Two More Blog Posts

Last year I wrote two more blog posts for Vita Brevis, the blog of the New England Historic Genealogical Society:

Honoring a Civil War Veteran This article describes my quest to obtain a headstone from the Veterans Administration for an unmarked family grave.

Piece Work Here I write about piecing together the story of my great-great-grandparents, Domenico Caldarelli and Maria Tavano, who immigrated from Italy and faced infidelity, murder and incarceration.

Still Writing

I haven’t updated this site in a little while, but it’s not because I’ve stopped writing. This year I wrote three articles that were published on Vita Brevis, the blog of the New England Historic Genealogical Society. You can find them here:

Making Progress by Breaking with Tradition   In this article I examine the tradition of women taking their husband’s name upon marriage, and propose an alternative.

Finding a Better Life  Here I take a look at some of my immigrant ancestors who didn’t find the better life they were seeking.

Solving a Family Mystery  The article details how I reunited some old family documents with the original owner’s descendants.

Hidden Between the Pages of a 130-year-old Bible

In the fall, I blogged about the restoration of a family bible which was published in the late 1800s. Because no births, marriages or deaths were recorded in the bible, I speculated that while it probably came from the McKenna branch of my family tree because it was passed down from my great-grandmother, Helen (McKenna) Dickinson, it could have come from the DuRoss family (Helen’s mother), or the Luke family (her mother-in-law). At the time, however, I didn’t devote any additional effort to narrowing it down. A separate family bible was also passed down, but it contained Dickinson family birth, marriage and death records, so the origin of that bible was clear and I knew that the unmarked bible didn’t come from that branch of the tree.

Last night I decided to search more carefully through the bible for clues, thinking that there might be something handwritten on a page or on something inserted between pages, as I had found in the Dickinson bible. I started going through the 500-page bible, one page at a time. Incredibly, tucked deep between the pages, I found a tiny 117-year-old newspaper clipping. It was only about a half-inch wide and two inches long, but it was the death notice of my great-great-grandfather, Cornelius McKenna, who died on December 6, 1898.

This half-inch by two-inch newspaper clipping was tucked between two pages of the family bible.

This half-inch by two-inch newspaper clipping was tucked between two pages of the family bible. It reads, “McKENNA – In Boston Highlands, Dec 6, Cornelius McKenna, 38 years.  Funeral from his late residence, 8 Sherwood ct, off Bartlett ct, Friday, Dec 9, at 8.15. Services at St Patrick’s church, Dudley st, at 9 a.m.  Relatives and friends are invited to attend.”

In the center of the photo, you can see the yellowing of the pages where the newspaper clipping was hiding all these years.

In the center of the photo, you can see the yellowing of the pages where the newspaper clipping was hiding all these years.  A second, identical clipping was placed elsewhere in the bible in the same manner.

After finding the death notice, I reassessed what I knew. Cornelius and his wife, Susan (DuRoss) McKenna, were Catholic, and this is a Catholic bible. The Luke family was Methodist, not Catholic. Susan and Cornelius were married in 1882. The bible was published in 1884. Having found Cornelius’ death notice between the pages, I now believe that this bible did, indeed, belong to Susan and Cornelius McKenna, and that they purchased it during their marriage.

Cornelius McKenna Born in about 1860 in New York Died of Typhoid Fever on Dec. 6, 1898 in Roxbury, Massachusetts

Cornelius McKenna
Born in about 1860 in New York
Died of Typhoid Fever on Dec. 6, 1898 in Roxbury, Massachusetts

Cousin Emily Dickinson and My Dickinson Ancestors

My maternal grandmother’s maiden name was Dorothea Brooks Dickinson. When I started researching that branch of the family tree, I eventually discovered that my immigrant ancestors in the Dickinson line were Nathaniel Dickinson and his wife, Anna (Gull) Dickinson.  Nathaniel and Anna had 12 children, 7 of whom were born in Billingborough, England, and 5 of whom were born in the U.S.

Nathaniel, my 9th-great-grandfather, was born in 1600 and immigrated to the U.S. between 1636 and 1638.  With so many children, 13 generations later there are now tons of Dickinson descendants and even an association – the Dickinson Family Association ( – that has a family reunion each year.

