The Search for my Grandparents — Chapter 1 — The Starting Line

My father, Joseph Mancini

When it came time to writing, my 9th grade English teacher, Miss Porro, used to tell us “Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you told them.”

I realize in retrospect that this was hardly unique advice in high school English classes. But it struck a chord at the time, even though her commitment to education might be doubted by an impartial observer because Miss Porro and another teacher named Miss Horton reportedly ran off to join the Country Bear Jamboree at DisneyWorld shortly after completing our year. This may have been caused by post-traumatic educator stress after we spent a number of classes scouring Beatles album liners to determine whether Paul was in fact dead.

But I digress.

Perhaps because I am not quite sure how to begin this tale of the search for my grandparents.


“Tell them what you’re going to tell them.”

This will be the story of the hunt for my grandparents, specifically my father’s parents Frank and Elizabeth Mancini.

In the context of telling you what I am going to tell you, I will say right up front that I don’t know exactly how this story ends. I also do not know exactly why I started writing all of this down a month or so ago on the weekends or why I’ve decided to tell this story in a series of blog posts. I suppose on the latter, it has something to do with putting my feet to the fire and by declaring that I will do a series of blog posts, I will in fact actually do them.

I suppose it could also be that I’ve spent a lot of time around records managers and archivists in the past 20 years. As a history major many years ago, I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for the records managers and archivists who gamely struggle to get their organizations to pay attention not only to how information is used, but also what eventually happens to it. And that this challenge — and the need to identify modern and automated approaches to records management and information governance — is becoming more and more overwhelming as the tsunami of digital information threatens to overwhelm our ability to preserve it.

And I’m hoping perhaps that some of my records management friends who are far more skilled in the tools of archival research will help me discover the actual ending of this story.

Or maybe I’m doing this in the hope that this will be picked up as a movie — it’s quite a story — and that my wife and I will be played by Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks (respectively) in the movie version. Or the whole thing will at least be picked up by those “This American Life” people who did Serial.

OK. Up until a couple of years ago, here is the sum total of what we knew about my father’s parents:

  1. They immigrated from Italy.
  2. They lived in New York City, in Manhattan.
  3. They had two sons, Joseph (my father) and Vincent.
  4. They died in a fire in the 1930s.
  5. My father worked in a fruit stand as a boy (picture above).
  6. My father served in the Navy aboard the U.S.S. Simpson in World War II.

All true.

Well, as it turns out, all true except for #4.

Other chapters in the series:

The Search for my Grandparents — Chapter 1 — The Starting Line

The Search for My Grandparents — Chapter 2 — Meet the Brady Bunch!

The Search for My Grandparents — Chapter 3 — Happy St. Patrick’s Day, Sarah McEvoy!

The Search for My Grandparents — Chapter 4 — Why Sarah “Had to Leave” Ireland

The Search for My Grandparents — Chapter 5 — Where We Reconnect with Frank and Elizabeth

The Search for My Grandparents — Chapter 6 — The Story of Ne’er-do-well Grandfather Number One

The Search for My Grandparents — Chapter 7 — The post where the 1940 Census is released and we unexpectedly run into Frank and Elizabeth again

The Search for My Grandparents — Chapter 8 — The post where we find out really creepy things about the Rockland Psychiatric Hospital and expect to meet Nurse Ratched

The Search for My Grandparents — Chapter 9 — Ancestry and our WTF Moment

The Search for My Grandparents — Chapter 10 — And the Death Certificates Arrive

And not technically in this series, but related — The Pushmi-Pullyu Impact of Technology Innovation on Information Preservation