I previously wrote about the reasons causing our ancestors to leave Trentino (illness, economic hardships, etc). During the latter part of the 1870’s to the early 1900’s thousands left Trentino for Brazil, Argentina, and various parts of the United States. They often settled together not only because of the attraction of jobs and opportunities others from their villages wrote home about, but also in order to survive in an area where they did not know the language, customs, or culture. In the United States, many settled in the mining areas of Colorado, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Michigan. Even though speaking Italian (and local dialects such as “nonese”), our ancestors traveled to the US with Austrian passports. This made it easier to obtain jobs, and also protected them from the higher level of discrimination emigrants from Italy encountered.
Commonly, the long trip to their new home began with the emigrant travelling from their village (on foot, on a donkey or horse, or via cart) to the city of Trento, where they bought a train ticket to the port of Le Havre or Cherbourg, France or Southampton, England. From the port they travelled steerage to New York, where they endured the processing and examinations at Ellis Island prior to boarding a train to their final destination.
There are all kinds of stories about our ancestors’ path to the US. For example, my grandfather arrived in the US from the village of Cunevo in 1905 aboard the S.S. Philadelphia, a steamer of the American Line, out of the port of Cherbourg, France. He
traveled in the ship’s steerage class, and was accompanied by 17-year old Giulia Cattani. Persons in “steerage class” traveled in compartments below the ship’s decks and near its steering equipment. The compartments were similar to cargo holds and typically without efficient ventilation. Passengers were assigned a numbered berth, and given a mattress and life preserver (which doubled as their pillow). The berths were normally stacked at least two high and crowded, with little privacy.
After eight days, the ship docked in New York. From the ship, he was taken by ferry to Ellis Island for physical examination and other inspections. After the physical, he was interviewed (through interpreters) as to whether he had money and a job lined up. The customs agents noted on the manifest that he was an unmarried laborer carrying $10 in cash, and a train ticket to join his brother in Trinidad, Colorado.
From New York, my grandfather and Giulia boarded a train to Trinidad. Shortly before arriving in Trinidad, the train made a stop. Thinking they had arrived, Giulia got off. However, the stop was only to take on water, and the train left without Giulia. She walked a distance, and saw some lights. The lights were from a house, where the owners let Giulia spend the night. The next day they took Giulia to Trinidad by horse and wagon. When she arrived, she saw my grandfather walking down the street. Upset, she chastised him for letting her get off the train in the middle of “nowhere” (from memories of Giulia Cattani’s granddaugher).
Bonifacio Bolognani, one of the foremost writers of Trentino emigrantion, published a book entitled Bread From Underground. This book details the paths taken byl emigrants to the US and South America. Written in English and Italian, it contains many achival photos, details of actual emigrants and their lives in their new homeland. You can read this book online on the Province of Trento website. You can also download the individual chapters.