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Scritto da John Alling Cofrancesco   
03/31/07

My Grandparents
Nicola and Angelina Corona Cofrancesco

as told by John  Alling Cofrancesco

Nicola, born in 1869 in Massa, Italy and his wife Angelina Corona, born in 1881 in Gioia Sannitica, Italy , immigrated to the United States around the turn of the century and were living at 229 Hamilton Street in New Haven, Connecticut in 1903.

Nicola’s parents were Ferdinando and Maria Cofrancesco.  They immigrated to the United States in 1899, and lived in New Haven, Connecticut. Angelina’s parents were Carmine and Giustina Corona, and they lived on in Hamden, Connecticut on Dixwell Avenue, opposite what is now Hamden High School.  She had a younger brother, Louis, and an older brother.  It is reported that Angelina lived in a convent in Italy until she was 18 years of age.  It is also said that she had “visions”, in which she saw future events.

 

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Nicola and Angelina with Carmine, John, Frank, and Augustine, who died as an infant

The 1920 Census indicates Nicola, age 48, his wife Angelina, age 38, and seven children; (Thomas, age 18, John, age 16, Frank, age 14, Austin, age 8, Mary, age 6, George, age 3, and Albert, age 1 1/2) were living at 30 Burke Street in Hamden.  The record indicates that Nicola was naturalized in Pennsylvania in 1898, and that Angelina also became a citizen in Pennsylvania. Between 1855 and 1922 married women derived citizenship through their husbands, however a copy of naturalization papers for Angelina was found, indicating she became a citizen in New Haven on Feb. 23, 1944.

Nicola worked as a janitor at the Winchester Repeating Arms Company in New Haven for a number of years.  He worked his way up to become a janitor foreman.  He managed to save enough money to purchase a lot at 46 Burke Street and had a house built.  Over the years he began to purchase adjacent lots, with the goal of giving a lot to each of his children when they married.  He was able to purchase five lots.  Eventually Nicola and Angelina had eight sons and two daughters.  The oldest, Carmine (known as Tom) was born in 1901.  My father, John, was born in 1903.  Next came Frank in 1905 and then Augustine, who died as a young child from spinal meningitis.  They were followed by the rest of the brothers; Austin (reportedly named Augustine at birth) in 1910, George in 1916, Albert in 1918, and Henry, also known as Harry and Co in 1921.  There were also the two sisters; Mary, born in 1913, and Anna, born about 1924, who was the youngest of the family.  Sons Austin and George received their lots and built homes there.  Albert received a lot but sold it to buy an existing house nearby.  The two family house at 30 Burke Street still exists, as well as the single family house at 46 Burke Street.  This was to be the home of Nicola and his family until he died in 1927, apparently from heart disease.  My grandmother, Angelina, lived in the home until her death from heart disease in 1968.

Mary remembers her father Nicola,

“My father had black curly hair, was sharp-good looking, worked all the time.  He worked in Winchesters.  When it was cold my mom used to say,  “Now they make a fuss.  They clean the streets and everything.”  Mom used to say your father would wrap sacks around his legs, tie em’ with string and go through the snow because it was so deep.  Mom meant to say as years went by, the snow would come, kids would stay home from school, people wouldn’t go to work and here was poor papa going to work because they had children.  They had that house built on Burke Street.” 
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Family Home as it looked in 1998
 

I can remember visiting my grandmother many times at that house.  We always went in by the back door, which led directly into a very large kitchen.  A short hall led to a small bathroom and bedroom.  A door from the kitchen led to a dining room, which was used as a family room.  A second bedroom was off the dining room, and a living room was at the front of the house.  As long as I can remember the living room was used as a bedroom, which explains why we never went in the front door.  The bedrooms were always rather dark, and contained votive candles and statues of saints.  St. Ann was my grandmother’s patron saint.  There was a large unfinished attic and basement, and a garage behind the house.  My father told me that due to the large size of the family, when he was growing up he and his older brothers slept in the unfinished attic.
 
