Yes, she is a woman. Notice the earrings? I know she doesn’t look very feminine. Her name is Raffaela Esposito LaSala Angelino and she is my great-great-grandmother on my mom’s side. As I mentioned in a previous post, I am working on a genealogy project for a Christmas gift. Raffaela is the missing piece of the puzzle for me and has become an obsession of mine.

I have been researching my family’s genealogy on and off for the past 20 years. I have dragged my poor husband to dozens of cemeteries, churches and libraries looking for links to the past. (Don’t feel too sorry for him. I have gone to plenty of sporting events, political and work dinners for him over the years.) It is the thrill of the hunt for me. Finding the smallest clue can keep me going for weeks. Things have really become easier with the invention of the internet and Ancestry.com.

Back to Raffaela. I have found her death certificate and the 1900 census listing her with her husband and youngest son, my great-grandfather. I also have copies of the baptismal certificates for two of her children. However, in those four documents, her name is spelled differently each time. She came to the United States from Italy about 1880. However, I can’t find her listed on the 1880 federal census. Did she arrive too late in the year? I can’t find her in the 1890 census, because it does not exist. A fire in the Commerce Building in Washington, D.C. destroyed the records in 1921. Raffaela died in 1901 so she doesn’t show up in any other census records.

To make matters worse, Raffaela and her husband were not married until 1883 – three years after arriving in the United States. Her death certificate lists her name as Raffaela LaSala Angelino. Her children’s baptismal certificate lists her name as Raffaela Esposito Angelino. Which is her maiden name? I was told by my grandmother that her father had a half brother. His name was Frank LaSalle. (Close enough to be right). So was LaSala her first husband’s name? Maybe.

Women in 1880 did not travel alone. They did not own property. Many of them did not learn English or become naturalized citizens. Why bother? They couldn’t vote anyway! Does my search end here?

I just sent for Frank LaSalle’s death certificate because it will list his parents. If Raffaela is really his mother, I can find out more about her – when she got here, where she lived in Italy, etc. If she is not his mother, Raffaela may forever be a mystery.

How sad is that? She lived on this earth for 46 years and had eight children. In 1900, only half of them were living. She was married twice. I can only assume that her first husband died, since divorce was rare for a Catholic woman in 1880. Could you imagine what it was like to be in a foreign country for less than three years and your husband dies? What were the circumstances that brought them to the United States? Did she ever get to see her parents or siblings again after she left Italy? Did she live long enough to see her grandchildren? She lived in a country where she did not speak the language. Did she make friends with other women in her neighborhood? Did she love the men she married or were they marriages of convenience?

We went to cemetery where she is buried. There is no grave marker. Her second husband is buried in a plot on the other side of the cemetery, near his second wife. She remains alone. All that is left of her is an unflattering picture that is stuck to the inside of the frame. This picture has sat in multiple attics and even a garage sale as she was passed around the family. Currently, the picture belongs to me.

I hope that 100 years from now, there will be more left of my life than four documents and a water damaged picture. I want to believe there is more to her story, too.

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