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Italian Immigration to America in the 1850s

Ms. Inglish has 30 years experience in medicine, psychology, STEM instruction, history, and aerospace education for USAF Civil Air Patrol.

Venice, Italy

Venice, Italy

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, Tirell, or other variations. The descendants have a special club and webpage 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 to make a better living. They progressed through the Eastern US to Ohio, some traveled onward, possibly through California and possibly working on America's new railroads. Others in my father's mother's family line came to North America in the early 1700s or possibly before.

Little Italy in San Diego. Immigration spread coast to coast.

Little Italy in San Diego. Immigration spread coast to coast.

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 West Virginia 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 available only to members with a paid membership, such as those at are available at :

  • Public Libraries
  • 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 is the Vital Statistics Departments of the state and local governments/health 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 search!

A WWI Era Italian immigrant makes her American breakfast with ESL lessons from the YMCA circa 1918.

A WWI Era Italian immigrant makes her American breakfast with ESL lessons from the YMCA circa 1918.

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 U.S.

Catholic Records of Italian Immigrants in America

Between 1821 and 1850, Italian immigration into the U.S.A. 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

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.

Selling good breads on the street corner.

Selling good breads on the street corner.

Researching Italian Surnames

For Italian surnames, you may find and order a Coat of Arms for the name from:

Collegio Araldico

  • Via Santa Maria dell'Anima 16
  • 00186 Rome, Italy
  • 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.
Italian Language Groups

Italian Language Groups

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)

Italian Innovations

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.

Italian Hollywood

  • 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

(public domain)

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.


  • Historical data from
  • United States Census Bureau

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2007 Patty Inglish MS

Comments and Experiences

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on August 31, 2015:

Thanks so much for the additional information. It was a joy to read your contribution! I'll read any Hub you write about it.

Mike Russo from Placentia California on August 31, 2015:

My wife and I are both first generations Italians. My father comes from the province of Puliga and my mother comes from Alta Muran. My wife's mother comes from Puliga and my Wife's father comes from Bari. Our families emigrated to Los Angeles in the 1920's. My grandfather on my dad's side came early and worked in the LA Brickyard, which is now Dodger Stadium. My dad came a little later, he was 14 when he arrived here to work in the brickyard as well. After my dad was settled with his aunt and uncle, my grandfather went back to Italy and never returned to the U.S. Gosh, I could go on forever about this. I could write a hub about this, I didn't realize that until just now. Anyway, you left out one very important Italian in America. His name was Amadeo Giannini. He founded the Bank of Italy in San Francisco, which latter became the Bank of America. Great hub, thanks for writing it. It truly has given me inspiration to write a hub about our family history.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on November 06, 2013:

Lorenzo - You appear incorrect. We are not speaking of 2010 era numbers of Italian descent. We are speaking of actual immigrartion:

*Italian Immigrants from 1800s to 1920*:

USA: 2.74 million

Argentina: 2.3 million

Brazil: Between 1.4 to 1.8 million

Lorenzo on November 06, 2013:

''USA received the greatest part of italian immigrants''...that's false, Brazil and Argentina received the greater numbers of italian expatriates.

Italian-brazilians are nearly 30 million people and italian-argentines are 60% of the total population.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on January 18, 2013:

Thanks! I will certainly check it out!

AlexDrinkH2O from Southern New England, USA on January 18, 2013:

Thank you! My ancestors settled in Massachusetts and (especially) Rhode Island - if you ever come to Providence, check out our own "Little Italy" on Federal Hill. Voted up and shared.

felic on December 09, 2011:

that's pretty cool man:)

russian on December 07, 2011:

russia is better. we have polar bears there. so owned

Philippinewander on November 10, 2011:

Don't let the username fool you! I am a second generation Italian, Ricci, is my surname. I love all the information made available here, grazie, molto grazie.

Oh the username...I lived in the Philippines for approximately five years

francisid on August 03, 2011:

people rarely have the ability to appreciate what they got.i envy americans for having so many culture right before their eyes..there isn't a need for books anymore to study them!

great hub!

htodd from United States on May 01, 2011:

Thanks and Great post

stars439 from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State. on March 22, 2011:

Wonderful Hub. GBY

United States Immigration on March 18, 2011:

This is great info. Everybody can learn from this. Thank you so much Patty.

Natalie on January 25, 2011:

was goood

Hannah on December 20, 2010:

Hey! Im doing an essay of Italian immigration and this was perfect for helping to find info! Thanks so much(:

toneyahuja from India on November 04, 2010:

great information on Italian immigration to America 1850's. I am finding immigration laws and procedure for NZ immigration.

Sewing-Embroidery on September 05, 2010:

This is so interesting. I'm doing rather the opposite. My family has been in America for generations. But I've been living in Italy for the past 12 years. I love Italy -- the people are so warm and friendly, the art and handicrafts, history, and of course ... the food!

