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Sunday, February 16, 2014

52 Ancestors Challenge #1 Frank John Stefani

     When I read about the 52 Ancestors Challenge on Ancestry I thought it would be fun to do that. So, here I am starting a blog! I am 7 ancestors behind now. Time to get started!

     The first ancestor I want to talk about is my Great Grandfather, Frank John Stefani. That's the American version of his name and the one he preferred.  His birth record shows him as Giovanni Francesco Stefani. His father was Giovanni Luigi Stefani. He hated his father so he reversed the order of his name and was known as Francesco Giovanni. On the report card we have for him dated 25 Apr 1877 he is Stefani, Francesco Giovanni and on his Feb 1883 passport he is Stefani Francesco. In Austrian records he would be Franz Johan Stefani. Frank was born on 20 Aug 1863 in Sporminore in the Trento area of the South Tyrol. It was part of Austria at that time, becoming part of Italy after WW I. The people there have long spoken Italian.

     Frank's father was a peddler and a drunkard.  Frank would accompany him on his peddling rounds and hide as much money from him as he could to give to his mother.  Otherwise his father would spend it on alcohol. This is the story Frank told his children.  When I researched the family I discovered that Frank's grandfather, Giovanni's father, Ferdinando, died when Giovanni was only 7 months old.  Frank had 6 older brothers and sisters all but two of whom had died by the time Frank was born.  And one of these died when Frank was 3. So I think his father was very disappointed in life.

     After finishing school (his report card is dated 1877, so he was not quite 15, probably he had finished 8th Grade). He left home to make money to help his mother and sister.  He walked earning money as he could, working in the steel mills and railroads of Germany and eventually making it to Paris, France where he worked in a chemical plant.  We have a photo of him at age 18 taken in Paris. He sent most of his wages home to his mother, eating only salami and corn meal.  Eventually he became quite ill and was sent back home to recuperate.  He later worked in the coal mines of Alsace, France saving up money for passage to America. After his parents died and his sister was married he felt free to leave for America and a better life.

     He left a sweetheart behind in Sporminore, Monica Remondini.  He planned to establish himself in America and come back for her.  However, after he got to America he wrote to her and told her he released her from the engagement.  He had been so seasick on the trip to America that he couldn't face repeating it. We don't know her response but in my research I found that she married his cousin, Giulio Wegher, and raised a family in Sporminore. Frank kept the handkerchief she had given him and her picture his whole life.

     In America he went to work in the mines of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  He met Rosa Tinetti and her husband, Louis Bonino, who ran a saloon in Hurley, Wisconsin just across the border.  He asked Rosa if she had any sisters.  She said she did but didn't want to bring her over because she had brought her twin sister over and she had married a man who beat her.Frank said he would pay her sister's passage, if they hit it off he'd marry her.  If she didn't like him and wanted to go back he would pay her way back. So they did this but Rosa and Frank never told the sister, Angelina, about this deal. Frank and Angelina were married 2 Jun 1891.  They soon moved to British Columbia, Canada, (more mining) where their first son was born.  Then they moved to Gillman, Washington (now Issaquah). Frank saved enough money to buy a saloon and get out of mining.  He bought and sold 4 or 5 houses and bought a laundry.  This was a family operation, his oldest son ran it, his three daughters did the washing and ironing and he did the deliveries.  Eventually he had saved enough money to buy a chicken farm.  The land and farm house are still in the family.

     Frank and Angelina had 7 children, 5 of whom lived to adulthood. Their children, spouses and grandchildren would come to the farm every Sunday for dinner and visiting.  Frank loved America.  He wouldn't talk Italian but insisted he and his wife speak only English, because "we are Americans now!" He refused to cash his Social Security checks saying, " This county doesn't owe me a thing.  I owe it a lot!".

     He believed in hard work, one of his favorite sayings was, "Hard work never killed anybody." The story is told of him that at the age of 85 he cut and placed 400 fence posts in one day. He believed that the area of Washington he lived in was God's country and told my mother it was the Garden of Eden.

     Now that I have been researching the family I have found 8 generations of Stefani men before him all from Sporminore. So far I am back to 1597. I may not be able to go much farther but there is no indication that the family doesn't go back still farther is that same spot. It is incredible to me that he was able to leave his family home for generations and come to America and find a better life for himself and his descendants. And so I honor him and salute him.



  1. Great post mom! I just learned a whole lot about my family. Thank you for doing this research.