Book Review: Celebrating the Heritage by Mario Toglia

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Published by Xlibris on Dec. 4, 2015.

Submitted by Michael S. Genovese,
Italian Genealogical Group, Bethpage, NY

Who would think that natives of New York City, used to the urban conveniences of mass transportation, glittering Broadway theaters, and large multi-storied department stores, would one day want to retire to the cozy small town life in Dunmore, PA. But such is mentioned in the first article for the Pennsylvania chapter of Mario Toglia’s latest book on Calitrani immigrants to America.

Mario Toglia, member of both the Italian Genealogical Group and the Italian American Studies Association, has combined family sagas and ancestral history in his third tome, Celebrating The Heritage (Xlibris Publications).

With some 120 articles, one story by sisters Joanne Cutito and Donna Wagner entitled “Destination Dunmore” recounts the girls’ yearly childhood summer pilgrimages to their father Michael Martinelli’s birthplace.  They describe Dunmore as that place “filled with close, loving Italian  relatives waiting to spoil us.”  

Donato Martinelli pic

Donato Martinelli poses with his family in this 1908 portrait taken in Dunmore. With him are his wife Antonia Rubino, whom he married in his native Calitri in 1896 and his children Grazia (later Helen), Michael and Michela (later Margaret).

Italian relatives included their aunts Helen Margotta and Maggie Rubino and Grampa Donato Martinelli. In fact, a story on their grandfather’s thoughtfulness of  his neighbors on Spring Street is given in a following story. “Grampa’s Gate to Heaven” recounts how Donato installed a gate in his backyard so his friends from Spring Street would have easy  access across his property to a church on Chestnut Street, rather than having to walk up the hill to the next street.

It is these nostalgic recollections of Dunmore,“a warm, inviting and welcoming community that made William Fischetti compare his growing years in this coal-mining town to those spent in Hartford after his move to Connecticut. Living in a New England urban area he states” lacked the cluster effect that prevailed in Dunmore.” Indeed, the many gatherings and activities of Calitrani families are chronicled throughout Mr. Toglia’s book.

This book is jam-packed with beautifully written stories by a variety of descendents that recall their relatives arrival from Calitri and their early years adjusting to life in America. The family sagas are collected not just from Pennsylvania, but from Calitrani colonies in New York, New Jersey,  Connecticut, Massachusetts, Washington DC, and other areas as well.

In addition there is a section dedicated to stories told by Calitrani descendents who made a pilgrimage to their family’s origins.

The book is filled with a plethora of family photographs with accompanying citations and descriptions identifying and explaining each photograph. These photos and their accompanying commentaries alone are invaluable to the reader. There are copies of actual family documents and resources including “Calitrani Marriages in Lackawanna County Records from the late 1890s through the 1920s,” as well as an “Index to Marriages in Calitri from 1884-1904” and a “Family Search Index.”

An added bonus packed into this 655-page book is information on the 1905 incorporation of the “Calitrani Italian Mutual Benefit, Society of Dunmore, PA” and “The Brotherhood of Calitrani” from the Kings County, NY founded in 1907. There are also selected names of immigrants who were naturalized from  the U.S. Court for the District of New Jersey as well as from the U.S. Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.  An easy-to-use “Name index” in the back of the book  is a welcome feature for anyone seeking to find the name of a relative cited in any of the contained sagas.

The storytelling section of the book ends with a terrific finale. It is entitled, “Consider Us Non-Existent,” written by the author himself. This gem of a tale is a letter of 1953 in which a member of Dunmore’s Calitrani community was acknowledging their “own inevitable demise.”  Not so, says Mr. Toglia, because of the Internet connecting those who still remember.

“Even though the original Calitrani immigrant colonies are ‘non-existent,’ thanks to the new technology, their stories and their accomplishments have been resurrected to exist for all time.”

The contents of this book give evidence that those who still remember have connected and, thanks to Mario Toglia, these stories are now available forever.

I highly recommend the reading of this book not only for those whose ancestors were from Calitri, but for anyone of Italian descent, or for that matter for anyone who is interested in writing about their family’s origin and making sure that their family’s sagas are not forgotten.

Note: I was so inspired by Mr. Toglia’s book, that being a descendent of grandparents who immigrated from Avigliano, Italy, I want to connect with anyone of Aviglianesi descent living in Dunmore. I am hoping they will share their ancestral stories as well. My e-mail address is mikegino@aol.com

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