Ancestral Voyage

2001 Jim Forti


My Forti ancestors arrived in the United States in 1901. The family history has my great grandfather, Giuseppe Foti, arriving ahead of the family and going to Boston to join his brothers, find housing and a job.

Upon arriving in New York City, immigrant officials, or he himself, added the letter "R" to his name and he became a Forti. His wife and three sons emigrated later that year. However, my great grandmother was extremely frightened, afraid that they would all drown in the ocean. She was not correct, but their trip was far more eventful than the average voyage.  As a precursor of their impending tribulations, my grandfather, who was 16 months old, lost his balance while running down the stairs and fell into a pan of water that was being heated to boil eggs. Although not badly burned, his mother had to tear up some of her clothing to bandage his wounds. After reaching the Atlantic Ocean, the ship's main propeller shaft broke and the ship began drifting in the open ocean. This was before Marconi's invention of the radio, and the ship could not notify anyone of their predicament. After several days of drifting, a restriction on the use of water was imposed. Finally, a passing Portuguese ship spotted the distressed vessel and towed it back to Lisbon. The passengers, after many days of limited water, jumped into the harbor to bathe. My great grandmother either lost all of her documents, or in a moment of despair, tore up her papers, crying that they would all die before reaching America. The ship remained in Lisbon until the propeller was finally repaired. meanwhile, back in the states, as the ship's expected arrival date became days late, then weeks late, my great grandfather began to think that he had lost his entire family. While I found this story intriguing, I had also come to learn that family history stories tend to get exaggerated, and upon research, I expected to find a less exciting story. 

While on a business trip to Washington, D.C., I did some research at the archives, but I found no mention of my Foti ancestors on the passenger lists. However, while doing my research at the Waltham Archives, I found my great uncle Giovanni's naturalization petition in which he stated that he emigrated from Messina, Sicily, to New York City on the SS Archimedes and he arrived in October 1901. With a few clues like that, I figured even I might find the correct passenger list. On my next rip to the Pittsfield archives, I found the microfilm for the port of New York City with the correct arrival dates, found the SS Archimedes, and found my ancestors. The ship's manifest listed them under my great grandmother's maiden name, Stella Di Pietro. The three boys, Francesco, Giovanni, and my grandfather Vincenzo followed their mother on the list, with no surname listed. No wonder I couldn't find them during my initial research, not one of them was listed as a Foti.

The manifest also had another surprise. My one-year old grandfather, who as a young adult became a boxer, was listed as Vincenza, female! The manifest also stated that the family was going to Boston to join their father at 23 Fleet Street in the North End. However, the most revealing information on the manifest was the date of departure, August 28, and the date of arrival, October 1. The trip took 34 days. A review of all the other voyages from Italy to New York took an average of two weeks. My ancestors' trip took almost three weeks longer, lending credence to the old family story. I only wish I could have seen the look on my great grandfather's face when he received the news that the ship had finally arrived and he realized he still had a family!

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