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on July 21, 2009:

Thanks for the comments, Everyone! I particularly love the old photos, too.

Fran Madden on July 21, 2009:

Thanks for the photos. I'm always drawn to vintage photographs, especially with urban or immigrant themes.

mike king from california on February 22, 2009:

I loved this hub. My last name is King but my grandmother was a Maxwell

so I'm proud too, just as you are for your heritage.

thanks again for your great hubs.

newcapo on December 17, 2008:

Patty- this is such an interesting read, and so timely. By coincidence, earlier this evening my wife and I were watching ROME and now I've got the movie "1900" with Robert De Niro set in Italy. I grew up near Boston, MA and parts of the city had only Italian restaurants--some of the best places I've ever eaten.

Great hub!

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on September 02, 2008:

Perhaps someone will recognize the name and contact you from here. Best wishes!

rosaRIO on August 31, 2008:

hi, I look for someone of name mountain. I leave my e-mail

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on July 21, 2008:

Glad to meet you! Italian immigration is a fascinating study. What do you know about your ancestor? - that would be a grest Hub by itself. :)

Lidian on July 20, 2008:

Great hub! I am also a genealogist, descended from the first Italian in the New World, Pietro Caesare Alberti, which is the extent of my Italian ancestry...but I found your hub quite informative and helpful...Italiangen has got some great resources for all NY-area genealogists, too (such as the bride and groom indexes)

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on April 08, 2008:

Thanks very much for the comments and good tips Sandilyn! I will definitely look for material by Dr. Schweitzer. I will email you soon as well.

Sandilyn from Port Orange, FL on April 08, 2008:

You have a great hub!

I am a genealogist so I do know a few things about this topic, although I do not write about them on here.

I like your links because most people can not afford to pay the high costs of and most libraies do have it. Another great choice is Heritage Quest. Don't overlook the Allen County Public Library. They are online and have a very large collection. Also for free.

Have you ever heard Dr. Schweitzer talk? Anyone that is into genealogy should. He is excellent. I had him for an all day seminar last year that I hosted. You can find him on the web along with videos and books.

My link will take you to my email if you wish to contact me and we can talk more genealogy. Just put genealogy in the subject line so my staff knows that it goes directly to me.

Once again, great hub!

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on March 25, 2008:

To Italy? I don't know off hand, but you can plug it into YahooTravel and find out.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on March 11, 2008:

Hi Marco_Man! I hope this Hub was able to link you to some family history and am glad you think it may be useful. Best of success to you!


Marco_Man from Toronto, Ontario, Canada on March 11, 2008:

Love this Hub, I'm taking a look at a few of your links as we speak. My grandfather/Nonno had a cousin who moved to New York back in the 1950's.

Awesome Hub,


Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on December 08, 2007:

teeray! - I think the best classroom seems to be the internet when you have access to databases in univerisites and museums about the world. :)

gabriella05 - I wish you success on your quest! I'm going to one day take the maternal line DNA tests to qualify for Iroquois tribal membership, since I can't find those records.

gabriella05 from Oldham on December 08, 2007:

Hi Patty. Yes that a good idea I will ask

Thank you very much

teeray from Canada on December 07, 2007:

When does your history class start? Can I enroll?

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on December 07, 2007:

Thank you Misha! :)

Misha from DC Area on December 06, 2007:

Any hub of yours I read fascinates me with the wealth of interesting information and great delivery. Thanks :)

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on December 06, 2007:

Thanks for the good comments everyone! it is my pleasure to write for you.

gabriella05, maybe your gram's surname is like some longer ones that could have been shortened? If you talked among older Italian folks, perhaps they'd have an idea about this.

manoharv2001 - America is broken in a few places, but still good. I think we are in our adolescense as a country, still learning, sopmetimes thinking we know everything. :)

Whiteney05 and MrMarmalade, you are very welcome visitors and thanks for the support.

MrMarmalade from Sydney on December 06, 2007:

This hub has great appeal.

Thank you for a great hub

Whitney from Georgia on December 06, 2007:

Wow great hub! Full of info!

gabriella05 from Oldham on December 05, 2007:

Hi Patty This is an amazing true historical event I have enjoyed every bit of it. I know now that my Grandmother surname must have ben changed, and that is the reasn that I cant find them

Thank you very much

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on December 05, 2007:

Thanks Z! I see what you feel in that picture. I could pack up and move to another counrtry I think - likely Canada. Might keep dual citizenship though. :)

Zsuzsy Bee from Ontario/Canada on December 05, 2007:

Patty! I can just feel the anticipation of the unknown in the faces of those newly arrived... in your top picture.

Great HUB as always

regards Zsuzsy