Michael Stiglianese (1889 - 1973) and

Carmela (Pagano) Stiglianese (1897 - 1995)

I don't have a great deal of information on "the early years", so please send photos and help me out with some dates and other info. I'm posting this history as currently understood. If anyone can supply better information and/or photos, I'll be happy to make corrections and additional postings. I think Uncle Mike and/or Nick Mlade have some photos of Pomarico and Carmela's house. The pictures would add a great deal to the narrative below, as might photos of Michele and Carmela's parents.
The current understading is that my grandfather Michele (Michael) Stiglianese was an only child, raised in Pomarico, Italy in the Basilicata Province. This is a small mountain town in the "instep" of the "boot" of Italy, which is not far from an even smaller mountain town of Stigliano, from which our name is presumably derived.

Michele's parents sent him to trade school to become a shoemaker when he was quite young. He did not particularly like this line of work so, at the age of 16 (about 1905) he came to America with a number of his young friends.

I've heard that he spent time in New York City, and worked on the railroad for a while. In 1916, he went to work for the Crane Company and settled in Chicago.

In 1918, at the age of 29, he joined the US Army with several of his friends from Basilicata. Although I always imagined him as a courageous doughboy in the trenches of western Europe, his English was apparently not good enough for such an assignment, so he spent the war as a cook's assistant in California.

After the war he found that, since he did not serve in the Italian army, he was considered a deserter. In 1920, he had to return to Italy and appear in court, in Naples, presenting documentaton showing that he served in the US Army, in order to clear his name. Since Naples is less than 100 miles from Pomarico, he went home for a visit.

While he was home, he told his mother that he would like to marry an Italian girl, because American girls were "too wild". His mother knew that Pagano, the baker, had daughters around the right age. Mrs. Pagano and her daughters had a small embroidery and crochet shop, so she suggested he stop by there sometime.

He took her suggestion and met Carmela at the shop. Telling her he was from America and was looking for a scarf for his mother, she became suspicious, thinking "If he comes from America, why does he want to give his mother a scarf from here. Wouldn't a gift from America be more appropriate?"

Basilicata Society

5 young men from Basilicata Province who served in the US Army during WW I

Leonardo Ferrarra
Andrea Lagioia
Michele Stiglianese
Giuseppe Tramutolo
Nicola Zucchero
Current family legend doesn't say how long it took, or what transpired in the interim, but some time later he spoke to Signore Pagano about his daughter. They were married in April, 1921 and returned to America later that year. At that time, Carmela automatically became a U.S. citizen, because her husband was already a citizen.
There were no immigration quotas until 1922, but it was evident that laws of that nature were being passed. Later in 1921, Michele and Carmela sponsored Carmela's sister, Giuditta, to come to the U.S. The following account was written by Giuditta's youngest daughter, Camille, some years ago. I have retyped her account below, for the benefit of those in the family who have not yet seen it.
Camille's account as related by her mother, Judith (Giuditta), and aunt, Carmela
In 1897 and 1899 repectively, my aunt, Carmela and my mother, Giuditta (Judith) were born in the village of Pomarico in the province of Basilicata, which is located at the point where the instep and heel of the boot of Italy meet. Their parents were Cataldo and Caterina Pagano. There were two older brothers and one younger brother plus two younger sisters.

As Carmela was the eldest daughter it was the custom that she should marry first and each female child in turn would marry according to their age afterward. My uncle, Michele Stiglianese, had emigrated to the United States, but returned to his hometown to find a wife. He arrived in early March of 1920 and immediately noticed the two young ladies at the Pagano house. After asking neighbors about them, he had to decide how to meet them. a mutual friend of the family suggested that he patronize the little dry goods shop the sisters operated in a small room of their house. My aunt waited on him and he told her that he had come from the United States and wanted to buy a little gift for this mother. In telling the story, my aunt Carmela, is very funny. She said she became very annoyed at him because he couldn't make up his mind as to what to buy and had her show him everything in the shop and finally settled on a scarf. She said she kept thinking why hadn't he brought something from America for his mother.

The next day Michele had the mutual family friend speak to the strict "Papa" and ask if it would be all right for Michele to call on Signore Pagano's daughter. Papa first asked Carmela if she approved and the okay was given for the visit. Of course, Carmela now knew that Michele was interested in marriage, because young men only called if they were seriously considering marriage. There had been other suitors who serenaded the young women in the evenings with guitars and mandolins under their window. However, the women weren't allowed to show themselves and hid behind the curtains to watch.