Nicola remained close to his brother Antonio, and the families visited frequently.  Mary remembers.

“We were very close with him.  He was very jolly.  He would come to my mother and father’s house on holidays, get under the window and sing Christmas carols.  But he was the only one.  In fact, I see his oldest daughter Mary.  (Marie or Mary Cofrancesco Mongillo)  His son Georgie had the liquor store on Shelton Avenue.  Tony had one son, Georgie, and four daughters; Mary, Ann, Rose and Josie.  Now all of the daughters are dead except Mary.  Mama used to say Mary “grew up” all the young ones because her mother died giving birth to little Georgie.”

 

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Antonio holding son Georgie with brother Nicola and his son George on hood, Albert standing, and Austin seated

They also were close to the Moricos and their children would play music together and go to dances at St. Ann’s Church.  Many of the Cofrancescos were active members of St. Ann’s.  My father was an alter boy and used to sneak a drink of wine before mass, if the priest wasn’t looking.  Later he became the head of one of the Societies at St. Ann’s Church.  He could write Italian and he would prepare and send out announcements of various events.  He and his brothers used to build outdoor dance platforms for benefits at the church.  His brother Austin remembers one of the dances.

“They had outdoor dances to raise money to build a new church.  They were servin’ wine.  At that time it was during prohibition.  One of the guys that belonged to the Society brought two or three gallons of wine to raise money; 25 cents (a glass).  Even back in those days there was trouble.  There’s always gangs, no matter when the hell it is.  Way back in those days they came from New Haven; the Wooster Street Gang.  A bunch of those fellas got together.  The whole gang went and they brought one girl to dance with.  I had a cousin (a son of Simone and Teresa) who was training to become a fighter.  They used to call him “Willi Coe”, and that night they took one of my brothers (John) for Willi.  They says, “Hey, lets get that big S.O.B.”  Suddenly somebody swung a fist at him, hit him right in the eye, made it all black and blue.  They were all fightin’.  The fight went all over the place.  Finally there was a free for all.  John Morico (a cousin who was the son of Ralph and Maria Giuseppa) said he would go to the firehouse and get help to call the police.  “No, No, We're selling wine.  We’ll be arrested.”

Austin remembers the death of his father.

“I was workin’ on a house off Putnam Avenue on Lilac Street.  I was on the roof with the boss shingling the roof.  I remember somethin tells me, “Go down, Go down stairs, Go down stairs!”, like in my mind.  What the hell is this anyway?  I don’t want to go away from the roof because the boss was working with me.  So I told the boss, I says, I gotta go downstairs, I gotta go to the bathroom.  “Yea, all right Austin, go - go to the bathroom.”  I didn’t have to go.  I went downstairs to the cellar.  I leaned against the wall.  I took out my pocket watch, and lookin’ at it.  It said 3:30.  I stood down there a while, then I went back up on the roof.  When I went home that night I had the bicycle.  I saw a bunch of cars all the way to my house.  What the hell is that?  Jesus, something happened.  I started going faster with the bike.  Something happened at my house, because I saw cars.  There were quite a few cars, the undertaker’s car and the doctor’s car.  I got home.  I already knew.  Something told me something had happened.  I was bawling before I got into the house.  My father was dead.  After they got things straightened up a bit, they said he died at 3:30!

The night before my father died, I’ll never forget.  I (had) made a little coop with a big glass window on the side of my mother’s garage.  I put a setting hen there.  I come home from work that night.  When I looked through the glass, I saw little heads come out between the wings.  I ran into the house.  I called my father.  He wasn’t feeling good then.  I said Pa, a chicken hatched.  Come on, see.  “Oh no”, he says, “Daddy don’t feel good.”  He says, “ Tomorrow, tomorrow I go see.”  No, no, you gotta come now and see!  I wouldn’t give up.  I didn’t know how sick he was, because he was sittin’ up.  I thought he felt good all the time.  Finally they all came out.

