The Argosy

Olivia Fisher Traces Family Tree

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Great-great grandfather, Giuseppe Pisciotti

Great-great grandfather, Giuseppe Pisciotti

Great-great grandfather, Giuseppe Pisciotti

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I knew my ancestral origins before ever doing research; I am French, German, English, and Irish through my mother and Italian through my father. I knew some of the family traditions, reasons for leaving their homeland, and names on my family tree. However, I lacked the knowledge of certain things that had been lost over the generations. One of my biggest questions about my family, about myself, was what my last name originally was.

My entire paternal lineage is Italian but, my last name, Fisher, does not reflect that. Now you may be asking yourself, how is that side of her family Italian, yet they bear an English surname? One summer day my friend Julia asked me: “If your last name is Italian, why doesn’t it end with a vowel?” I pondered over this and began to research Italian last names and realized that mine did not resemble any of them. Five months later, in December 2015, I became invested in my genealogy. Unfortunately, I could not ask my paternal grandfather, who was a first-generation American, how he came to bear an English surname because he died in 2012 when I was nine. I asked my father and paternal grandmother if they knew what the original last name was but neither of them were sure. It took me two weeks of researching to figure this out.

The original last name was Pisciotti and they hailed from Baselice, Benevento, Campania, Italy. My great grandfather, John Fisher, was born Giovanni Pisciotti in 1897 and was the first child of his parents, Giuseppe Pisciotti and Anna Maria Marucci. His father Giuseppe embarked on a journey without his immediate family and first arrived in America in 1906. I presume when he arrived in Ellis Island he Americanized his name in an attempt to fit in. He spent five years in Ohio before his wife and two of his three children left Italy and joined him in 1910.

I think every person should know something about their ancestral makeup, from the origin of their last name to their first relative in this country. To know where they came from and why, and to relate it with the issues of the time period, to know their reasons for leaving their homeland and what they left behind, it all gives you a sense of pride and makes you feel like part of something bigger than yourself.  For me, all my grandparents were born in America, but not all my great grandparents were. Two were born in Italy while one was born in Canada to a French father and English mother. They all came to the States in the 1910s and during this time period, World War I occurred. This event affected all of them as new immigrants. A few years after Giuseppe and Anna Maria reunited in Ohio, they were faced with a military draft in this brand new country they came to for freedom. They were too old for the war but, they had a 20-year-old son. Imagine that you left Italy for a better life and spent a few years here in the states, then one day you find your new nation fighting in a foreign war were your home country is involved. Imagine the possibility of sending your child back to Europe, the very land you left, to fight in a war. Luckily he lived.

My Canadian great grandfather, Henry Percevault, was born in 1909 and was the first child of his parents, Charles Percevault and Ellen Chambers. When World War I broke out, Henry’s father, Charles, left Canada in 1914 to train troops in France and took Henry with him. Henry spent the next few years living in France with his grandparents. However, when Henry arrived in France he only knew his native tongue of English while his grandparents only knew French; he later adopted the French and lost his English knowledge. While in France, Henry’s mother and three younger siblings immigrated to the States. Once the war ended, he and his father arrived as first-class passengers to Ellis Island and were transferred to South Carolina from there. When the family reunited, Henry was unable to speak with his mother and siblings because he had lost his ability to speak English. The family settled in Plainfield, New Jersey where my great grandfather, a nine-year-old, was placed in kindergarten until he learned English.

These two great-grandfathers of mine were first-born sons of their parents, and their lives were affected by World War I. One fought in the war while the other spent years of his childhood in a foreign land with his grandparents. The one who fought returned home to marry his second cousin. The one who spent his childhood in France arrived to the States to see his mother and siblings for the first time in years without knowledge of the language. I feel that it is important to understand what your ancestors went through to know that one day their descendants would come together to have you. I currently live in the home my maternal grandmother grew up in, a home owned by her father, Henry, and his wife, Gertrude Carpenter. Just down the street is the convenience store, Henry’s Fine Foods, which he kept open daily since he began in 1930 until he sold it.

My maternal grandmother’s parents met in New York. Her father, Nicholas Maturo, and his brother, Anthony, lived with their widowed father, Vito. The death of his mother caused much struggle throughout their childhood. Nicholas and Anthony lived what seemed to be a stereotypical New York life as they spent much time with a group of Italian boys their age, sitting on milk crates and often getting into fights with the Irish boys in their neighborhood. Their father entrusted a man to look after them and gave him money weekly to take care of them. The boys often went hungry for days because the man took the money for himself and they missed out on school to help support the family. Her mother, Eleanor De Francisco, was the youngest child in a large Italian family. Many saw their relationship as short-lived because Nicholas came from a poorer background but, despite the odds, they did marry and have to children together, Victor and Cynthia, before moving to Lyndhurst, New Jersey.

At the time of my birth only two of my eight great-grandparents were living, the parents of my late paternal grandfather, Robert Lally and Eileen Coble. Robert had been one of nearly a dozen children born into an Irish-German family in Nebraska. His paternal aunt, an Irish Catholic nun saw potential in him and took him to live with her and receive a proper education. The childhood of Eileen possessed more tragedy and sorrow than her husband’s did. As the eldest of three children, when her father died in a train accident she had to leave school and help her mother provide for the family; she was eight-years-old. In her later years, she always mentioned a story she would tell her mother of how she believed she would not live past 50. She survived until 95.

Both Nicholas and Eileen suffered through sorrowful childhoods due to the death of a parent and were forced to help their families survive. Nicholas most likely possessed no memories of his mother who died in childbirth when he was nearly two. Eileen’s father, a railroad switch-man, had been gruesomely decapitated by a train a week before Christmas. Both Robert and Eleanor came from large, well-to-do families. Robert had been seen to possess great academic potential while Eleanor was seen to potentially marry a well-to-do man.

I never met Henry nor Gertrude, the former owners of my home. They died a decade before I was born. Rose, for whom I received my middle name, died two years before I was born. Her husband, John, did not live a long life and never reached his 53rd birthday. Nicholas and Eleanor died a decade before I was born. It had been a rough twelve months for my family. It was August 1, 1991 when death knocked on the door of Nicholas’s brother Anthony. Twenty days later it came for his son, Victor, and within a month for him. Nearly a year of grief and loneliness took Eleanor the following July. Robert whom I have no recollection of died by the time I was three. One of my many regrets in life is that, Eileen, the only one I knew, died before I began my research. I missed out on opportunities to show her pictures and records of her deceased parents, siblings, and sons and inform her on her distant relations to celebrities and historical figureheads including Abraham Lincoln, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Chloe Grace Moretz.

The research and time I put into creating my family tree and the memory it maintains are ways I continue the legacy of their lives and everyone before me, piecing together things they never knew, for prosperity to remember. If you ever have the opportunity to learn more about your family and dig deeper into their lives, in both their homelands and in this country, take it. To know their story in this country and where it began, ended, and continued, is to know your story. For me, it began with two Mayflower passengers, William Bradford and Richard Warren, ended with Henry Percevault, and continues with me.

Great-great grandmother, Anna Maria Pisciotti nee Marucci
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Olivia Fisher Traces Family Tree