Friday, October 9, 2009

Dead End: Italian Harlem

Over the last several decades , there has been a growing interest in matters pertaining to Genealogy which from the earliest of times, has formed the basis of true history. That natural instinct which prompts one to love the place of his or her birth, to know the history of the origin and descent of a family or race, and the circumstances in the lives of our progenitors is attracting the attention of the intellectual public, in their never ending pursuit for answers.

History reveals the story of man's past and the progressive development of human society. The human evidence of how man had a determined influence upon history , is found in their expressions of thought, art, culture and politics. History depends on human evidence, not only in annals and chronicles , but in all sorts of forms (monuments, buildings, artifacts, business papers, newspapers, laws, traditions, vital statistics, literature expressing man's philosophy, science and religion.) In the ancient records of the great nations and peoples of the past, preservation of lineages occupied an important place . All historical evidence can be extremely helpful in shedding light upon man's civilization and deeds.

As for the dedicated premature-gray genealogist researcher, in their never ending pursuit, the chase of the Elusive Ancestor has become easier, thanks to the use of the personal computer and benefits that have been provided through the internet. Vital records information is now available to the public through designated websites. These can at times be accessed for free, or at a reasonable monthly fee. Some major websites such as will provide a larger area of information on a yearly subscription. "Mega-databases, like those at, allow users to perform nationwide and even worldwide searches for their ancestors by performing a Global Search, which may turn up ancestors in unexpected locations."

Trying to keep up with elusive ancestors is like being in a marathon. Just when we think we have caught up with them, they would suddenly bolt like a rabbit and start running again, disappearing without leaving a trail of dust behind, for us to continue sniffing.

Papa was my elusive ancestor. I spent many weeks and months with micro-fiches and micro-films at the local Family History Center, searching and scrutinizing every single entry, hoping that I didn't miss anything vital that would lead to papa and his whereabouts. He was such a mystery to all of us, and since he died when I was very young, genealogy was the furthest thing from a child's mind. Mama who was Papa's third wife, didn't help matters, by throwing away all his belongings and papers after he died. Even as an adult, it didn't enter my mind to pursue my father's past until years later after mama's death. I was angry with myself for never questioning mama or any of my relatives that knew papa before he died.Now they are all deceased, and the dead can't talk.

When you are chasing elusive ancestors, there shouldn't be any stone left unturned. One must be open to all possibilities of finding skeletons in the closets or scandals pushed under the rug by family members or relatives. I thought this might have been the case with papa.

Papa was a great storyteller, according to my brothers, who were older than I was. He used to talk about the old neighborhood and claimed that he knew who the local hoods were that hung out on 111th street near First avenue, in Italian Harlem . He named them one by one, such as Joey Rubbernose, (I think he was the boss) then there was Bennie the Greaser, who was the loan shark, Freddie the Stiff, who was the enforcer (He was the one that broke your legs or arms if you didn't pay up) and Owl-eyes Louie, the policy runner. Hmmmmm, I didn't know if this was made up, or maybe papa was really involved with the mob? I know he loved to play the numbers. Mama said papa was a regular visitor at Mr. Morris, who was the local bookie. He was the one that had a storefront in my building in the old neighborhood. Since he was not truthful in other areas, I swallowed my pride and began to check to see if there was any kind of a criminal record on Papa. The Department of Corrections couldn't help me, their database did not go back that far. I even contacted the F.B.I. under the Freedom of Information Act and nothing came back on him. Whew!, what a relief. Papa was what he was a furniture refinisher. Since papa was squeaky clean , I said to myself that I should quit while I was ahead. Not wanting to continue pursuing this area, I gladly ended my search. :-)

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1 comment:

Kopalocko said...

Your blog, dead end, Italian Harlem is GREAT! Born in east harlem and raised in Pelham Bay, the Bronx, I grew up surrounded by my fair share of rubbernoses, fingers and stiffs. For sure, it is a time gone by, but your writing brings back the memories. More, more!!!!