Patty Vitale is an attorney and works as Chief of Staff to Montgomery County Councilmember George Leventhal in Rockville, Maryland. Born and raised in Massachusetts, she has lived in the Washington, D.C. area since 1986. She has a B.S. Business Administration from Boston University and a J.D. from American University. Patty is a member of the Society of Mayflower Descendants as well as the Daughters of the American Revolution, Hungerford’s Tavern Chapter, where she serves as the Chair of the Women’s Issues Committee.
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Growing up, I remember having two huge old family bibles in the house. They were in terrible condition with detached covers, loose pages, and other damage. My mother said they had been that way since she was a teenager. The bibles had been missing for some time but finally resurfaced a couple of years ago. I was able to find a book restorer who did an amazing job repairing the family heirlooms.
Both bibles were published in the late 1800s and had been kept by my great-grandmother, Helen (McKenna) Dickinson, who died when I was in college. One bible was clearly owned by Helen’s in-laws, John and Carrie (Luke) Dickinson. It contains birth, marriage and death records of both the Dickinsons and the Lukes. Continue reading Identifying a family bible→
I have developed a soft spot for two of my great-great-grandparents, Domenico Caldarelli and Maria Tavano. They were born in Italy, Domenico in Naples and Maria in Villa Santa Maria, Chieti. They emigrated to New York with their four children around 1890.
I had my first glimpse of Domenico in New York in the 1900 Federal Census, when he was listed as a prisoner in Sing Sing. Was this my Domenico? The prisoner was older than I thought Domenico should be. Why was he in Sing Sing? What happened to his family? Continue reading Piece work→
My great-great-great-grandfather, Elijah Dickinson, enlisted in Union Army in 1862. He was joined by both of his brothers, Atwood and James, as well as their sister’s husband, Nelson Cohaskey. The four of them served in Vermont’s 6th Infantry. Elijah died of disease during the war and is buried in Washington, D.C. Nelson also died while serving and is buried in Annapolis, Maryland. Atwood survived the war, moved from Vermont to Iowa, and is buried there.Continue reading Honoring a Civil War veteran→
My mother was born with an unusual last name – Cottuli – which has been both a blessing and a curse for my research. The blessing is that when I find someone with that last name, they always turn out to be related. The curse is that it’s misspelled everywhere and documents can be difficult to find. Recently, however, the uncommon name led to a very happy set of circumstances.
My first cousin, Carl Cottuli, contacted me a couple of months ago and said that a woman in Rhode Island named Keri had reached out to him online. She was cleaning out her stepfather’s desk in Massachusetts and discovered a portrait of a woman, together with an 1896 baptismal certificate for Henrietta Lillian Cottuli. There are no markings on the portrait to identify whether the woman is Henrietta or someone else. Continue reading Solving a family mystery→
It is said time and time again that our immigrant ancestors came to America for a better life. What I often find in my research is that once they made the journey, they were met with hardship and heartache.
In 1845, my great-great-great-grandfather Terence Duross and his brother Charles emigrated from Trillick (Kilskeery parish) in County Tyrone, Ireland. They settled in Massachusetts where they were naturalized, married, and had children. Then in 1862, at age 36, Terence was struck by lightning and killed, leaving behind his wife and three small children. In 1876, Charles was killed in a railroad car accident at age 47, leaving his wife and six children ranging in age from 3 to 21. It was the not future they had envisioned, certainly. But given that they left Ireland at the time of the Great Famine, what choice did they really have? Continue reading Finding a better life→
As an avid genealogical researcher, I am keenly aware of the role that tradition plays in history. In all cultures, each new generation largely expects to follow traditions set by their predecessors, often without much thought as to why. Asking why is important. Challenging tradition brings progress. Haven’t the advances in civil rights over the past 100 years come largely from challenging tradition?
Recently I saw a discussion on Facebook on the tradition of a woman taking her husband’s last name upon marriage. A friend who had chosen to keep her birth name commented that she didn’t see any reason to change her name; she thought the tradition was outdated and paternalistic. I agreed, but I couldn’t help but notice that while she had kept her surname, both her son and daughter had their father’s last name. This has always been a tradition with which I had been uneasy, but until now I hadn’t been able to come up with a better alternative. Continue reading Making progress by breaking with tradition→