I joined the Dickinson Family Association once I confirmed the lineage, and quickly learned that poet Emily Dickinson was also a descendant of Nathaniel Dickinson, but until now I hadn’t taken the time to figure out her lineage and add her to my tree.  I now know that Emily Dickinson is my 6th cousin, 4x removed.  Nathaniel was her 5th-great-grandfather.  While I am descended from Nehemiah Dickinson, the 10th child of Nathaniel & Anna, Emily Dickinson is descended from Samuel Dickinson, their 8th child.

I have also found two more Revolutionary War patriots in my direct Dickinson line of descendancy. Nehemiah’s son Ebenezer (my 7th-great-grandfather) served in the Committees on Correspondence, while Ebenezer’s son Reuben (my 6th-great-grandfather) served as a Captain in the Continental Army.  Here’s a description of the role of the Committees on Correspondence from the website of the History Channel (

Committees of Correspondence were the American colonies’ first institution for maintaining communication with one another. They were organized in the decade before the Revolution, when the deteriorating relationship with Great Britain made it increasingly important for the colonies to share ideas and information. In 1764, Boston formed the earliest Committee of Correspondence, writing to other colonies to encourage united opposition to Britain’s recent stiffening of customs enforcement and prohibition of American paper money. The following year New York formed a similar committee to keep the other colonies notified of its actions in resisting the Stamp Act. This correspondence led to the holding of the Stamp Act Congress in New York City. Nine of the colonies sent representatives, but no permanent intercolonial structure was established. In 1772, a new Boston Committee of Correspondence was organized, this time to communicate with all the towns in the province, as well as with “the World,” about the recent announcement that Massachusetts’s governor and judges would hereafter be paid by–and hence accountable to–the Crown rather than the colonial legislature. More than half of the province’s 260 towns formed committees and replied to Boston’s communications.

I haven’t been to a reunion of the Dickinson Family Association yet, but the next one is in late June and this may be the year that I get there.

Porter Cross, 1807-1894

Two of my favorite ancestors, for no particular reason, are Porter & Sophia Cross, both born in 1807.  They are my 4th-great-grandparents.  Porter was the 6th and youngest child of Stephen & Sarah Cross, and the family lived in Western Massachusetts in the Springfield/Monson/Wilbraham area.  Sophia was the 12th of 13 children born to Titus & Sabra Amidon.

Porter & Sophia married in 1827 and had 8 children.  After Sophia died in 1846, Porter remarried and had 4 more children with his second wife, Mary Babcock.  Porter, Sophia, Mary, and many of their children are buried in Springfield Cemetery in Springfield, Massachusetts.  A few years ago I visited the cemetery and found their headstone, a large, lovely monument that has the names of each of those buried there inscribed on it.

Cross family grave, Springfield Cemetery

Cross family grave, Springfield Cemetery

Both Porter and Sophia were the children of Revolutionary War soldiers and it was Porter’s father, Stephen Cross, under whom I joined the Daughters of the American Revolution.  Porter’s maternal grandfather, David Vinton, also fought in the Revolutionary War as a Massachusetts Minuteman.  Hopefully this year I’ll be ready to submit the documentation to DAR for both Titus Amidon and David Vinton.

There’s plenty I could tell you about Porter Cross, but I will let his obituary speak for me.  The most thrilling thing about finding his obituary is that it includes a drawing of him!  Photos from the late 1800s are very hard to find, so I was beyond excited to find this.  The obituary was printed in the Springfield Republican on April 24, 1894.

It reads as follows:


Obituary of Porter Cross, 1894

Obituary of Porter Cross, 1894

The Late Porter Cross

“Porter Cross, who died at an advanced age in this city Saturday, is well remembered by people in Springfield and throughout the state as one of the pioneers in the business of moving buildings.  He resided successively in Charlestown, Worcester, Wilbraham and in this city, and his business extended very generally through Massachusetts.  He was a life-long Methodist and for many years a trustee of Wesleyan academy at Wilbraham.  The funeral will be held at his late residence on Thompson Street this afternoon at 2 o’clock.  Rev. W.H. Meredith will officiate, assisted by Rev. Dr. Michael Burnham and the pallbearers will be four grandsons of Mr. Cross, Chester Cross of Palmer, and W.E. Cross, Herbert and Edward Cross of this city.”

So for family members wondering how Porter Cross and James Luke (from my previous post), both being my 4th-great-grandfathers, fit into the family tree, here’s a highlighted chart.  It’s the family tree of my grandmother, Dorothea B. (Dickinson) Cottuli, and it shows that the son of James & Sarah Luke (William Luke) – married the daughter of Porter & Sophia Cross (Lauretta Jennette Cross).  Just click on the chart to enlarge it.