But if you would tell me that my father was gonna die I never would have believed it because he was always sittin around.  He couldn’t breath.  We used to rub him at night, every night for I don’t know how long.  My mother saw the next morning he wasn’t feeling too good.  She called the doctor.  He used to have him come quite often.  He told my mother to open the window in the room (for) cross ventilation.  He was having trouble breathing.  “He isn’t going to last long”, he (the Doctor) said. “He’s got pneumonia.”  Now thinking back from what happened to me, I don’t think he had pneumonia.  Maybe he developed it.  He had heart trouble, but they didn’t know anything about the heart at that time.  The night before, my mother said this.  My father was sick.  He got up out of bed, sat on the edge of the bed.  So she says, “Nick, what are you doing sittin’ at the edge of the bed?  It’s 3:30 in the morning.  Go to bed”.  He says “No, you know what I’m going to do?  I’m gonna get up and I’m goin’ to Louie the barber and get a shave.”  So the next day he died.  My mother called him (Louie) to give my father a shave and everything.  They did that all in the house.  They worked in the room.  They shut the door.

Then it come time to decide what day they had to bury him; how long they had to keep him in the house.  He died, I think it was on a Thursday or Friday.  It was too close to bury him on a Saturday.  He would have been in the house just a couple of days.  We didn’t want that, my brothers, my mother.  And I personally didn’t want that at all!  So my uncle, my mother’s (older) brother,(of) course he meant well, he went up to my mother.  (She) says, “We decided to bury him on a Monday.”  (Her brother says) “Jeeze too long!  Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Look at all the days you got him in the house.  He might discolor or something!”  So I never forget that, boy!  I jumped in.  I says he’s my father and he’s not going to be buried till we say so, uncle or no uncle.  Boy, I hated him ever since that day, even though he didn’t do anything to me.  He was good.  So finally we won out, regardless that it was too long.  Even the undertaker said “Jeeze, how long?  I don’t know how he’s gonna make out up to that day.”  So we decided that day, and that's what we did!  The undertaker came.  And he looked good till the day he went out.”

Nicola was buried in St. Lawrence Cemetery in West Haven and Austin explained why.

“My father’s brother (Antonio), his wife (Vincenza) died about a year before my father did.  And he bought a plot in Saint Lawrence Cemetery.  Well, that was the only Catholic cemetery around then.  So we bought a lot, my brothers and my mother.  At that time you think different when you got the family home.  They bought a lot for eight people.  We figured how many people were in the family.  That's the biggest lot that came.”  The tombstone is adorned with a motif of grapes, and Austin added, “My brothers talked about it.  They got the stone.  My father was crazy about grapes, (he used) to raise his own grape, to make his own wine.  And I remember my mother saying this.  “Your father loved grapes so much, planted them, took care of them” that around the stone grapes comin’ up this way he raises his hands as if to show the vines and on this other side.(sic)  It was a huge stone.”

Mary also remembers.

“I was comin’ home from school.  And there were a lot of cars in front of the house.  My girlfriend ran up to me,  “Something happened to your father!”  I says,  “What?”  “I don’t know.  I don’t know”, she says, but everybody’s cryin’.  I went in.  Everybody was cryin’ and the door was shut.  At that time they didn’t bring people to the undertaker, which is a blessing today.  They had em’ in the house.  You had to stay up three days and three nights until the funeral.  Everybody was cryin’ and planning who would stay and who wouldn’t.  It was rough.  I’m glad it’s not like that now.  That would kill me.  A lot of people came, neighbors.  I only remember my father’s brother Tony.”

Carmine reminisced about his parents.

