Italian Immigration to America in the 1850s
Tracing Immigration and Migration
Tracing one's ancestors can be easy or it can be quite a chore, depending upon the quality of record keeping associated with the locations in which one's family members have lived.
Here is an example. I've traced some of my ancestors from a small cluster of distant "cousins" of the royal-stuart clan, their name being Tyrell, or Tirell or other variations. The descendants have a special club and web page to join. They were very distantly related to the Stuarts that make up the Royal Family in England; therefore, I am permitted to wear a small pin or dagger with the Stuart crest if I should choose to obtain a full Scottish kit (kilt and accessories). However, "Inglish" means "an Englander living abroad" or in my poetic opinion -- a stranger in a strange land .
The particular family called "English" (there are several) split, and a portion moved to Ireland, others to Scotland, others retaining the original spelling and staying in England. A great-great grandfather went to London and shipped out to America with at least one of his brothers in the early 1800s in order to make a better living. They progressed through the Eastern US to Ohio and some traveled onward, possibly all the way through to California, possibly working on America's new railroads. Others in my father's mother's family line came to North America in the earlier 1700s, or possibly before.
However, my mother's family turns up a couple of birth certificates and many dead ends. I don't know what country was their origin, although it appears to be English moving through Germany and France to America, specifically WVa and Ohio, and Native Americans, specifically Mohawk Nation. My maternal grandfather was French and Mohawk, but his records are elusive. A relative likely translated languages at the historical Battle of Fort Pitt.
Documentation on Italians
With the Italians, family tracing could be easier, because Italian immigrants often stayed together when they came to America, as you will read further on. I've included links to records of families, military records, etc. for you to use. However, free access to records avaiable only to members with a paid membership, such as those at Ancestor.Com are available at :
- Public Libaries
- University and College Libraries
- State Libraries
- The Library of Congress
Other records are open to the public at:
- Church of Latter Days Saints Family Histories - in many US States
- County Historical Societies
Another good source are the Vital Statistics Departments of the state and local governments/heralth departments where your relatives have resided, along with the local Catholic Church records, given the large number of Italians that have been Catholic.
Much success to you in your searching!
Immigration in 1850's America
From 1850 to 1930 in particular, many of the Italians who came to America settled on the US East Coast.
Here, they opened stores and restaurants that featured foods from home, often in neighborhoods called "Little Italy", comparable to the various "Chinatowns" in the US.
Catholic records of Italian Immigrants in America
Between 1821 and 1850 the Italian immigration into the United States amounted to 4531.
Total Immigration Figures by Decade
- 1851-1860: 9,231 (Italian immigrants)
- 1861-1870: 11,728
- 1871-1880: 55,759
- 1881-1890: 307,309
- 1891-1900: 651,899
- 1901-1908: 1,647,102; total for all decades: 2,743,059
A Further Breakdown
- 1831-1870: 25,082 (Italian immigrants)
- 1870-1880: 55,759
- 1880-1890: 307,309
- 1890: 52,093
- 1891: 76,055
(This information is furnished by www.NewAdvent.com)
Although many Italians returned to Italy, some of their American-born children remained in America and were also considered Italian. The number of Italians in the US in January 1910 was roughly 2,250,000.
The US was the largest recipient of Italian immigrants globally and in1850, about 4,000 Italians were reported in America. However, by 1880 some reports had the population skyrocketing to 44,000.
By 1900 there may have been as many as half a million Italians here, depending upon whether first-generation people were counted as immigrants (some were in certain locations).
Characteristics of Italian Immigrants
Italian immigrants actually represented specific regional/ethnic and job titles. These immigrants also came from specific regions of Italy and worked in specific fields and job titles in the home country. They brought their skills with them and stuck to the same occupations overall in America.
Italian business owners and workers moved to large metropolitan areas in the US where there were high-demand markets and adequate labor pools that needed additional workers. They settled in New York City successfully. More than half of the Italians from Molise and Abruzzo (working-class regions) took their usual jobs in construction and excavation and related industries in Pennsylvania.
Most of the Italians that came to America had lived in rural Italy, but in moving to the US, they located in the big cities. Most went to the biggest cities in the Northeast US, because they did not have enough money to travel westward. They stayed around where the passenger ships droipped them off at Ellis Island. Thus, many settled in New York City, large cities in New Jersey and in Pennsylvania.
Most Italians settled with other people from Italy and even from their own native villages, so friends/relatives could help with housing and food. These cohesive settlements were called "Little Italies." This explains the high concentration of Italians in certain parts of the US, while there are few in other parts.
It appears that Sicilians moved to New Orleans, the Neapolitans and Calabrians to Minnesota, and northern Italians to California.
However, most Italians settled in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore.
