For some reason, when it comes to 1920-1940 census records, my mom’s side of the family just doesn’t like to show up for the party. On both sides, there are years and several family members unaccounted for.
I just recently found my maternal grandmother, her mother, and one of her brothers in the 1940 census by going through every page of records for her street…no thanks to the census taker and their horrible penmanship. My 19 year old grandmother and her 32 year old brother were both listed as 4 year olds and their last name Mihalovich was translated to Mihaliak, due to the sloppiness. 4 of her 9 siblings and their families (all were married, some with kids, at that point) are also still at large for 1940 and several are also for 1930.
But at least, with that find, my grandmother was accounted for for every (so far released) census since her birth. My grandfather was a different story. When it comes to DiBagnos, they are generally easy to find. The surname is so uncommon, that if you ever see it in the United States, it almost certainly pertains to a member of my family. However, the majority of them are noticeably missing from the 1940 census records that I’ve been able to find. Until yesterday, all of them were.
The DiBagnos and America in 1940:
In 1940, my great-grandparents Giulio and Adela DiBagno owned at least 2 homes: 301 Chestnut Street and 313 Chestnut Street in Jeannette, Pennsylvania. 301 Chestnut was the family home, the one they had lived in since the land was purchased in 1925, 5 years after arriving in America, and Giulio, a bricklayer by trade, built the house there. 313 Chestnut down the street was purchased from their neighbor, Joseph Moog, in 1937.
My great-grandfather Giulio was an incredibly smart man with an extremely useful trade and had the good fortune to have a wife with a head for money who was solidly no bullshit in the bargain. Having only immigrated in 1920 from a poverty stricken area of Italy with barely anything to their name, they nevertheless rode out the Great Depression better than most. My great-grandfather was a homeowner only 5 years after immigrating and had the good sense and ability to build and rent out other homes for additional income.
The average gross yearly income for a man in 1940 was $956. Factory jobs were common. In Jeannette that translated to either a job at one of the many glass companies (glass being the borough’s main claim to fame) or perhaps at the Pennsylvania Rubber Company, one of the biggest employers in the area.
Even in a place like Jeannette, which from early on was a magnet for the Italian community, the family suffered from discrimination. My mom remembers my grandfather telling her about the hatred directed towards him as a young man just for being of Italian descent. He was called slurs like “wop” and “dago,” and the animosity behind the name calling only ramped up when Italy became an enemy of the United States during World War II. Looking at the 1930 census records, almost 3/4 of the families living on Chestnut Street included at least one family member who was from Italy or whose parents were. People of Polish, French, English, and German descent made up the remainder. Though the DiBagnos as Italians were still subject to discrimination, at least they found a community to live in where they weren’t the odd men out. One of these fellow Italian families, living further down the street at #418, was listed on the census as Simenz, but I knew better. Giacomo “Jack Simmons” Scimia had Americanized his name, but was from the same part of Italy as my great-grandmother Adela (and shared her surname before he changed it). A DNA match between myself and one of his grandchildren supports my theory that Jack and Adela were related, but we’re still trying to figure out how.
Back to the DiBagnos and my search. In 1940, the family was made up of:
Giulio & Adela DiBagno – The parents; 47 and 50 years old, respectively.
and their 7 children:
Mary DiBagno – 28 years old and married to John Albert “Al” Antimarino. Their son would have been a baby.
Joseph “Joe” DiBagno – 25 years old and probably living at home while working at the Pennsylvania Rubber Company.
Frank DiBagno – 23 years old and married to Anna “Ann” Harvan. Their daughter would have been a baby.
Agnes DiBagno – 20 years old and probably living at home.
Geno DiBagno – 16 years old and probably living at home.
Edith DiBagno – 13 years old and twin of Tony, probably living at home
Tony DiBagno – My grandfather. 13 years old and twin of Edith, probably living at home
I had an uncommon surname and the exact addresses of the two homes they owned on the same street to work with. They should have been easy to find, but for some reason I was coming up empty. Having done an Ancestry search with no matches, I turned to the actual pages of the census sheets and searched by street name. The first set I found starts on the even numbered side of the street, begins to circle around to the odd side…and stops at the 400 block, not covering 300-100.
I kept searching and, on the very last page of another 24 page set of records by a different census taker (with terrible handwriting), 301 Chestnut Street showed up as sort of an afterthought, the last house listed in the set of records and the only house from that street listed in that entire set. Though this was the lone Chestnut Street home listed and 313 was nowhere in site, this was still a huge victory as it answered a lot of questions about what the family was doing at this time. I had always assumed Giulio, Adela, and the younger kids had stayed in the family home, 301 Chestnut, rented out their other properties until they finally moved to a different family home in the 1950s, and then rented 301. I was wrong.
Records show that by 1940, 301 Chestnut had already been turned into multiple apartments. Oldest sister Mary DiBagno was living in one with husband John Albert “Al” Antimarino and their young son Ronald “Ronnie,” their surname listed incorrectly as “Anta.” 301 was listed again right below that with a separate “head of household,” Frank DiBagno, Mary’s younger brother with his wife Ann and baby daughter, indicating they were in a separate apartment. Finally, at “301 1/2” was an Alfred Giarge (no relation to my family), his wife, and 5 kids, indicating a third apartment at 301, which was how many there were per my original understanding.
The census shows 28 year old Al Antimarino working as a laborer in the brickyards and making well under the average income. Al and Mary would eventually own a home in Jeannette and Mary would inherit one of the lots of land Giulio owned at the time of his death in 1961.
Frank DiBagno was working at the American Window Glass Company as a packer and making much closer to the average yearly income at $880. He worked extremely hard; family members remember long days and some absences from family functions because of work. Frank and his family would move to Trafford, Pennsylvania soon after the census was taken that year then back to Jeannette by the 1950s. The home they bought there on Evans Street would become their permanent family home.
The average monthly rent in 1940s Pennsylvania was about $23.75. Mary and Frank’s families of 3 each paid $10; the unrelated renter Giarge and his family of 7 paid $23.
This apartment arrangement matches up with the family structure at the time. The only two siblings who were married with families were living separately in apartments owned by the family. This tells me that the rest of the family was probably living at 313 Chestnut Street at this time, unless there was another home I am not aware of. Unfortunately, 313 and the 7 family members (probably) living there in 1940 is still at large. I won’t give up searching, though. They have to be somewhere!