“Dad had a job as maintenance man.  Then he got asthma and lived a few years with it.  That's what took him away. He was a quiet old soul.  Mom was the rough one who used to give him a hard time.  She was master of the situation.”  And his brother Austin added, “My mother was rough because he used to make mom do all the dirty work.”  My father remembered that one Sunday he didn’t want to work, he hid under the bed.  His father Ferdinando, got the broom and poked him with it.  I remember my father telling my mother, “Don’t ever tell me nothing about the children when I come home.  You’re with them all day long.  You discipline them.  I’m not going to touch none of em.”  Somebody had to be the tough one so my mother was, because my father’s father used to beat him up in Italy.  He said if he ever got married he would never touch his children.  He left it all to my mother.”

Carmine also remembered his mother’s parents, Carmine and Giustina Corona.

“I used to visit both of them when they lived in that house up on the hill.  They owned the property across from the high school. (Hamden High School on Dixwell Avenue)  And where the high school is now there used to be a watermelon patch, a regular farm.  And my mother’s father used to shoulder a gun nights and days too, sometimes, cuz people used to steal watermelons and what not for years.  His name was CarmeN’elya.  I was named after him.  My grandmother’s name was Justina.”  Of his father’s parents, he recalls, “Ferdinando and Maria; they lived on Adeline St. in New Haven.  I can take you right down to the house with the grape vines.  Ta-da-roose.  Often when I was a kid I’d ride the humpty dumpty trolley car that came up to the end of Dixwell Avenue.  And I’d go up the hill to see my grandmother because she had the jitters, a sickness.  She used to dance all over the bed.”

At the time of Nicola’s death, only Tom had married and left home, so my grandmother was solely responsible for raising the eight children by herself.  The family was poor and most of the children left school at an early age to help support the family.  My father and his brothers Frank and Austin worked and provided money, while their sister Mary helped with the younger children.

Mary remembers her mother’s visit to the Town Hall seeking financial assistance.

“Well, my mother went to the Town Hall.  At that time they used to help people.  She said that her husband died and she had six children at home.  She needed some help.  They told her no.  She said,  “Why?”  “Because you own a house.”  My mother said,  “Yea, I own a house but the taxes, the bills, we gotta live.  I got six children.  Am I supposed to take the lathe off from the house to feed my children?”  The answer was they couldn’t help.  So my mother said,  “How come there’s some people that get help?  And I’m a widow and I can’t get help with six children?”  So the woman says,  “Sorry.”  My mother turned around and says,  “I know people who live on the same street, husband works, son works and they get help.  And I can’t get help.”  So the woman says,  “Who are they?”  My mother says,  “I’ll never tell.  That’s your job, not mine, to give you the names.”  I remember that as clear as if she were talking about it.  There was nothing the matter with her mind.  When she go sick she was deathly sick with her nerves.  I remember I used to wash clothes.  Remember the Moricos?  They lived on the corner of Burke St.  She was my father’s sister Maria Giuseppe (Mary Morico) and her husband Frank.  Every morning she used to come over when mom was in bed and she used to come anyway.  There I was all by myself.  I was washing clothes, putting them through the wringer.  I would be crying.  So she would come every morning just to check on me.  “See my dear daughter,” she would say it in Italian,  “you’re puttin’ clothes through the wringer and you’re cryin’.  You could catch your fingers in the wringer.”  I used to say,  “I feel bad.  Now I’m all alone and I got a lot to do.”  She used to pamper me and stay with me for a while.  Her daughter too, Lena.  But Lena died.  I was very close with Lena Morico.”

Mary had many memories about her mother.

“She read the American and Italian newspapers.  She could read and write in Italian.  She used to talk to her lady friends, remember the Skippos?  They lived next door, you might say.  De Lizeos too, Mike and all of them.  The mothers used to come and talk about when they were young girls.  That was their thing.  They didn’t go out dancin’ or to movies like people do today.  And she had my dad there.  But after dad died it was a different ball game.  In the end my sister Annie and her husband went to live with my mother.  I don’t know if my sister finally bought the house or if my mother gave it to her.  My mother died July 20, 1968.  She was eighty-four.”