Dickinson/Luke Family Tree

Dickinson/Luke Family Tree

James Luke, 1796-1885

James Luke was my 4th-great-grandfather, and for quite a while I had a very hard time finding any info on him. I knew that he was born in England and immigrated to the US, and that he’s buried in Cambridge Cemetery, but that’s about all I knew.

Then last month published a new database – “New England, Select United Methodist Church Records, 1787-1922” – and the floodgates opened. It turns out that the Luke family was very active in the Harvard Street Methodist Episcopal Church in Cambridge, and this bit of info got me focused back on the Luke family, with great success.

I was able to find James Luke’s “Alien Registration,” in which he declares his intention to become a US citizen. Here’s the document, with a transcription:

1826 Alien Registration of James Luke

1826 Alien Registration of James Luke

Dated October 1826, the document reads:

“I, James Luke, being an alien & free white person was born at Birmingham in the County of Warwick & Island of Great Britain. I am thirty one years of age & owe allegiance to his Majesty George 4th, King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Ireland. I migrated from Great Britain on the eleventh day of May in the year 1816 & arrived in the United States to wit, at Boston in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on the tenth day of July of the same year & now reside in Cambridge in the County of Middlesex & Commonwealth aforesaid, which is the place of my intended settlement. And being desirous to become a citizen of the United States & to naturalize I request that registry of this report may be made pursuant to the laws of the United States in such case provided.”

Not only does this document confirm his year and place of birth, but it gave me his immigration date and port of arrival. Gold!  But my next discovery was just as exciting. Searching through a database of old newspapers on I found an 1882 article from the Boston Journal, written about his 86th birthday celebration. The article reads as follows:

Boston Journal, 21 March 1882, page 3

Boston Journal, 21 March 1882, page 3

“An Aged Methodist and His Church

“The figures 1796-1882 displayed upon the walls of the vestry of Harvard Street Methodist Episcopal Church, Cambridgeport, told to a goodly company of the relatives and friends of Mr. James Luke, Saturday evening last, the period of his lengthened life whose birthday anniversary was Sunday.  Some twelve or more months ago it occurred to members of Dr. H.O. Marcy’s bible class to give more than their wonted observance to his birthday – he having then taken rooms on Boylston Street in this city, near to his present residence – and a pleasant reception was tendered him on the occasion in the above-named vestry. Doubtless its remembrance led some who were active in promoting that reception to devise and bring about the Saturday evening tribute to the highly revered gentleman we have named.  Some 200 persons were convened, and at 7:30 o’clock the company was called to order by President Warren of Boston University, and prayer was offered by Rev. W.E. Huntington of Tremont Street M.E. pulpit, formerly of Harvard Street.  Staging and addresses followed until nearly 9 o’clock, when coffee and cake were served. Mayor Houghton presented Mr. Luke, in behalf of the company, a magnificent basket of flowers, upon the handle of which was traced “86 years,” accompanying the gift with a happily conceived speech, to which the guest replied in befitting words. Mr. Samuel Ward had prepared an outline of the rise of Harvard street society, from which it appears that Mr. Luke, whose connection was first with the early Methodists of the North End in this city, while residing at East Cambridge and under the ministry of Rev. George Pickering, in 1833-4, was appointed leader of a class in Old Cambridge, to which is traced the formation of Harvard street society.  Rev. L.P. Frost of Waltham supplied its pulpit in the beginning, and had been invited to be present to give some account of those times, which he did, much to the interest of the hour.  Dr. Marcy, Professor Miles and Rev. A. Noon of Cottage street also spoke, making especial mention of their acquaintance begun at Wilbraham (as was Dr. Warren’s) with Mr. Luke, where he resided a number of years and builded two of its best dwellings – the Principal’s house and his own – enjoying the respect and confidence of the entire community.  Having withdrawn from active business Mr. Luke returned to the vicinity of his children and identified himself with Harvard street some years since.  Some months since he parted the society of his wife upon earth, yet waiting, in possession of his faculties, his time to “join the triumphant host” above.”

What a tribute!  And it was a goldmine for me. In census records, I had found a James Luke living in Wilbraham but thought it couldn’t be him, knowing that he lived in Boston & Cambridge.  This article confirms that it was, indeed, him.

