time after retirement. I make a point of spending the last
night of every trip in Casale Monferrato, my grandfather's city.
Have you studied your Piemontesi genealogy? Please explain
It breaks my heart that my grandparents passed away in the '70s,
long before there was any hope of traveling there. There's so
much I would have loved to have asked them!
The director of the Casale archives was kind enough to meet and
offered to send any information she could find, but to no avail.
My sister met a woman named Montiglio and learned there is plenty
of Jewish blood in the family. I met some distant relatives, but
the conversations were brief. Learning of this website has awakened
Do you belong to the Piemontesi nel Mondo, Famija
Piemonteisa or any other organization?
The organizations around here, which are great resources, have
roots in southern Italy. These include the Mt. Carmel Society
and the Italian Cultural Center, both in Springfield, Massachusetts.
The Society puts on a feast every July, and the Center offers
an excellent Italian language program and tours to Italy.