The story of Leonardo Messina, my “Uncle Leon,” begins with his birth on August 26, 1908 in the province of Trapani, in western Sicily, probably in the city of Marsala. Leon was the youngest of 5 children born to Margherita Di Giovanni and (need to find her husband’s name). Ignazia (17) was the oldest, then came Lorenzo (14) and then Angela (10).
Not much is known about Leon’s growing up in Marsala. At the age of 8, he immigrated with his mother and 3 siblings to America. They were taken to Palermo by Margherita’s brother Fico Di Giovanni. The family left Palermo on the 19th of July, 1916 aboard the SS Patria and arrived at Ellis Island a couple weeks later on August 2. The family had $15 with them and were met by Leon’s older sister Francisca Milteno. Below is an excerpt from the SS Patria passenger manifest showing the family.
Click the image below to view the complete version of the manifest:
Once they reached New York they were detained at Ellis Island for a Medical Exam and were released on August 4th.
Not much is known about Leon and the rest of the family until the 1920 census.
The 1920 US Census shows Leon living at 1291 Atlantic Ave in Brooklyn with his mother (now called Margaret), his brother Lorenzo (now called Lawrence), his sister Angela (now called Angelina), and an 11 year old male child named Albert (maybe a cousin). His brother Ignazia seems to have moved out and is living on his own. Leon is 11 years old and has a job in a barbershop. I’m sure he’s not cutting hair, but probably sweeping it up.
Click the image below to view the complete version of the 1920 Census:
The 1930 census shows Leon and his mother Margaret living on Cleveland St with a lodger named Ernesto Spedale who was 44 years old at the time. It also looks like William and Angelina Parrinello lived in the same house (or maybe next door) with their sons Anthony and Albert. Leon is now working as a chauffeur in the soda business.
Click the image below to view the complete version of the 1930 Census:
Leon became a naturalized citizen of the United States of America on June 8, 1932.
Click the image below to view the complete version of Leon’s naturalization paper:
Leon married Rose Palermo on March 2, 1935.
The 1940 census shows Leon and Rose living with William and Angelina Parrinello at 27 Bradford Street in Brooklyn. Along with Leon, who is now 31 and Rose, who is now 26 and Leon’s mother Margaret, who is now 69, are three year old Margaret and her 9 month old brother Albert. My future cousins have finally arrived on the scene. Leon is now a beverage salesman earning $1,000 annually.
The 1950 census shows the Messina family living at 93 Miller Avenue in Brooklyn. The new addition to the family is 6 year old Philip. Leon is now working as a welder for the railroad.