Delfina Acuto Herbert
(March 2004 -- Sarasota, FL)
My name is Delfina Acuto Herbert. On the paternal side I am a
descendant of two Piemontesi families, Acuto and Botto. My grandmother,
Delfina Botto, my grandfather, Giovanni Luigi Acuto and my father,
Paolo Giuseppe Acuto, were all born in San Germano di Casale Monferrato.
Delfina Botto, born October 23, 1878, was the oldest in a family
of eight. Her mother and father were Angela Caligaris and Giuseppe
Botto. She had two sisters and five brothers. Her twin sister,
Giuseppina, died three days after her birth. Her other sister,
Virginia, died at the age of 21/2 years. Her five brothers, Pietro,
Paolo, Luigi, Camillo and Ottavio, all lived in San Germano di
Giovanni Luigi Acuto, born September 6, 1877, was the youngest
of three boys. His father was Paolo Acuto, his mother Prospera
Barbano. His older brothers, Angelo and Enrico, also resided in
San Germano di Casale Monferrato.
On the maternal side, my grandparents were born in Lombardia,
the Brescia and Pavia areas. Since they were not from the Piemonte
region they are not a part of this presentation.
From where did your family emigrate and when? Who emigrated
(self, parents, grandparents) and what were their names?
My grandfather, Giovanni Luigi Acuto, 28 years old and married,
emigrated alone to the United States in 1905 from San Germano
di Casale Monferrato. From Ellis Island in New York City he traveled
to the Ludlow/Delagua area of Colorado. He was going to join his
friend, Stefano Patrucco, to work in the coal mines. He remained
in Colorado until 1908 when he returned to San Germano.
In January, 1909 Giovanni, now age 31, returned to the United
States and brought with him his wife, Delfina Botto, age 30 and
their son (my father) Paolo Acuto, age 6. From Ellis Island the
family traveled to Delagua, Colorado to join their friend Vincenzo
What led them to their destination (relatives already there,
hopes of a job at a mill, mine, etc. Please explain)?
Giovanni Acuto was a skilled miner in Piemonte. Together with
his two brothers, Angelo and Enrico, they operated a chalk/gypsum
(gesso) mine in San Germano. Apparently American mining officials
promoted the opportunities for employment in the United States
to Europeans. Friends of the family had already emigrated to southern
Colorado. The Acuto family settled in Delagua, Colorado. (Note:
Delagua, Colorado was a coal-mining camp town in Las Animas County
in the southern part of the state. It was 6 miles west of Ludlow
and 15 miles north of Trinidad. The town, or camp, housed the
workers and their families. The camp included a schoolhouse. The
coal mine and the town were owned by the Victor American Fuel
Company. The mine was regarded as the largest single coal producer
in Colorado. The mining camp was eventually closed down and the
town itself no longer exists.)
On November 8, 1910 tragedy struck. My 33 year old grandfather
was killed in a major mine explosion which claimed many workers.
The miners were buried in a mass grave near Delagua, Colorado.
(Note: The Delagua mine explosion occurred about 2 p.m.on 8 November,
1910 and resulted in the deaths of 79 men. Fortunately, it was
Election Day; many men left the mine at noon to vote and had not
returned to work. Otherwise, the death toll would have been much
larger. There is much written about the details of this accident,
its cause, the rescue efforts and where and how the men died.
This information and detailed eyewitness reports of the accident
were found at the United States Department of Labor, National
Mine Health and Safety Academy. A month before the explosion a
large fire destroyed much of the mining infrastructure which reduced
the mine output from 3,000 tons to about 1,000 tons per day. About
an hour before the explosion a fire started in another section
of the mine. At the time of the explosion there were 118 men in
the mine. The explosion, attributed to coal dust, also cut off
the ventilation to the mine. Some died from the blast, others
from lack of air. The accident record contains two errors. Giovanni
is listed as "Joe" and his nationality as Mexican.)
Following Giovanni Acuto’s death, Delfina and Paolo relocated
to New York City. They lived at 426 West 45th Street in a working-class
district of tenements and food warehouses with predominantly Italian
and Irish immigrants. The small apartment building still exists
today. The neighborhood, known as “Hell’s Kitchen,”
was a corrupt, poor and sometimes violent area. Delfina worked
in restaurant kitchens. In 1911, unable to properly look after
her son, Paolo was sent back to San Germano to the care of his
grandfather, Guiseppe Botto.
