The First Generation of Citarellas in America

By chance, I happen to be the oldest living Citarella of the Vincenzo Citarella bloodline with a seniority of almost ten years and perhaps my memories are the only ones that can satisfy a fairly accurate account of the emigration of our ancestors from Italy.

Thankfully, the internet was there to confirm the dates, and at times even fill in some voids. However, the Ellis Island records left a bit to be desired at times, with misspelled names, wrong ages, and sometimes very incomplete places of origin. It is very understandable though, with thousands of immigrants arriving daily from all over Europe in the early 1900s, and with the obvious language barriers, many of these mistakes were unavoidable. Unfortunately, since there are no other memory banks to be tapped, mine will have to suffice.  I have done my best to document my recollections and findings, but will have to admit there are certain relatives from my distant past that I cannot match up to a parent or siblings. I guess it never occurred to me years ago when I could have, or should have asked questions, that I might someday be called upon to share these memories. Hopefully what I pass on may form a strong base for others to build on in the future.

The immigration of the first generation to America began in the year 1900 when Filomena Citarella Bovino, 19, and her husband Francesco Bovino arrived here from Sarno, Italy, a small town approximately 35 miles east of Naples. I believe that had it not been for them the rest of the siblings may never have ventured to follow. It most likely provided a reason as well as a place to stay while getting adjusted to this strange new land of opportunity. I definitely remember five children of theirs . The oldest was Lizzie, followed by another daughter whose name escapes me. The next child was Olimpia (“Limpy”) and she was followed by the twins, Joey and Suzy. These siblings were my mother’s first cousins, with one or 2 older than her, consequently they were all very much older than me. The daughter whose name I don’t recall was married and had 2 children. Carmine was her oldest and an outstanding baseball pitcher. In fact, he played for one of the New York major league farm teams but unfortunately his arm gave out and he had to quit. His younger sister was Dolly. My last recollection of visiting them was on 124th  Street in East Harlem. Prior to WWII, East Harlem was the second Italian stronghold in Manhattan after Little Italy. After the war, newer generations left the city altogether to move to New Jersey, Long Island or Westchester.

In 1903, my grandfather Vincenzo arrived in America at age 19. Married at the time, he came here alone on business. He was selling Italian grocery exports. I have no idea how long he stayed in the US, but he did return to Italy after a short stay. I will get back to him later. 

In 1904, the youngest Citarella, Giuseppe, arrived from Italy at age 17. He never went back. Some years later he met and married Sarafina DeGrazia. There should be no mystery that her last name is the same as mine, she was my father’s sister. Since Giuseppe was my mother’s uncle and Sarafina was my father’s sister, our family and his enjoy a double connection sharing both family bloodlines. Giuseppe went on to be very successful in the butcher business as well as real estate. He eventually built a gorgeous home in the Bronx where he and Sarafina lived and raised their family. I not only shared 2 bloodlines with this family, but also a somewhat close relationship while growing up. However, I was very much younger than his children. I feel very fortunate to have met one of Giuseppe’s twin grandsons, Richard, and his charming wife Ann, about 10 years ago.  Richard and Ann live in Atlanta and they are also very interested in the Citarella family tree. They will be extending Giuseppe’s branch of the family tree on this website.  What would really make me very happy is to have the extensions of the other branches of that first generation of Citarellas that came to America discover this website and join in.

I mentioned twins twice, and should comment here that it is not an uncommon occurrence in our ancestry.  There were the Bovino/Citarella twins, then Giuseppe’s twin grandsons, and also the more recent great grandsons of Vincenzo, Donald and Michael. On my trip to Sarno in 1990 I visited the Celentano side of the Citarella/Celentano family. There I also met the twin daughters of Antonio Celentano. He is the son of our grandmother Antonetta Celentano Citarella’s brother. Consequently, we have 3 sets of twins in the Citarella bloodline, and 1 set in the Celentano bloodline. I document this so that twins should not come as a surprise to any future generations of these bloodlines.

In 1907 the oldest of the female Citarellas arrived in America, Brigida, at age 30. Unfortunately, I do not remember her married name. I remember well her daughter Antonette, who was married to Orazio (Harry) Buffardi, and also their daughter Margie. Here is where some of those relations I mentioned earlier might belong, those who I knew but now can’t assign to a parent or siblings.

I do not know if Brigida or the sibling that never left Italy was the oldest, but I seem to think the brother was. He was a priest and for obvious reasons would never leave. I don’t know what his name was because the only reference to him I ever heard was, to use the English translation, “Uncle Priest”. He went on to become a monsignor. In 1950, after he had passed away, my mother returned to Italy for a visit and was given his ring which she brought back and presented to Giuseppe (Uncle Joe) who was the only surviving male sibling.