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Angelina with sons, clockwise from lower left: Frank, Albert, Austin, Henry, John, and George
 

Frank Morico, a cousin of the children of Nicola and Angelina, lived a few houses away from them.  He was particularly close to cousins Albert and Henry, and in the following excerpt from his oral history, remembers life as he was growing up on Burke Street.

“I think I lived in a lovely age.  I’ve seen life from the horse and buggy, to the jet, to travel in outer space.  I remember when the milkman went by with steel wheels, then rubber tires.  I remember when they used to clean the street with oxen.  They had a point with a flat bottomed base made out of steel that they used to move the snow. I remember when they put the toilet in the house.  It was unbelievable.  When we were kids we had the outhouse.  We used to put on burlap bags so we wouldn’t get wet.  I’d move the snow with my burlap boots to make a path to the outhouse.  “Off the bed, onto the floor, a 50 yard dash to the toilet door.”
“Then as I grew up I got involved with the Cofrancescos, the De Lizeos, the LaFrances and the Civitellis on Burke Street.  We watched the lamp lighter light the gaslights.  We played Buck Buck, How Many Fingers Up; Kick the Can; Piggy; and Sheep Across the Moon.  That was our life.  We played sports constantly in baseball season and football season.  We used to buy these quarter soft balls that looked like baseballs.  When the cover came off, we’d put tape on em’.  Sometimes they would go in Mr. Fragoloa’s yard and he wouldn’t give em’ back.  So one day a bunch of us guys got together and moved his outhouse.  And he come out and says, “Hey boys, you know where my shit house is?”  And we said, “Can’t you find it?  No? well, we’ll look for it.”  About ten minutes later, “We found it Mr. Fragola”.  He always gave our ball back after that.  Another story I’ll never forget, Albert Cofrancesco went fishing and when he didn’t return home his mother began asking everybody, “Have you seen Albert?”  Well, nobody had seen him.  We had a walking policeman in our neighborhood.  He went looking around for Albert too.  I think about 4:30, here comes Albert with a load of fish.  Jesus!  Angelina comes down Burke Street, which was all dirt ruts and so forth, hugs him, kisses him, then she takes him a little way and beats the hell out of him!  That night we were sitting’ underneath the light and he says, “Jesus, you know my mother says she loves me, she loves me.  She damned near killed me.”  That’s the hitting of love, you know.”
“Angelina was my aunt.  My mother and Angelina’s husband, Nicola were brother and sister.  They were close, but the only thing I remember about uncle Nick is the day he was buried.  It was very sad.  My mother said he had emphysema.  Angelina, to me, she was a delight.  I recall many incidents when she was over the house.  It was a gathering place on weekends.  She and Tony and Simon, Peter, Rose, Helen and Paul Cofrancesco, along with the Morico side of the family and neighbors used to gather.  My mother would play the tambourine.  One time Angelina came over wearing a kelly hat and danced the tarantella and sang.  And when we went to church on Sundays we always stopped over at her house for a meatball.  She was a true delight, and treated us royally.”
“You know, one of the incidents I’ll never forget from when we were kids; on Halloween, one of the things we took turns doing was tying the front door knob to the porch, ringing the bell, and running.  Well it was Albert’s turn.  Most doors open inward, but the one Albert tied opened outward.  He rang the bell, the guy opened the door outward, and there they were for a second just staring at each other.  Well, Albert wasn’t a fast runner but he had these work shoes on with nail cleats.  He passed us running like there was no tomorrow.  We were crouched behind bushes and heard the guy huffing and puffing by us, but he never caught Albert.  Later Albert bought the house of Samson Smith at the corner of Fairview and Mott Street, and Georgie bought next door.  As time went on, Harry Cofrancesco and I walked to high school together.  We’d walk from 90 Burke Street to high school and after football or baseball practice, walk home again.  Mama would give me a quarter to get three tokens for when it rained.  Instead I bought candy and stuff with it and walked home in the rain.”