During his years in San Germano and Casale Monferrato, Paolo attended
school and worked with the family in the fields. Between 1922
and 1925 his uncle, Luigi Botto, hired him as a typesetter (tipografo
compositore) in his printing shop, Unione Tipografica Popolare
di Botto, Alessio & C., and taught him the trade. Paolo became
a member of the Italian Federation of Workers.
Paolo and his mother, Delfina, were separated for 14 years. In
October 1925 Paolo returned to New York City and was reunited
with his mother. With a letter of recommendation from his uncle
and his membership in the Italian Federation of Workers, he was
able to become a member of the New York typesetters union, Unione
Tipografica Italiana #261. He worked as a typesetter for the Il
Progresso Italo-Americano daily newspaper which was located at
42 Elk Street, New York City. Il Progresso was a newspaper established
in 1880. Paolo continued to work there until his death in 1959
at age 57.
Did they emigrate to another location before or after (Argentina,
France, England, etc.)?
No, they did not emigrate to another country.
Did they settle among other Piemontesi and were they members
of a Piemontesi society (fraternal, mutual aid, etc.)?
They were never members of an organized Piemontese society. However,
based upon photos and letters, my grandparents were close friends
with other Piemontesi in the Trinidad/Delagua, Colorado area.
During her many years living in the Hell’s Kitchen area
of New York City, my grandmother befriended other Piemontesi living
in the neighborhood.
The same was true for my father when he returned to New York City
in 1925. He and his mother established many close ties with Piemontesi
in New York and New Jersey.
Did your family maintain Piemontesi traditions -- language,
culture, history, cuisine, etc.?
Yes, we always spoke the Piemontese dialect in our home. My grandmother
and father read Italian books, newspapers and periodicals. We
listened to Italian music, made wine and liqueurs at home and
maintained a Piemontese kitchen. However, my mother’s Lombardia
heritage also had an influence on the dishes prepared. Most unfortunately,
following the deaths of my grandmother and father in 1959, we
stopped speaking both Italian and the Piemontese dialect.
Did your family return home to visit or to live after the initial
emigration? Did they maintain contact with family back home?
As described earlier, my grandfather, Giovanni, returned in 1908
so that he could bring his family back to the United States. My
father, Paul, had to be sent back to Casale Monferrato in 1911
where he remained for 14 years. Both my grandmother and father
kept in contact with their many relatives and friends in Casale
Monferrato. There were frequent letters in which they exchanged
news and photographs.
In 1952 my grandmother returned to her hometown. She sailed from
New York City to Genova
on the Cristoforo Colombo. She spent the summer and autumn visiting
with her family and friends in the Casale Monferrato region. While
my father remained in contact by mail with family in Casale Monferrato,
he never again returned to Italy.
Do you identify yourself more as American, Italian or Piemontese?
I identify myself as an American with a Piemontese heritage. In
explanation, I offer the following:
In 1928 my grandmother became a naturalized United States citizen
and my father became one in 1931. In November 1937 my parents
and 5-year-old brother moved from Astoria, New York City to Bergenfield,
New Jersey. Bergenfield was a small town near to New York City.
The Bergenfield area was made up of people from many diverse ethnic
backgrounds. My parents and grandmother made many neighborhood
friends. While the Piemontesi dialect and traditions were maintained
in the home, they also adopted an American lifestyle. This is
the environment into which I was born. My father and grandmother
both died when I was a teenager. Subsequently, we no longer spoke
the Piemontese dialect. It was only much later in life that I
rediscovered and appreciated my ties to Piemonte.