There is a sixth child in the first generation of immigrants; one who I suppose was a step-brother, or he could have even been a cousin. His name was Rafaelo and his wife’s name was Lucia. I seem to remember hearing that our great grandmother lost a child at birth, while his mother had died during childbirth. I assume he was nursed and raised by her. We visited them occasionally since we all lived in the Bronx. They had 4 children, Sammy, Nicky, Melrose and Joey. Uncle Raff, as we called him, had a butcher shop in the Fordham section of the Bronx. For those who may not know already, the males of the first generation were all butchers by trade, and did pass it on to a few of the next generation.

I will now resume with the Vincenzo bloodline. He was born in 1884 in Sarno, as were all the others. Antonetta Celentano, born in 1887, became his wife when she was 15 years old. Since his first trip to America was in 1903, there is a strong possibility that if his stay here was of any length, he may have missed the birth of his first child, Anella, my mother, born on December 14, 1903. Antonetta was 16 years old at the time. However, he did return to Italy and in the next 8 years would father Nicola (Nicky), Felice (Phil), and Nunzia (Nancy) who was born in 1911. He returned to America in 1912 and never went back to Italy. My mother told me this, the immigration records verify it, and the fact is that in 1911 the last of his Italian born children was born. Aside from saving up the money to bring his family to America, World War I was interrupting lives in Europe and making it difficult for emigration out of Europe. In 1919 the world was at peace again, and Vincenzo could finally bring his family to join him in America.

A year later, in 1920, the last child, Joey, was born. Evidently Vincenzo had worked hard all those years saving the money to bring the rest of his family to America. By the time they arrived, he owned a grocery/butcher shop on 107th  Street in East Harlem. The Italians had saturated the original stronghold called Little Italy in lower Manhattan. Since many more immigrants were arriving, a newer and larger Italian neighborhood was establishing itself uptown in East Harlem. Nicola, 13,and Felice 11, would get some schooling while spending more time learning to become butchers as well as helping to run the business with their father Vincenzo. Meanwhile, Nunzia at age 8 attended school to get a good American education, while Anella at age 15 was relegated to one of the many sweatshops of that era and became a seamstress. Vincenzo died at the early age of 43, while Antonetta lived on to age 76.

My father Frank, and my mother Anella (Aunt Nellie to all who remember her), both lived in Harlem when they met, and married in 1923. They then moved to that newer Italian neighborhood in the Bronx called Fordham. Italian immigrants were spreading out to all the New York City boroughs at that time. Arthur Avenue, in Fordham, to this day maintains many of the old Italian traditions: shops and markets featuring Italian delicacies, pastries, fish, meats, cheeses, etc. are still there to fill the needs of the more recent Italian generations. There are bakeries with a history going back almost a century still baking bread in the original ovens, and, I might add, with that original flavor. After moving to Fordham, Frank and Nellie raised 3 children, Rafaela (Ruth), the oldest, followed by Angelo, and then me, Vincent. I was the first to be named after grandpa Vincenzo.  Angelo died in World War II.  Ruth married Ralph Pantony and had 2 children: Angela (named after our brother Angelo), and Ralph V. Pantony III. Angela married Marty Melamed and they have two daughters, Alix and Gabrielle. Ralph married Nicole Grande and they have two children, Ralph and Gina.

I married Doris Hurtubise in 1950 and we had 2 children, Francis Xavier (Frank) born June 7, 1955 named after my father followed by Lisa Ann born June 13, 1957. Doris died in 1983. I am currently married to Fran (nee Vecchio) DeGrazia.

My son Frank married Carole Johnson and they have 2 children, Kristen born March 21, 1990 and Michael born December 3, 1993. My daughter Lisa married Ed Scalzitti and they have 2 children, Bridget, born April 24, 1980 and Edward Scalzitti IV born September 27, 1982.

Very recently, in fact, Sept, 22, 2006, my granddaughter Bridget Scalzitti married Kevin Mika, and are the likely ones to launch the first of the next generation of the Citarella/Celentano bloodline.

I feel honored to have been called upon to document my memories of the past. The researching was stimulating and rewarding, but best of all, it offered me the opportunity to relive such a proud heritage. It brought back wonderful memories of growing up with the Italian traditions, the language, the food, and especially the family way of life that I cherish.

None of all this though, would have been possible without the strong efforts and desires of the most recent twins, Don and Mike Citarella, with their desire, urging, curiosity, and most important of all, their expertise in setting up this extremely professional website. It is established now, and forever, and should and will grow with the cooperation of all.


Vinnie DeGrazia (10/01/06)