The following oral history by my cousin Albert, the son of Albert and Josephine, provides additional insight into the children of Nicola and Angelina

“My mother never told me how they (Albert and Josephine) met, but I can remember some of the stories.  My mother was the oldest daughter in a family of ten.  And her father never wanted her to go out with my father.  One night my father took her out to the movies then took her home.  Her father was waiting at the door with a butcher knife and chased him down the street.  My mother was very smart but her father didn’t want her to go to school or anything.  He would say the boys are no good.  They’re only after you for one thing and all this stuff, so she quit. She went to Catholic School in New Haven on Wooster Square but ended up working in the sweatshops.  She was a heck of a seamstress, a heck of a cook too!  She was good and my father was good too.  He was the type of person if he had anything, money or whatever; he wanted you to have it now to see what you’d do with it.  “Forget about when I’m dead!”  That's the way he lived his life.  He would give you the shirt of his back-anybody.  I remember when he bought us a television.  I was in the fourth grade at Newhall Street School.  We were thrilled to death cause the Carbones on Dudly Street had one.  We used to go over there.  It got one channel.  He was a happy go lucky man, although when I was a kid I moved around a lot.  I went to six different schools before I was ten.  But my father always cared for us.  He always took care of us and I always loved him.”
“I knew all my uncles and I can’t really say anything bad about them.  But I don’t ever remember them being together at one time.  With my uncles, my cousins, I remember going over their houses and they were pretty decent guys.  Uncle Austin seemed to always be a grumpy old guy, although when you got to know him, he was a real nice guy.  Uncle Frank, knew everything, no matter what it was, and you couldn’t talk.  My Uncle John was a quiet guy.  They were a quiet family.  I never really got to know Tom except for the last few years before he passed away.  We were never in his company that I can remember.  Uncle Harry moved to Tennessee after he got through college at the University of Chattanooga.  We would see him and his wife when they got back although I didn’t know his kids very well.  My Uncle George’s kids, we hung out with.  We would see Austin and his sisters every once in a while.  When we had a gathering, either Uncle Austin would come or my Uncle Frank, but never all at one time.

My Uncle George and my father used to hang out together with the De Lizeos.  I don’t know who had the car, but they used to go to Savin Rock in West Haven, and they had to be home by a certain time.  But they never got home by that time and their mother would be mad.  Then Uncle Austin would get mad because they didn’t want to get up to work on the farm the next day”.  Uncle Austin used to be in charge of whatever.  I remember they had plow horses.  My father then hooked up with City Fuel Oil and Coal Company.  I remember that because I used to help him.  It was a very dirty job.  My Uncle Austin was a carpenter.  He would bring my father on construction jobs.  My father was a laborer, but never wanted to do that kind of work.  Somehow he got into the painting end of it.

Frank and his son had the bakery.  My father used to deliver bread but my father always wanted to be his own boss.  He and Uncle George became partners in the painting contracting business.  But they would stay in touch with Uncle Austin cause when they needed a carpenter, they would call him up.  As a matter of fact, when I took over the business after my father died, I called on Uncle Austin to help me out doing carpenter work.  Al, Frank, and Austin were pretty close.  They were close with my Aunt Mary because she helped “grow up” the family, its true.  My father said Austin and Mary were the ones really growing up the family (after the death of Nicola) because my grandmother was sick all the time.  I remember when we were putting the addition on our house on Fairview Avenue.  Your father (Uncle Austin) was there.  Uncle John was there, and Uncle Frank would pop in.  They were still sorta talking.  But they couldn’t get along on anything.  Frank’s “This way.”  Austin says, ”You should do it this way.”  Uncle John (says),”You should do it that way.”  All my father was doing was trying to get it together.  Then Frank stopped comin’ around.  He would only come over when nobody else was around.  If I remember right, Uncle John and Austin did most of the carpentry work there.

