Tracing the roots of Matawan’s Italian immigrants

Staff Writer

 Left: Pasqualina and Giuseppe Angello on their 25th wedding anniversary in 1926. Right: Santino and Marianna Fedele on their wedding day in 1928. Left: Pasqualina and Giuseppe Angello on their 25th wedding anniversary in 1926. Right: Santino and Marianna Fedele on their wedding day in 1928. As a child, Gloria Bucco remembers her father telling her stories about older relatives who left Italy to settle in the small town of Matawan, New Jersey.

“Stories are an important part of life, we tell them all the time and sometimes don’t even know it,” she said in an interview Aug. 17. “My father very much wanted these stories to be remembered and to be passed down for generations.”

The idea stuck with Bucco, and years later, she has written a book dedicated to sharing the stories of nearly 30 families and the memories they have of Matawan’s Italian immigrants and the legacy they left behind.

“If stories are not repeated, they fade away, and as they fade so do the people who populate the stories,” Bucco said. “These were ordinary people, they weren’t famous, but what they did was extraordinary and took courage, and we don’t want that to be forgotten.”

The new book, “Precious Cargo: A Collection of Stories from the Italian Immigrants of Matawan, New Jersey,” available on Create Space and Amazon Kindle, will be the subject of a discussion at the Matawan Public Library Sept. 13 at 2 p.m.

“Putting the book together has been a three-year process,” Bucco, a graduate of Matawan Regional High School, said. “It is our way, though, of bringing our parents and grandparents to life and allowing for our children and grandchildren to get to know them.”

According to Bucco, the idea for the book came in July 2012 after engaging in a post on Facebook.

“I was on the site, and a number of current and former Matawan residents were talking about their memories from growing up in Matawan … reminiscing about their younger days, sharing stories about their parents and grandparents,” she said.

 The Infosino family poses for a portrait: from left, Frances, Joe, Pasquale holding Charlie, Assunta, Mary and Lily The Infosino family poses for a portrait: from left, Frances, Joe, Pasquale holding Charlie, Assunta, Mary and Lily “A lot of good information was popping up and someone had posted that once our generation (the Baby Boomers) was gone, all the old stories would disappear with us.”

Bucco said she soon got the idea to record these stories to show future generations where they come from and to keep the stories alive for generations to come.

“I thought it was important to compile the stories of the families,” she said. “It couldn’t have been an easy decision for them to pack their belongings and to leave everything they’ve ever known behind to come to a new place.”

Bucco, who currently lives in Nebraska, said she worked with two other women, Pat Angello, a Brick resident, and Marilyn DiSanto, of Red Bank, to gather the stories that would help bring the book to life. All three will be present at the library during the book’s discussion on Sept. 13.

“I’m not sure when we first started calling it a ‘book,’ but we exchanged emails and numbers and began working.”

The first step, according to Bucco, was to set parameters for the book on who would be eligible to be included in it.

“We agreed we would limit our scope to the years 1885 to 1920, and to be in the book, at least one ancestor had to settle in Matawan Borough or in the township [now Aberdeen] during this time period.”

“We also decided to limit the stories to only two generations: the original immigrants who came from Italy and their children — basically, our grandparents and parents.”

According to DiSanto, all three then began making a list of every Italian family they could think of or remember that lived in Matawan Borough or the township and ended up with a list of 60 potential names that could be included in the book.

“We listed everyone we could think of, [and] that was the easiest part of the task,” she said.

Bucco developed a questionnaire for the families, gathering information on where their ancestors had lived in Italy, what work they did there, why they decided to come to the U.S. and why they decided to settle in Matawan. “We emphasized the importance of the stories, we didn’t just want basic answers to the questions,” she said. “We wanted to hear those stories that have been passed down.”

While Angello and DiSanto worked on contacting the relatives of the Italian immigrants, Angello said Bucco was also hard at work.

“[Bucco] was doing research to give readers a little more perspective on what was happening at the time that made these individuals want to leave Italy and come to America,” Angello said. “In the book we provide readers with history on what was happening in Italy at the time and even what was happening in Matawan at the time.”

The book contains more than 50 photographs and features the true stories from nearly 30 families about their predecessors who left Italy between 1885 and 1920 to come to America and settle in Matawan.

“Finding a representative from each family that could remember their immigrant parents or in some cases grandparents to write their history from Italy to America [I think] was the difficult part of the job,” DiSanto said.

Bucco agreed, stating that while some may not have answered calls or emails to share their family’s story for the book, some just don’t know anything about their predecessors. “This is about keeping the stories alive and in our hearts and in our minds,” she said. “Anything anyone sent me is included in this book — even if it is just a short sentence.”

All profits from the book, according to Bucco, will be donated to the Matawan Historical Society and will go toward improvements to the borough’s historical Revolutionary War landmark, Burrowes Mansion, located at 94 Main St.

“Burrowes Mansion is a jewel of Matawan, and when I came to Matawan in February I was heartbroken when I saw it,” she said. “I just thought it looked awful and I thought, ‘Look at what has happened to this jewel.’”

After learning about the lack of funding for repairs to the historical site, Bucco said she, DiSanto and Angello agreed to donate all the money raised from sales of the book to the historical society.

“The proceeds from the book are a gift of Matawan’s Italian community, past and present, to the town that took our grandparents in, offered them opportunities and allowed them to thrive,” she said.

“This book is by no means complete,” Bucco said. “There are many families that aren’t included in here, many we might not have thought or known about, but maybe in a year or two — if I receive more stories from families — we can publish a second edition. But it has been amazing working on this book and being able to tell the stories of these extraordinary people.”