Tony & Nicoline Bongiovanni

Mariano Antonio Siro Bongiovanni, better known as Tony Bongiovanni, was the husband of Nicolina Nastasi. He was the father of eight children including Minnie Bongiovanni.  He was the son of Doctor Angelo Bongiovanni and Mary Inez Colosi-Bongiovanni. And he was the half-brother of Lucia Colosi.

Nicolina Nastasi was the daughter of Domenico Nastasi and Rosaria Miraglia. She was the mother of Minnie Maggie Bongiovanni, who later married Angelo Colosi. Tony and Nicolina were my great-grandparents on my mother’s side.

Tony Bongiovanni was born on December 8, 1886 in San Pier Niceto, Sicily, which is in the province of Messina. Sicily had become part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1860, but Sicilians got neither the republic nor the equality they had been promised. Important police, judicial and political positions had been filled by northern Italians, and the Sicilians viewed the unification of Italy as a conquest of the south by the north. The Sicilian economy collapsed and this led to the unprecedented wave of emigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

I don’t know anything about Tony’s life in Italy. His father was a doctor and the second husband of opera singer Mary Inez Colosi-Bongiovanni, so it is possible Tony’s parents were among the more well to do. And since his mother’s career had included engagements in Rome, it is very possible his family was among the northern Italians who pressed into Sicily after the unification. It is also possible Tony’s father had moved there to help the Sicilian people, who were among those with more sickness and disease due to their poverty.

Around 1902, at about 16 years old, Tony immigrated to America. His father was likely with him, but I have no evidence that his mother ever came to America. When Tony applied for citizenship years later, he said that he’d come to America in 1902 on the ship Germania. But in my research I find that the Germania didn’t begin her trans-Atlantic crossings until 1903, and I have been unable to find any passenger records for Tony or his father.

Tony said he had left Messina in June 1902 and had arrived at the port in New York on June 10, 1902. I’m not sure what took place during his first few years in the United States. His half-sister Lucia Colosi didn’t immigrate to America until 1907. Records showed that Lucia’s father was meeting his Bongiovanni nephew who lived in Newark, New Jersey, so it is possible that Tony also had Bongiovanni relatives in New York or New Jersey.

Sometime prior to 1910, Tony moved to the town of Washington, Pennsylvania, which is about 30 miles southwest of Pittsburgh. He rented a room on Chestnut Street from an Italian family by the last name of Nastasi. It was there that he met and fell in love with the Nastasi’s oldest daughter, Nicolina.

Nicolina Nastasi was born on December 9, 1893 in San Pier Niceto, Sicily. She had immigrated to the United States in 1904 at the age of ten, with her mother, two sisters, a brother, an aunt and a cousin.

Oral family history says that Tony wanted to marry Nicolina, but she had not wanted to marry Tony.  Since marriages were often arranged by parents, I’ve wondered if Nicolina’s parents encouraged the marriage because of Tony being a doctor’s son. Whatever the case, a wedding was planned for April 9, 1910. Tony was 24 years old and Nicolina was 16. Their marriage license shows each of them as a year older, but their birthdays would not have been until later that year. It does not appear that they had a church wedding. Their marriage license was signed by a Justice of the Peace.

Tony and Nicolina traveled back and forth to visit Tony’s half-sister Lucia Colosi in Manhattan, New York. I’m not sure how often they visited, but I have been told they would go by train. The train was likely the Pennsylvania Special, later named the Broadway Limited that had a route from Penn Station in Manhattan to Chicago, Illinois.

Tony and Nicolina first lived on Manifold Road which is just outside of Washington, PA. It was there that their first four children were born. Their first child was a daughter born on April 21, 1911.  Her name was Minnie Maggie Bongiovanni and she would later marry Angelo Colosi — these would my grandparents.

Tony and Nicolina’s next child was another daughter, born on January 20, 1914. They named her Sarah.  Then on April 23, 1917, they had a son and named him John. On February 26, 1920 Elena, known as Helen, was born.

Many of the old Italian spellings and pronunciations of names changed over the years.  Antonio became Anthony; Lucia became Lucy; Antonio became Anthony, and so on.  I don’t know if Johnnie was originally named Giovanni or not.