Uncle Harry; he was feeling good or something, always had to be the star of the show.  When he came here he and my father used to have some good times--arm wrestle!  Oh Geez!  They’d come over to our house in the annex on Main Street.  “Holy Geez, Let’s go!”  I’d have to steady them in the middle.  “Red?”  They’d get so red.  I’m tellin’ you, I can’t explain how red they’d get; nobody would give in.  Finally they would both call it quits.  My father would say, “I still gotcha!”

I remember going to Uncle George’s.  There were always a lot of kids over there.  His son James died when he was four.  He and my brother Joey were born at the same time.  Jamie was Uncle George’s pride and joy.  Joey was my father’s pride and joy.  When Jamie got leukemia he was never the same.  He would have been 38, because my brother is going to be 38.
Tom and John; they always did good.  Harry did good.  He did excellent.  From what my father told me, Harry worked summers in construction putting himself through school.  Then he made so much money in the construction end of it, he forgot about becoming a doctor even though he was accepted into medical school.  He started buying houses; then whole blocks of homes.  He made tons and tons of money.  Good luck to him.  My Uncle Frank ended up in Tennessee.  From what I understand, Harry asked the brothers if anyone wanted to invest in the shopping center.  Well, the shopping center didn’t pay off.  So Frank and his family thought what the heck!  What’s going on here?” (According to Frank’s son Nick, his father went to Tennessee to see what was happening at the shopping center, and then returned to Hamden, before eventually moving to Tennessee.)"

The following death announcement, written by my cousin Augustine, the son of Austin and Laura, provides highlights of his father’s life and references to his uncles.  It furnishes additional insight into the Cofrancesco character.

COFRANCESCO, AUSTIN.  Austin Cofrancesco, 89, of 499 River Rd.  Hamden died Friday (May 5, 2000) at home after a long and productive life.  Born in New Haven, in 1910, he moved to Highwood, Hamden, with his mother Angelina Corona Cofrancesco, older brothers, Carmine, John, Frank and his father Nicola, who built a new home at 46 Burke St.  Austin became a lifelong Hamden resident receiving his education through a life of hard work as a carpenter and farmer and an unwavering commitment to family.  At 16, he and his brother John worked with 40 other carpenters to build the Payne Whitney Gymnasium at Yale University.  They were the last two carpenters to be released due to their skill and extraordinary work ethic.  Austin helped build many homes in Highwood, Spring Glen and Dunbar, during the 30s, 40s and 50s.

Married to Laura Rossetti in 1938 he built her a new home at 56 Burke St.  and became the father of Augustine, Laura and Angelina, being recognized for devotion and sense of responsibility to family, immediate and extended.  During the Great Depression, he began farming in order to earn enough to help his family survive.  Mary Candido, a sister, handled the household chores while he and brother George, Albert and Harry, farmed all the land on both sides of Fairview Ave. and other large open tracks in Hamden.  In the 40s Austin and brother Frank, created the Victory market, on Fairview Ave. where they grew produce to support the war effort.  Austin could be referred to as a Jack-of-all-trades, painter, mason and baker as well as a master carpenter due to his ingenuity in tackling and solving problems.  In the 40s he and brothers George and Albert painted the bridges in Hamden by rigging scaffolding to a large flat bed truck, creating a mobile unit, speeding the completion of the work.  Purchasing and farming 10 acres on Denslow Hill Rd., he convinced the town to pave and bring in sewer and water and built the first house on the street by hand in 1950, using fieldstone from the cleared land.

Retiring in 1980 he enjoyed spending time with his loving wife and helping his children and families.  Playing bocci and table tennis were his favorite pass times.  After the death of his wife in 1992, his daughter Laura Viski and her husband became the primary care givers as his health declined.  In 1998, Mayor Barbara DeNicola at the Cofrancesco Family Reunion at St. Joan of Arc Church honored him.  Mayor DeNicola was presented with a contribution for the Keefe Center Preservation of History of Highwood and a video aired on CPTV in 1980 about Hamden history, which the Cofrancesco Family played a major role in the production.