James Luke and his wife Sarah had four children, Elijah, James, Jr., William (my great-great-great-grandfather) and Susan.  Sadly, his wife Sarah died at age 47 when the children ranged in age from 3 to 14.  James married his second wife, Maria, a year later, and she died in 1879 at age 77.  James lived to be 89 years old, passing away in 1885.  James is buried in Cambridge Cemetery with both Sarah and Maria, as well as number of other members of the Luke family, including my great-great-great-grandfather, William Luke.  Many members of the Luke family are also buried right across the street from Cambridge Cemetery in Mt. Auburn Cemetery.

The Court File of Domenico Caldarelli

I finally received the court file in the mail! It primarily contained witness statements and the charging document. The first item of note is Domenico’s statement, which is, unfortunately, lacking in detail. He didn’t have much to say. Apparently it didn’t occur to him that his great-great-granddaughter might be poking around in his business and would really appreciate a little more info.

Domenico's Statement

Domenico’s Statement









The most interesting statement was the affidavit of 13-year-old William Lewis, who saw the entire incident, which happened at 10am on a New York City street. The transcription of the statement is below the photos of the document. Because of his youth, I will excuse the young Mr. Lewis for referring to Domenico as “elderly.” As you can see from Domenico’s statement above, he was 52 years old at the time of the shooting.

Statement of William Lewis, page 1

Statement of William Lewis, page 1

Statement of William Lewis, page 2

Statement of William Lewis, page 2









The statement reads:

City, County and State of New York
William Lewis being duly sworn deposes and says that he resides at #3 Bank St. in said City and that he attends Public School #16 – That on the 3rd day of July 1897 about 10am I was on the north-easterly corner of Abingdon Square and Bank St. when my attention was attracted by a certain elderly Italian crossing from said corner in a westerly direction and directly against a Bleecker St. horse car going south – he the said Italian then crossed behind said car to where another Italian was pushing a hand cart in a southerly direction, east of a music stand in Abingdon Square – he the said Italian afterwards known to me as one Domenico Cardarrelli then placed his hands on said card as though he intended to stop its progress and engage in a loud argument in Italian and threaten to strike the man pushing same, whom I afterwards found to be one Giuseppe Bounocore, now deceased – I watched them thinking that they were going to fight – when I saw the said Cardarrelli deliberately draw a revolving pistol from his hip pocket with his right hand and pointing the same at Bounocore’s head discharge it – the said Bounocore then fell on his face in the street and seemed to be unconscious, when the said Cardarrelli approached on step nearer the fallen man and again pointed the pistol at the back of his head and attempted to discharge it a second time – by this time there were quite a number of men collected who shouted at Cardarrelli, who then held the pistol before him and walked easterly on Bank St. with the men following – and when opposite the area-way of #79 Bank St. throw the pistol down said area.
William Lewis

Sworn to before me this 10th day of November 1897

James Riley
Commissioner of Deeds
New York County

Rounding Out the Story of Domenico Caldarelli

After my last blog post, I turned to the members of the Italian Genealogy group on Facebook to help me decipher the last name of the man that Domenico Caldarelli killed. One woman was able to find the following two articles and after a little more research, I believe that the victim’s name was Giuseppe Buoncuore (although it’s spelled differently everywhere I see it). I’m so grateful to the woman who found these two articles, because they really paint quite a picture of what happened.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 3 July 1897

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 3 July 1897

The New York Times, 13 July 1897

The New York Times, 13 July 1897








These articles really beg the question, what was the “quarrel over a woman” all about? Why would Domenico want to go into court and plead guilty to first degree murder? Was Domenico trying to keep this guy away from his wife, Maria, or was something else going on? Well, I just found the answer!

Eli and I are on a train home from New York, and I got out my iPad to do a little more digging. Incredibly, I just found a third newspaper article (from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, of all places), that confirms my suspicions. Giuseppe was in love with Domenico’s wife!

The Patriot, Harrisburg PA, 5 July 1897

The Patriot, Harrisburg PA, 5 July 1897






And on his death bed, he also claimed that Maria loved him. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to determine whether or not that was true, but naturally there’s more research to do!

I can’t wait to review the actual court file, which I’ve requested and which should be transferred to the NYC Municipal Archives at the end of the week. And given that these 3 articles exist, I have to believe that there may be more. On my return trip to New York, I’ll need to go to the public library to review the old newspapers more carefully. Now that I know the dates of the shooting, Giuseppe’s death, and the court proceedings, my newspaper research will be a lot more focused. And I feel like I need to point out that this shooting happened on July 3, which would become my birthday 67 years later.

