Becoming Italian Part 2: The Qualification Round

Not everybody can become an Italian citizen. Lots of Americans have parents, grandparents, great-grandparents who were born in Italy. But it is not by birth alone that one qualifies.

You are only eligible if the relative from Italy was not an American citizen at the time of the birth (in America) of the next descendent.

In other words, if my great-grandfather (born in Italy) was not yet an American when my grandfather was born (in the US), I would qualify. 

So my first mission? Get an official record that my great-grandfather Luigi Gallo (my father’s namesake!) never became an American.

And how does one do that? With government form G-1041

In Part 1 of this story (written and posted back in 2016), I made this step sound easy.

Spoiler alert: It’s not.

Form G-1041 goes to US Citizenship and Immigration Services, who then search their indices to see if the person in question ever became naturalized.

Luigi died just 10 years after arriving in the US, so I thought perhaps he was my ticket to an Italian passport. But in order to file G-1041, I had to do a bit of research.

My great-grandfather Luigi was a bit of a mystery when I started. I’d always heard he died when my grandfather was just three years old, his death the result of a dynamite explosion. My grandfather (Dominic Gallo) was dead by the time I started my research, but his wife (my Grandma Gallo) was and is still alive. But she knew very little about Luigi Gallo.

Form G-1041 requires you to list all known addresses. In this, my great-grandfather was a lot like me. In the space of his ten years in America, I was able to find four addresses for him. All of his, however, were within a mile of each other–in the Italian neighborhood of Poughkeepsie, New York.

Form G-1041 also asks for the immigrant’s date of arrival in the US. This was going to be a problem.

I  had (unsuccessfully) searched for his Ellis Island records during Anne Osiek’s Genealogy class at the John C. Campbell Folk School back in 2011.  But when I looked Luigi up by name, none of the Gallo’s I found matched his date of birth.

Anne explained that searching the online database of Ellis Island records didn’t always return results. “Remember the original records were hand-written and volunteers who put that information into the electronic database may have read a name incorrectly.” Indeed I had noted it was hard to distinguish between capital G and capital S on a lot of the records. 

 I thought I knew the town Luigi was from. My grandfather always said, “Calabria.” But it wasn’t until after my grandfather’s death that I learned Calabria is not a town — it’s a region.

I might have never known the town my great-grandfather came from had my mother not gone to the church in which he was married and obtained the record of his marriage. And bless the woman who looked that up–all we knew was who he married, and that the marriage must have happened before 1915 (when my grandfather was born).

That marriage record was a gold mine of information. I not only learned the town Luigi came from (Terranova di Sibari), but I also now had his parents’ names — which are sometimes listed on Ellis Island records.

I remember at one point combing through pages and pages of online Ellis Island records.

And more pages.

And more.

Just scrolling down the list of names hoping I’d find him. 



Scrolling some more.

And then: I found it.

Yes, when hand-written, the capital G of “Gallo” certainly looked like an S. . .

Ellis Island records at the time of his arrival also listed the address to which each immigrant was going. That was the first address I had for my great-grandfather (18 Duane St). By the time he married, he was at a different address (37 Bayeaux). And when my grandfather was born, he was living someplace else (26 Delafield St.). And by the time Luigi died, in 1918, he was at yet another address (15 Davis St.). 

The city of Poughkeepsie published a directory every year my great-grandfather was alive. Would I find more addresses in there? Nope. He’s not listed in any of them.

The only US Census for which he was in this country and alive was in 1910. As I scrolled his street on the census, I noticed it was all Italian last names. When I got to his house number, there were no names at all. It just said, “Italians.” I wondered why his name was not recorded?

I worked for the US Census Bureau for the 2000 census, so I know that you do not have to give your name to the census taker. You can even give them a fake name. I also know that if enough attempts are made to get the information from the residents and they are not home, we could get as much info as we could from a neighbor.

I have no idea if the rules were the same back then. I may never know why his name is not listed.

So for Form G-1041, I had his birthdate and place of birth (required), four known addresses, the date he arrived in the US, the date he married, and his children’s names (optional, but helpful, as per the form).

The USCIS received my request on 10/29/14.

I got my response back on 4/2/15.

Luigi Gallo was never naturalized.

And so began what would become a 7 year journey to Italian citizenship. 

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