Long-Separated Italian Family Reconnects to Find Their Ancestors

Contributed By Barbara Oliver McHenry, Church News contributor

  • 17 January 2018

Article Highlights

  • In 1902, Salvatore Oliverio worked hard for his family to join him in Utah.
  • Salvatore’s grandchildren reconnected over Facebook after losing contact for many years.
  • Several cousins traveled to Italy to meet relatives and find information for family temple work.

My grandfather, Salvatore Oliverio, emigrated from Italy to the United States in 1902, leaving behind his wife, Vittoria, and 3-year-old daughter, Catterina.

Vittoria was pregnant at the time with my father, Pasquale. Upon Salvatore’s arrival in New York, he Anglicized his name to Sam Oliver and departed for Castle Gate, Utah, where he joined three of his brothers-in-law working in the coal mines.

In 1903 there was a strike against the coal company, and Sam, along with many other strikers, was arrested and temporarily jailed in cattle pens next to the railroad tracks. Security was not too tight, and after about two weeks of incarceration, he and another worker “escaped” and walked along the tracks about 30 miles to Soldier Summit, where they hitched a ride on a freight train into Salt Lake City.

He stayed in Salt Lake with another brother-in-law and found employment with the railroad at $1.15 per day for a 10-hour day. He gradually advanced in responsibility and pay until he had finally earned enough money to send for his wife and two children, who joined him in Utah in June of 1906.

Losing touch

Grandpa died in 1979 at age 101. He had an older brother, Giovanni, who remained in San Giovanni in Fiore, Italy, until his death in 1932, and a younger sister, Maria Rosa, who emigrated, married, and lived in West Virginia until her death in 1948.

Grandpa exchanged correspondence with Giovanni's daughter, Vittoria (named after my grandma) before she died, but we lost contact after that. My cousin, Jim Oliver, made two trips to San Giovanni in Fiore trying to locate some of our relatives, but he struck out both times.

Making contact

Part of the problem was the language barrier. In places like Rome and Naples, English-speaking Italians are plentiful.

But in San Giovanni in Fiore, far down the peninsula, they are few and far between. So when another cousin, Lisa Oliver Pusey, was planning to go there this November, she advertised on Facebook for an English-speaking tour guide.

A respondent asked Lisa how she could help her, and Lisa told her a little about our grandpa, Salvatore Oliverio. The tour guide exclaimed, “Mama mia! You are my family!”

Discovering family

The voice was that of Antonella Prosperoti, Grandpa’s brother Giovanni’s granddaughter, and our cousin. Lisa, her husband, Lorin, and Cousin Jim who joined them there spent four wonderful days in San Giovanni getting acquainted with about 100 relatives and gathering information on deceased family members to take names to the temple.

—Barbara Oliver McHenry is a member of the Heritage Ward, Murray Utah West Stake.