For Janet D’Agostino Boivin and others like her, tools like Ancestry.com have made it easier to research a family’s genealogy – and come to a better understanding of a parent’s childhood journey that included a stay at the Italian Home.
Janet’s mother Mary Ranieri (or Maria, as she is listed on the 1930 census that Janet found through Ancestry) was six when she arrived at the Italian Home from Boston’s North End.
“I have visited the Italian Home twice,” says Janet. “I look at the imposing brick building with two flights of stairs leading to the door, and wonder what it was like for a six- year-old and her siblings to enter that door and be left behind.“
Piecing together the route that led Mary and her siblings to arrive at the Italian Home, Janet learned via 1930 US census records that Mary’s father, Franco, and his wife Maria, lived on Charter Street with six children. Mary was the youngest.
Franco had arrived in Boston from Italy in 1914 when he was only 17. In 1931, he died in a Boston hospital from acute appendicitis and postoperative pneumonia, according to his death certificate, also found via Ancestry. He had been a pipe fitter, the death certificate noted.
Ancestry records show that Janet’s grandmother was remarried to an Italian man living in the North End. But in January 1935, Maria delivered another child at Boston City Hospital – then died the next day from postpartum hemorrhage, her death certificate showed. She was 38.
“Nine days later, Maria’s second husband brought all the children who were too young to be on their own to the Italian Home,” says Janet. “I assume there were no family members or neighbors willing to take care of so many children, as was often the custom then.”
Mary, her two sisters, and the youngest of her brothers lived at the Italian Home for two years. Her oldest brother joined the Merchant Marines. Janet guesses the newborn was adopted shortly after birth, but the records are sealed.
Mary and her two sisters -- Amelia and Josephine -- were all ultimately adopted. The adoptive parents kept the birth children in touch while growing up. “I was fortunate to know my aunts and uncles,” says Janet. “I have warm memories of playing with their children – my cousins. We still get together today.”
“My mother never talked about her life before she was adopted,” says Janet. Her mother never mentioned a half-sibling, and Janet was stunned when her research revealed the child’s existence. “I assumed that when her mother died, the baby must have died also.”
“My cousin says that her father – my mother’s youngest brother – never spoke about his childhood either,” says Janet. “He sometimes ran away from the Italian Home. He was never adopted, but he lived with a foster family who owned an Italian restaurant. When he turned 17, he lied about his age and joined the Navy. He worked there all his life until he retired.”
“Piecing together my mother’s story helps me understand her better and appreciate the mother she became to me and my two brothers,” says Janet. “She had an inner strength I did not recognize until I was an adult, a strength I am sure was forged by her disrupted, chaotic early childhood.”
Thousands of children have passed through the Italian Home’s doors over the past 100 years. Each has a story to tell, and increasingly family members are tracing stories of those who came to the Home in its earliest years using tools like Ancestry. As the Italian Home recognizes its 100th anniversary, we invite you to tell your story or that of a family member who was helped by the Italian Home on our new Friends of Italian Home For Children Facebook Group.