My Uncles Albert and Henry served in WW II.  I can remember seeing them in uniform at my grandmother’s house.  Uncle Henry got married in uniform and I was the ring bearer.  I remember he was in the Army Medical Corps.  His cousin Frank Morico also served in the Medical Corps, and Frank recalls his service experience.

“We took exams and they handed that out to me (ie: the Medical Corps).  Truck drivers became bakers, and bakers became truck drivers.  I was sent to school for training and I really enjoyed it.  We landed in Ireland, then went to Scotland for a day.  Then they shipped us to Maidstone, England near the cliffs of Dover.  I’ll never forget this as long as I live.  On D-Day the planes went over night and day.  You couldn’t see the sky.  Also while we were in England, a plane hit a school.  Our outfit was called to help.  Many youngsters were killed, but if we weren’t there, many more would have died.  A month after D-Day we were taken by boat to France.  There were bombs, nets loaded with em’ in the water but we made it all right.  From France we went to Germany where we took care of a lot of sick and hit boys.

Things happened in the service.  Guys got “Dear John” letters from their wives and girl friends and they’d become drunks.  There was a guy by the name of Fisher who got a “Dear John” letter.  I said to him, “What the hell, she don’t want you, why think about her?”  And one time my partner Campagnaro and I took off a foot.  We called on Fisher to bury it.  Before he buried it he took a look and came running back.  “It’s a foot!  It’s a foot!” It took him a while to get over it.  Campagnaro reminded me how lucky we were to be alive.  I could have been killed in the sledding accident with Billy:  I could have been killed in the war.

The Lord gave me life so whenever something goes wrong I say, “Ah, I’m so lucky to be alive.”  Later, when I went to college I took psychology, with Dr. Danielson.  He said, “If you’re worried about something that’s gonna happen, and you can do something about it, great.  But if you’re worried about something you can do nothing about, you have to be strong enough to put it in the back of your mind or it will ruin your life.”


Finding my Italian roots has increased my sense of self-identity.  I feel I have come to know ancestors I never met.  I can picture Ferdinando and Maria, with their nine children, eking out a living on farms in the Massa area, “sotto montagna”.  Tired of war and civil strife, and of fighting poverty and disease, they longed for a better way of life and dreamed of leaving the land they knew; and traveling to a distant land that held the promise of a brighter future.  Lacking the funds to allow them to emigrate as a family, Ferdinando and Maria bade farewell to their children one by one, as they boarded ships in Naples, not knowing when they would hear from them, let alone see them once more.

As their children arrived in the strange new world, with their meager possessions and funds, they were immediately faced with the need to find employment and a place to live.  Unfamiliar with the English language, they sought help from other Italians who had preceded them.  Through determination and hard work, they settled into their new life, and assisted their siblings follow in their footsteps.  They began to marry and raise families of their own.  Finally the day came when Ferdinando and Maria, with their youngest child, departed Massa to join the children who preceded them, but leaving two sons behind.  Imagine the reunion that took place in New Haven when they saw children they hadn’t laid eyes on for as long as ten years, and met spouses and grandchildren for the first time!  Soon their remaining sons were able to make the trip and at last the family was together again.

It is apparent that they all worked hard to better themselves, and give their children a way of life they never knew in Italy.  Their determination, work ethic, and devotion to family were passed on to their descendants, as can be seen in the oral histories that are part of this document. I feel I was very fortunate to have been given the Oral Histories of several of my relatives by Romily Cochrane Cofrancesco, the wife of my cousin Augustine whose father was my Uncle Austin.  The Histories impart a unique flavor to the story of my ancestor’s lives.

I hope that the descendants of the great grandchildren of Ferdinando and Maria have the opportunity to read this family history and gain, as I have, a greater understanding and appreciation of our Cofrancesco heritage.
Ultimo aggiornamento ( 06/25/08 )
 

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