So, relatives that came over from Naples may have settled in Minnesota. That could be a good place to look for records.
Researching Italian Surnames
For Italian surnames, you may find and order a Coat of Arms for the name from:
- Via Santa Maria dell'Anima 16
- 00186 Rome, Italy
- Ellis Island - FREE Port of New York Passenger Records Search
- Immigration Museum - The Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island
In The Great Hall, visit the "Journeys: The Peopling of America 1550-1890" exhibit, which tells the story of immigration prior to Ellis's opening in 1892, and see The American Immigrant Wall of Honor.
- Italian Surnames to America 1850-1930
Italian immigrant surnames from passenger lists. 1850 to 1930 is significant because this was a peak period for Italian to come to the United States. 17 million immigrants had their first contact with the United States on Ellis Island. Many other rec
- University of Minnestoa
Italian American studies department features specialized infomration. Many records are involved in this course and ongoing research.
Some Famous Italians in the 1850s
- Pellegrino Artusi - Gourmet writer, b, 1820, who made Italian Cuisine famous.
- Ernesto Basile - Architect, b. 1854
- Enrico Bernardi - Engineer
- Nicola Bettoli - Architect, d. 1854.
- Luigi Canina - Archaeologist, d. 1856.
- Giosuè Carducci - Won A Nobel Prize for Literature.
- Antonio Corazzi - Architect
- Eleonora Duse - A famous actress known for versatility.
- Ruggero Leoncavallo - Composer of Pagliacci.
- Enrico Mazzanti - Cartoonist and engineer.
- Luigi Negrelli - Planned and designed the Suez Canal.
- Gioachino Rossini, "The Italian Mozart"
- Giuseppe Verdi - Most prominent composer of operas in teh century.
Famous Italians in TV cartoons: His Dog Elroy... "The Jetsons" by Hanna/Barbera (Italian)
Italians introduced America to certain types of pizza and pasta that many people love. Then there is opera.
The Metropolitan Opera rose to become one of the best opera companies globally under its manager, Giulio Gatti-Casazza (1869-1940) who brought singers Enrico Caruso, Rosa Ponselle, Amelita Galli-Curci, Beniamino Gigli, and Ezio Pinza and conductor Arturo Toscanini. Gatti-Casazzi managed the Met from 1908 to 1935. In modern times, we had Pavarotti.
- Hollywood's first "Latin Lover" was Rudolph Valentino.
- Frank Sinatra was known as "The Voice".
- The legendary Carmine and Francis Ford Coppola included four Oscars in 1975 for The Godfather, Part II. Nicholas Cage is Francis's nephew.
- Sylvester Stallone, Jimmy Durante, Frank Capra, and Joseph Barbera (Tom and Jerry, Yogi Bear, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, and other cartoons), are all Italian or Italian creations.
And of course the Food Network: Rachel Ray, Giada DeLaurentis, Iron Chef Mario Batali and others.
From the pizza, pasta, bread shops and cottage industries in Little Italy circa 1850, Italian and Italian Americans have become famous singers, writers, poets and artists, as well as top business people in the 21st century.
The last member of the Captain Kangaroo TV show cast died at age 86 in 2013. Mr. Cosmo Allegretti played the part of the popular Dancing Bear and acted as a puppeteer for many other of the characters, including Grandfather Clock.
Give me your tired, your poor...— The New Colossus
Emma Lazarus: The New Colossus
Emma Lazarus was a secular Jew with Spanish ancestry when she promoted America to the fullest for immigration and opportunity to all nations, not only to Italy or Spain or Israel.
In her home of New York City, she had the opportunities of learning music and several languages in childhood, as well as gaining skills that led her to an early mastery of music, writing, and translation (including Hebrew).
As an elementary school first grader, I learned the words of the Lazarus sonnet The New Colossus as a song. We sang it, all six grades together, at holiday assemblies and for visiting dignitaries. In addition, it was always presented by our capital-city's youth choir in annual music festivals each spring, the words of Liberty herself particularly moving:
- "Give me your tired, your poor.
- The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
- Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
- Send these, your homeless, tempest-tost to me,
- I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
We sang these words in elementary school. The poem that stands with our Statue of Liberty, the Colossus of Rhodes' counterpart in the New World.
The Colossus guarded an ancient Grecian waterway, while Lady Liberty stands watch at our gateway and welcomes the stranger home.
This land still deserves the tribute that Emma Lazarus provided in her poetry.
The New Colossus has on its plaque the Hebrew mezuzah that protects and blesses the entrance into the House of America with sacred texts.
Emma Lazarus was the poet evangelist of America and Liberty as a refuge to the world. Millions of Italian immigrants agreed with her.
Questions & Answers
© 2007 Patty Inglish MS