My family and New York City's "real Little Italy"
This post is written by Frederick Wertz, Director of Digital Services for the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society.
My New York roots run deep in the Bronx.
My mother’s and father’s families were Irish, German, Italian, Norwegian, and Hungarian immigrants to New York. Members of nearly every line and every generation have, at one point or another, resided in the Bronx.
Unsurprisingly, Italian was the culinary heritage most often featured on my family’s table growing up: The dishes varied, but the go-to was typical “red sauce” and pasta - sometimes with sausage, sometimes with mushrooms - but always homemade, with the best ingredients.
And where do you get the best Italian ingredients in New York?
Opinions may vary, but not in my household.
The answer is without hesitation - Arthur Avenue, “the real Little Italy” in Belmont, a neighborhood of the Bronx.
A few blocks south of Fordham University and the New York Botanical Gardens, Arthur Avenue and the surrounding neighborhood has some of the best Italian ingredients and dining in New York City.
My father worked at Fordham, and took advantage of his proximity to Arthur Ave by regularly bringing home ingredients for my mother (who grew up not far away, on the Grand Concourse), to cook for special family dinners: Pecorino Romano from Teitel Brothers, fresh noodles from Borgatti’s, mozzarella di bufala from Calandra’s, and plenty of vegetables from the indoor Arthur Avenue Market.
When I grew older, I attended Fordham University, and continued living in the Bronx after graduating. I found myself living in the heart of the neighborhood, on the corner of Arthur Avenue and 187th Street.
I began cooking my own homemade meals, shopping at the same establishments as my parents did when I was a child. I became the resident chef of my own budding family - my wife and two dogs - and cooked up more than a few classic Italian meals for my parents and other visiting family members.
A surprising discovery close to home
While recently working on several map-related projects at the NYG&B, I began to wonder what my Bronx ancestors would look like on a map.
I used some of the tools and methods I featured in my recent class, “Using Geo-Tech Tools to Answer Research Questions,” and plotted all Bronx addresses I could find in my family history documents.
I discovered that 80 years before I lived there, my maternal great great grandmother, Rose Arena, lived just two blocks from where I lived on Arthur Avenue!
I knew from family stories that she lived on Bathgate avenue, but had never seen her exact address, and there she was - Bathgate and 188th, in 1944.
She undoubtedly shopped at the Arthur Avenue markets, just like I did - she could have even gotten her egg noodles from Borgatti’s, which has been open since 1935.
You can only imagine my surprise that I had frequented these significant locations - where she lived, shopped, and worked - for years without ever knowing it.
I’ve heard of this sort of tradition and permanence in rural small towns where family roots have remained for generations, but to discover that I returned, generations later, to the same neighborhood and same shops in a city as big as New York is remarkable.
These are the kind of discoveries that make family history so special - they bring such special meaning to our present lives and experiences by connecting with us the past.
Each day at the NYG&B I work to create tools that can help you make similar discoveries about the geography of your own family history, whether it’s in a small neighborhood of the Bronx, or spread across the Empire State and beyond.
Help us build technology to tell your family story
As the NYG&B continues expanding the services we offer to researchers and family history enthusiasts, our exciting plans for 2018 include a vast number of ways for you to discover your New York story.
Already this year we have released Mapping The Record, which has garnered significant interest. A product of NYG&B Labs, this free tool displays results from more than 50 years of articles from New York’s longest-running genealogical journal in an interactive map interface.
This innovative tool surfaces thousands of articles by geographical location, including church and vital records alongside family histories and biographies. This release makes The Record and its many family stories more accessible than ever.
The technology behind Mapping The Record is just one of the ways the NYG&B can add insights into your family history: Imagine plotting your family’s past on a map and coming to an equally exciting realization as I did.
The possibilities are truly endless!
However, we are only able to take on innovative projects like this thanks to our donors who understand the importance of expanding our services through new ways to assist historians, biographers and researchers. We are a leader in the field when it comes to digital access to New York materials.
Each day, the NYG&B strives to be forward-thinking and forward-acting, to provide our members with new tools to discover and put their own New York family on the map, but this can only continue with your financial help.
You can directly support these efforts by making a donation to the NYG&B’s annual fund.
A gift received today will fund more innovative tools to preserve New York stories for tomorrow and for generations to come.
About the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society
Since 1869, the NYG&B's mission has been to help our thousands of worldwide members discover their family's New York story, and there has never been a better time to join.
The cost of an Individual Annual Membership is less than six dollars a month, and includes the following benefits:
- Access to over 50 exclusive digital record sets covering the entire state of New York, including the fully searchable archives of The Record.
- A complimentary subscription to all of Findmypast's North American records, as well as U.K. and Irish Census records.
- Access to hundreds of expert-authored Knowledge Base articles and webinars to help you navigate the tricky New York research landscape.
- Exclusive discounts and advanced access to conferences, seminars, workshops and lectures to learn more about researching people and places across New York State.
To learn more or join us, please visit our member benefits page.