And I can’t forget about the old police files, which are not housed at the Municipal Archives. I would love to find some statements by the involved parties, and the ultimate find would be a mugshot or other photo. Next trip!

At the time of the shooting, Domenico and Maria had four children – Gennaro, age 21, Elisabetta (my great-grandmother), age 16, Angela, age 10, and Salvatore, age 8. I’ve been able to track the lives of Elisabetta and Angela (who the family called Giulia for some reason). They both ended up moving to Boston and marrying cousins (Pellegrino Vitale and Raffaele Ferrara). But I have yet to find out about the lives of Gennaro and Salvatore who, I believe, stayed in New York. Tracking them down is definitely on my short list of things to do.

The People vs. Domenico Caldarelli

This week Eli is in New York City on business, so I came up to visit the NYC Municipal Archives. Dad took a train in from Massachusetts and met me here. My great-great-grandfather, Domenico Caldarelli, immigrated from Naples, Italy to New York around 1890. I found him listed in the 1900 census as a prisoner in Sing Sing, so I set out to discover how he ended up there.

Earlier this year I went to the New York State Archives to review the Sing Sing records, and discovered he was sentenced to 10 years for manslaughter. Unfortunately the prison records had no details about the case or the circumstances. I learned that the court records could be found in the Municipal Archives, so I’ve been wanting to get there all year. Well, here I am!

I had to start with records on microfilm – always tedious – but I was able to find Domenico in an index of criminal defendants. This record had some great info that I needed, like the date the complaint was filed against him, the dates of his indictment and arraignment, and the original charge – first degree murder. Using the dates, I was able to find the minutes of two court proceedings which contained the name of the victim. It was handwritten and difficult to read so I’m still trying to decipher it, but it looks like Giuseppe Buoncuo. These records from 1897 are largely handwritten and didn’t translate very well to microfilm, so reading them can be a challenge. I was also disappointed to discover that none of these records contained an account of what happened and how Domenico came to kill this man.

Fortunately, one document also provided a case number, and I learned that I can order the actual paper file. Unfortunately, however, it takes a week for the record to arrive at the archives, and I’m heading home in two days. The woman who was helping me said she would call me when she receives the file. If it’s not too big, I can order copies and have them mailed to me. If it’s large, I’ll have to come back to review it in person. Well, you won’t have to twist my arm too hard to come back up to New York. I mean, a girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do, right?

So I made great progress, but my search for the full story continues. Tomorrow we’re heading back over to Little Italy, where we spent some time yesterday. We found the address where the Caldarelli’s lived on Mulberry Street and I took a photo, but we were there after dark and it was very cold, so we want to go back and get a better look around and some better photos. We also want to visit the address where Domenico was arrested, which is just a block away from their home address. And there’s also an Italian American Museum in the neighborhood that’s only open on weekends, so we’ll have plenty to do on our return trip to Little Italy tomorrow.

Below are the minutes from one of the court proceedings. This was the easiest one to read. The victim’s last name looks like Buoncuo here, but it looks quite different on the other document and when I google the last name I get almost nothing, leading me to believe I’m reading it wrong.

Minutes of court proceeding

Minutes of court proceeding

The Second Family Bible Restoration

Having had the Dickinson Family Bible restored earlier this year (, I was eager to see what Leonard’s Book Restoration could do with the second family bible, which was in much worse condition (although it still had both metal closures, which surprised the restorer). I have been referring to the second bible as the McKenna Family Bible because they were both in the possession of my great-grandmother, Helen (McKenna) Dickinson. However, it’s entirely possible that the second bible came from the DuRoss family (Helen’s mother), or the Luke family (her mother-in-law). Unfortunately, there are no family records (births, marriages or deaths) recorded in the second bible like there are in the Dickinson bible, so I don’t really know. But what a great job the book restorer did!


McKennaBible1 McKennaBible4











And after:

DSC00619 DSC00621

Unfortunately, the records pages are blank.

Unfortunately, the records pages are blank.

McKennaBible1 McKennaBible2

The back of the bible, which has much more detail because it was less exposed over the years.

The back of the bible, which has much more detail because it was less exposed over the years.

A brand new binding.

A brand new binding.