It is the day before the Summer Solstice, and the weather couldn't be more lovely. I am sitting at the table outside my study. I sit here with my laptop and a cup of dark coffee and my Italian dictionary. It gets mighty hot in the sun, however, so I can only write outdoors in these shady morning hours.
Where do I start? How do I tell the story of my father's ancestry, the Orzo family?
I wouldn't know anything about this family if it weren't for my cousin Donna Ricci who has spent years assembling the history of the Orzo clan. Donna has scoured birth/death/marriage records and census records to come up with the story. She has assembled stories that have been passed down through the years by my grandmother, Albina, and her five sisters, Pasquale's children. She has also travelled to Calabria, in southern Italy, to see the tiny town of Paola where the story begins.
It is November 3, 1870 when we begin. And we probably wouldn't be so interested in the story except for one big detail.
My great great grandmother, Filomena Scrivano (Pera), gave birth to Pasquale out of wedlock.
The shame about that illegitimacy would follow Pasquale through his life. And it would be passed down through the family to at least two generations. My grandmother Albina Orzo Ricci, and her five sisters were so ashamed about their father's background that they never spoke of it to their children, i.e. my father's generation.
It wasn't until Grandma Ricci and her sisters passed away that the full story emerged. It is amazing to me that my great great grandmother's last name, Scrivano, translates into the word "scribe." This is exactly what I want to do for my ancestor, be her scribe and write her story!
Donna has made it her quest to find out what happened. She writes:
"Pasquale's birth record from Paola is very detailed. It states that he was found on the doorstep of a home in Paola. A farmer came to the municipio (municipal offices) on November 4, 1870, to confirm (the baby's arrival.) However, the child was actually presented to the officials by a woman named Annunziata Sessa, wife of Raffaelle Signorelli, who requested the opportunity to 'foster' the child. Presumably, she was capable of nursing the newborn as baby formula was not available at the time. The municipal official granted her request, approved the name "Pasquale Orzo." According to the records I've seen, Annunziata remained Pasquale's foster mother for the rest of his life."
It's somewhat of a miracle that Pasquale survived. Donna explains:
"My genealogy consultant's opinion is that Pasquale's birth father and/or his family was likely wealthy and powerful and arranged not only the placement of this child with a hand-picked family but also influenced the listing of these foster parents on his military records. At the time of Pasquale's birth in Italy, neither the government nor the church allowed illegitimate children to be kept by the mother.
"The children were normally placed in a contraption called the "Ruota" or wheel where the child could be anonymously abandoned at a municipal office of foundling home. [Citing a book by David I Ketzer, Sacrificed for Honor, Donna writes that] the mortality rate of illegitimate or foundling home children in Cosenza in the 1870s was 93% due to malnutrition and disease in the horrific Cosenza foundling home and the shortage of wet nurses."
Donna stresses the fact that we are fortunate "that someone interceded on behalf of Filomena and Pasquale because his chances of survival without this support would have been very low. We have no way of knowing what type of relationship, if any, Pasquale shared with his birth mother Filomena. However, he did grow up in the town of Paola," and hopefully she "was able to watch from a distance."
We have the photograph of Filomena, taken in 1919. On the back Filomena has addressed the photo to "mio caro Figlio Pasquale."
It's so strange to think about the fact that the entire family line would never have existed if it weren't for the intercession of Pasquale's foster family. And this story wouldn't exist without the huge amount of research by my cousin, who created an ORZO SISTERS FACEBOOK PAGE. For this and everything else, THANKS DONNA!