Have you visited your family's town(s) in Piemonte? What was your
Following the deaths of my father and grandmother in 1959, we
had no contact whatsoever with our Piemontesi relatives for 30
years. Then, in 1989 my husband and I traveled to Italy for the
first time. Following a tour of Italy we went to Casale Monferrato
in hopes of finding my family. Using the local telephone book,
some perseverance and the assistance of a kindly hotel clerk who
served as translator, we were successful. And what a wonderful
reunion it was! The warmth and exuberance with which they welcomed
us after so many years was truly fantastic. We were escorted from
one home to another by my cousin, Luigi Botto. At each stop we
met another relative, Botto or Acuto. Despite our inability to
speak Italian and their limited English, we managed to communicate
with one another. Of course, customs required that we eat and
drink a bit at each home. Then, the Botto family arranged a special
banquet at a local restaurant, Ristorante La Torre, where we were
able to “officially” meet the members of the family.
They served course after course of regional dishes and explained
the significance of each one. And there were many, many toasts
with the regional wines. An evening I shall never forget! Before
we left we promised to keep in touch and to return again soon.
One cousin took the time to draw a basic family tree of the Botto
family showing me on one of the younger branches. I have kept
this tree and bring it with me whenever we visit Italy. We were
given a tin of Krumiri, a special sweet biscuit from Casale Monferrato
which was my grandmother’s favorite cookie.
During this short visit we also dined with the Acuto family. We
met my cousin Maurizio and his wife, Maria, who continue to reside
in the home where my grandparents once lived. Giuseppe Acuto (Pippo)
and his wife Anna were most hospitable even though their son,
Giampiero, had recently died in a road accident.. They even served
us “American cocktails” in the morning followed by
a large lunch. As a special memento they gave us one of Giampiero’s
books on great Italian villas.
We’ve remained in contact ever since. In 1993 my husband
and I stayed with Luigi Botto and his wife Olga for a full month.
It was a remarkable time and a real opportunity to get to know
our Piemontesi relatives. Despite the language barrier we were
able to communicate with one another. We learned some dialect,
some Italian and what it was like living in the area. We walked
the hills, strolled along the river Po and visited local sites.
One highlight was a visit to the Sanctuary of Crea where my grandmother
had made a yearly pilgrimage.
In September 1995 we returned for another month’s visit.
La vendemmia, the gathering of the grapes had just begun. It was
a wonderful experience, picking the grapes and sharing the delicious
meals served at mid-day with free-flowing wines and after dinner
digestivi. The food and camaraderie were reminiscent of my childhood
memories when my Italian-born family and friends were still alive.
Luigi Botto showed us how the grapes were brought to the local
cantina, how their value was assessed and the process gone through
to make wine. He also showed us how the leavings, the leftovers,
were turned into grappa at the local Magnoberta distillery.
Some of our best, most heartwarming times were spent around the
table becoming acquainted with our Piemontesi relatives. Everyone
was so generous, hospitable and full of life! My husband expressed
an interest in breadsticks at one meal. Well, at the next “banquet”
the entire table was covered in breadsticks! Language continued
to be a problem but, between an ever-present dictionary, a “magic
slate” to write words down, facial expressions and hand
gestures, we communicated. However, one day Luigi’s wife,
Olga was speaking about “formica,” Italian for “ant.”
My husband couldn’t figure out why she was complaining that
there were too many countertops!
While visiting in Casale Monferrato we also made good friends
with Livio Garrone and his family from Murisengo. His parents,
Mario and Itala, operate a large wine bottling company. Livio
has a beautiful gift and antique shop, L’Orizzonte, in Casale
We remain in frequent contact and I have come to treasure my Piemontese
Have you studied your Piemontesi genealogy? Please explain
I started with the basic Botto family tree given to me in 1989
on my first visit to Italy. It has since been expanded and the
Acuto family tree has been added. It is still a work in progress
with 140 listed family members at this time. I have researched
old records, death notices, letters and other documents that had
been saved by my father and grandmother. These “clues”
led me to the records of various governmental agencies, ship manifests,
archives, libraries, etc. Also discovered was the origin of the
name “Acuto,” dating back to the 1300s.
This research has been a most rewarding experience. It gives me
a sense of history, of place, of belonging. I strongly recommend
visiting Ellis Island, both the site and on the internet. In addition
to the genealogy, my study of the Italian language and culture
helps me to better communicate with my relatives in Piemonte,
broadens my perspective and has made our travels throughout Italy
far more pleasurable and interesting.
Do you belong to the Piemontesi nel Mondo, Famija Piemonteis
or any other organization?
No. In the area in which I live there are few Piemontesi.