Michele came with gifts for the family and visited with Carmela with the family present. Each time he came to call the family would be present and if he wanted to take her for a stroll, Papa also came. The young couple really did not have an opportunity to speak privately. On that first visit Michele asked for permission to wed Carmela and it was given. Arrangements were made for Michele's parents to come for dinner and meet Papa and talk about the wedding plans. Carmela's mother had died at the age of 39, so everything was left up to Papa.

Carmela and Giuditta made homemade pasta and cooked the sauce and prepared the dinner for the prospective in-laws. It was decided that the wedding should take place as soon as possible because Michele had not served in the Italian army, but the American army during World War I and was, therefore considered a deserter by the Italian government.

Carmela and Giuditta had made a pact that wherever Carmela would go, Giuditta would go, too. So Michele had to promise to send for Giuditta after the wedding. Michele gave Carmela the money to buy the fabric with which she sewed her own wedding dress. they went to Naples to buy the material, chaperoned by Carmela's great aunt. In Naples, Michele had to try to get the red tape cut with the Italian government and the American consulate in order to return to the U.S. with a wife, and arrange for Giuditta to follow them.

The wedding took place in early April [1921]. Carmela and Giuditta rose early and prepared dinner for the family, Michele, and Michele's parents. After dinner, Carmela dressed for the wedding. They walked to the church and were married with two witnesses. About a week before the church ceremony, there had been a civil ceremony in the townhall. After the nuptuals, close friends and relatives met at the Pagano house for liquer and pastries.

The wedding night was spent at the home of a friend of the Pagano's. This woman had a large house with many rooms and she allowed the newly-weds to stay at no charge.

Papa had given the couple 1,000 Lire for a wedding present and Carmela had embroidered the bed linens which she took with her to the U.S. She had worked on these linens since she was a little girl, crocheting the lace and doing cut-out work on them. She also sewed the dresses she took with her in her trousseau.

The couple left immediately for Naples and stayed with Carmela's married brother until their ship sailed for New York. Once in New York, they visited other relatives of Carmela, and then went on to Chicago, where they settled down.

By late October [1921] Giuditta arrived in Chicago, very homesick. Papa had instructed her to obey Michele as if he were her father, and he had also instructed Michele to be surrogate father to Giuditta for him. Michele took these instructions seriously.

Michele had a cousin, Vincenzo, who lived in Richmond, California, and he wrote to Vincenzo when he returned from Italy, letting him know about his marriage. He jokingly told Vincenzo "Aren't you sorry that you didn't come with me because Carmela has a sister and we could have made it a double wedding. Just think, we could have been brothers-in-law."

Vincenzo replied promptly and told him, "We can still become brothers-in-law in Chicago, since Carmela's sister is there with you." So Vincenzo came to Chicago to meet Giuditta and once again the courtship was the same in that wherever the young couple went, her sister and brother-in-law came, too.

Vincenzo gave Giuditta money with which to buy her wedding dress and she and Carmela shopped for it together. They also arranged for a large reception. On December 3, 1923, Vincenzo Pizzillo and Giuditta Pagano were married at Guardian Angel Church on Vorquer Street in Chicago. There were four bridesmaids and four groomsmen. The bridesmaids carried huge bouquets of mums and the bride carried a huge bouquet of white roses. Her dress was short in the flapper style, but the veil had a long train.

The reception was held in a large hall in the area (my mother cannot remember exactly where, she thinks it was around Halsted and Taylor). There were many guests, perhaps 100 to 200, at the reception where only beer was served with beef sandwiches and peanuts. (The so-called peanut wedding.)

Vincenzo and Giuditta had rented a four room apartment near Michele's and Carmela's house. Vincenzo had given Giuditta money to furnish it with, plus for all the linens. Giuditta had not been able to bring all the linens she had made in Italy when she emigrated to America, and all she had was one set of sheets that she had embroidered and crocheted with lace.

During the reception, four of their close friends somehow got hold of an extra key to the apartment, and when the newly-weds arrived there, they were cooking spaghetti in their apartment. They refused to leave and said they intended to stay all night. Naturally, they were joking, but they kept it up for some time, commenting on how well a new stove cooks.

There was no honeymoon trip for Vincenzo and Giuditta. Sadly, Vincenzo became ill with tuberculosis after being married only four years, and died two years later, leaving Giuditta a young widow of thirty, with two small children. All this was during the [Great] Depression years and Giuditta was having a very hard time. She re-married about one year later to give her children security. This was my father, Frank Fiorito. Three more children were born from this marriage, the youngest is me.

Note that there are small differences in the historical accounts due, no doubt, to recollections of different storytellers and different times at which the stories were told.
Pomarico Pix