Another installment in finding the hidden genealogy treasures:
Italian-American Cultural Center of Iowa
1961 Indianola Avenue
Des Moines, IA 50315
The Valerie Lacona Genealogy Branch
Kathy Faggia at firstname.lastname@example.org
Susan DeFazio at DeFazio@iaccofia.org
We’ve driven by it hundreds of times, but hadn’t put two and two together! For many years Indianola Avenue was our daily route to work each day.
One evening I attended the Italian-American Interest Group meeting at the Iowa Genealogy Society to learn. Learn I did! I met Kathy Foggia and Susan DeFazio, both very friendly and knowledgeable. I learned that many of the Italians in Iowa today are only a couple generations descended from the immigrant, so the heritage customs are still very much alive. The majority of Italians came to Iowa from 1900 to 1920 and many of them came to work in the mines (usually coal mines, but in the Fort Dodge area gypsum was mined) or on the railroads. A newspaper was printed by Anthony “Tony” L. Sarcone in Des Moines from 1922 to 1972, first in Italian, but later transitioned to English, as the community learned the new language. First known as Il Risveglio (The Awakening), he changed the name to the American Citizen in 1925. The cultural center has the entire run of newspaper on CD and it has been indexed. While the CD and index are not available to the public, the library contacts are enthusiastic researchers and want to help everyone. They were also excited to tell me about the 35 video interviews of Italian immigrants preserving the stories, thus remembering the heritage.
Since that meeting I have visited the website several times and from the article “Iowa’s Christopher Columbus Monument” I concluded that probably the primary Italian settlements in Iowa were: Albia, Centerville, Council Bluffs, Davenport, Des Moines, Fort Dodge, Granger, Madrid, Mason City, Mystic, Oelwein, Sioux City, and Waukee. Of these, the Italian population of Des Moines, Council Bluffs and Oelwein are the most significant. Many of these communities have annual celebrations honoring their Italian heritage. Within a generation of their arrival, the people began to start their own businesses. Often these were shoe repair, produce vendors, tailors and eventually they began introducing Italian food in groceries and restaurants to people outside the Italian community.
That initial meeting prompted my visit to the cultural center, and meeting Patricia Civitate. She was delightful and she enjoyed sharing stories of the people in Des Moines, the struggles and the triumphs. She told me that the general consensus regarding language among the immigrants was, “we live in America now, we learn English.” Her mother-in-law only had a third-grade education in Italy, but insisted on going to school to learn English once in America. English was the language in many of the homes. Only when the older folks gathered did they speak Italian.
The cultural center library also has baptismal records from St. Anthony’s parish, an early Italian parish, Italian family trees, information on local Italian fraternal organizations, local restaurants, and other businesses run by Italian Americans. The center also has a collection of family histories and a large number of photographs (weddings businesses, fraternal organizations). Awesome!
My research has also lead me to The American Citizen, a newspaper published in Omaha, Nebraska, 1923 to 1985 for the Italian immigrant population in Nebraska and Western Iowa. It is available at the Nebraska State Historical Society. A listing of obituaries in that newspaper is found at http://nmancuso.blogspot.com.
Other valuable resources for Italian-American research are:
Calvitto, Celeste. Searching for Italy in America’s Rural Heartland, New York: Vantage Press, 2007. A section on Oelwein Italian Americans.
Shaw, Thomas M. Oelwein’s Italian Neighborhoods: Italian-Americans of Oelwein, Iowa, 1901 to the Present. Thesis (M.A.) University of Northern Iowa, 1978.
Schwieder, Dorothy. Black Diamonds – Life and work in Iowa’s Coal Mining Communities, 1895-1925. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1983. This is the story of mining in Iowa with a section on Italians.
Writers’ Program, (U.S.). Nebraska. The Italians of Omaha. New York: Arno Press, 1975 [@1941].
I had a list of questions for Kathy and Susan and they found answers! A huge thank you to Kathy, Susan and Patricia for educating me!