It was in November 1920, several months after Helen was born, that Tony applied for citizenship. It was known as Declaration of Intention. Tony listed his name as Antonio M.S. Bongiovanni. He was just about to turn 35 years old. He listed his complexion as light, and his eyes and hair were listed as brown. I have been told he had red hair like his mother. Tony was 5 feet, 5 inches tall and weighed 142 pounds. He was working as a barber. He became a US citizen a few years later, in June 1923.

Tony’s barber shop was in the basement of a building on the corner of Baird Avenue and Fayette Street in Washington, PA.  There was a write-up about the building in the newspaper that said it had been moved to its present location to make way for the construction of the Eighth Ward School. The owner of the building was George Swingle and the building used to be known as the West Side Hotel, but was more commonly known as Swingle’s Hotel.

Tony and Nicolina’s house on Manifold Road burned down and they moved to a house on Brookside Avenue inside Washington, PA. Oral history says they lived at 90 Brookside. Tony listed his address as 49 Brookside in 1923. They may have lived at 49 for a short time and then moved to 90. But whatever the case, their next two children were born at a house on Brookside. Lucia, known as Lucy, was born on July 12, 1922. And on September 10, 1924 they had a son that was named Anthony after his father.

At some point Nicolina became known as Nicoline.  She was a lovely woman with extra long hair that she kept up in a bun.  When Nicoline would let her hair down for washing, it went all the way to down to the floor and about two feet beyond. My mother tells me that she’d wash her hair in a large laundry basin and it would fill the whole basin.

Sometime after young Anthony was born, Tony bought an empty lot just around the corner from his place on Brookside, and built a house there. It was a large house split into separate apartments. It was at this house, at 420 Fayette Street, that Tony and Nicoline’s last two children were born.

Tony’s son Dominick, who was nicknamed Dom, was born on February 12, 1928, and Francis, nicknamed Fran, was born on October 3, 1931. Fran, the eighth and last child, was born about a month before Nicoline’s 38th birthday. Tony was almost 45 at the time.

At the start of 1931, Tony’s oldest daughter, Minnie Colosi, was ready to give birth to her first child, and it was at this time that news came that her mother, Nicoline, was pregnant with her last child, Fran. Minnie’s daughter was born on February 20th, and Nicoline’s daughter was born October 3rd.  The two girls were more like sisters rather than Aunt and Niece.

Tony Bongiovanni was very skilled and had not only been a barber, but was also a brick layer and owned several houses. However, after the Great Depression, Tony had to sell everything.

At some point Nicoline separated from Tony. We’ve been told that it was during the early 1930s, however Tony still has the Fayette street address on his draft card that was filled out in 1942.

In 1942, Tony filled out the required WWII draft registration card with local board. He was fifty-five years old, had brown eyes and gray hair. He was 5’ 6” tall and weighed 160 pounds….and he was unemployed.

Two years later, on January 18, 1944, Nicoline became a US citizen. She was 50 years old and her brown hair was beginning to gray.  She was 5 feet tall and weighed 118 pounds. Her complexion was dark and her eyes were brown.

As Tony grew older, he began working in a glass factory.  His final years were spent living at the Washington County Home.

Tony died on December 10, 1955, just days after his 69th birthday. When Nicoline heard that they were going to cremate Tony, she wouldn’t hear of it and she paid for all his funeral expenses so he could have a normal burial. Tony is buried at the Immaculate Conception Cemetery in Washington, Pennsylvania.

Nicoline lived for several more years.  She died on November 25, 1967, just weeks prior to her 74th birthday. She, too, is buried at the Immaculate Conception Cemetery in Washington, Pennsylvania.

Although most of the homes owned by Tony Bongiovanni had been sold during the depression years, Nicoline managed to keep the house on Fayette Street. The house is still there today. Several family members were born in that house, including my mother. There is still a member of the Bongiovanni family living there as of this writing in 2012.

All family pages will continue to be updated whenever new information is discovered. (Last update for this page was made April 10, 2012)


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