A Rotterdam man’s journey to find his ‘lost’ grandfather

Tony Serafini discovers his grandfather Luigi rests in small Pennsylvania cemetery
Tony Serafini kneels at his grandfather's grave in Pennsylvania. Right, Tony with wife Annette and grandson Gianluca.
Tony Serafini kneels at his grandfather's grave in Pennsylvania. Right, Tony with wife Annette and grandson Gianluca.

When Luigi Serafini left his family in Italy and headed to America in 1913, the idea was to make some money as fast as he could and then reunite with his wife and infant son.

Unfortunately the reunion, either in the small town of Braddock in western Pennsylvania or back in Serafini’s home town of Fontechiari about 50 miles southeast of Rome, never happened. Less than six months after arriving in this country Serafini was killed in an accident while working at the Edgar Thomson Steel Works.

 Tony Serafini, who came to Schenectady from Italy in 1955 when he was 17 years old, never knew his grandfather and only had a few vague details about his life and death at the age of 33 more than a century ago. While he couldn’t do anything about the circumstances of Luigi’s life and death, he was determined to learn more about his grandfather, the ultimate goal being to find the whereabouts of Luigi’s grave.

“I never met my grandfather, I never held his hand, and unfortunately I never even had a picture of him,” Tony Serafini said last week. “He came to America to get a job and make some money, but I don’t know what his plans were. I don’t know if he was going to go back to Italy or bring his family over here.”

When 17-year-old Tony and a younger sister, Sandy, showed up in Schenectady in 1955 with their father, Domenico Serafini, they moved into a home on Gerling Street in the Goose Hill section of town. Domenico’s wife, Maria, and another daughter, Phyllis, followed a year later. While Domenico Serafini always wanted to know more about the death and eternal resting place of his father, the business of life – taking care of his wife and three children – got in his way and any attempt to learn more about his father’s grave site came up empty. Before Domenico died in 1984, his son promised he would continue the quest.

After a dozen or so starts and stops and with the help of his wife, Annette, and their grandson, Gianluca Alonzi, Tony finally got to place two flags and a rose on Luigi’s grave marker in a small cemetery in Braddock last August.

“I was very, very proud when I planted that American flag and the Italian flag…. and a rose for my grandpa,” said Serafini.

The search for his grandfather began again in earnest 14 years ago when Tony visited his homeland and just by chance was introduced to three men from the Pittsburgh area.

“We had tried earlier but kept on running into deadends,” said Annette Serafini, Tony’s wife. “We had kind of put things on hold and then Tony met those men in Italy, and they had heard of the cemetery and knew of it. That got us back into it.”

But nothing came easily. Finally, the Serafinis asked Schenectady City Historian Chris Leonard for help and he got them in touch with the library staff of the Heinz History Center, an arm of the Smithsonian, in Pittsburgh. With that group’s help they discovered Luigi’s death certificate and immigration information as well as a small newspaper article about the accident in the Pittsburgh Leader from 1913.

What made the search so difficult was that Luigi Serafini’s name had changed considerably over the years, either through it being “Americanized” or due to sloppy record keeping. With the help of the Heinz History Center and officials at the Braddock Cemetery, the mystery seems to have finally been cleared up.

“We found out there was only one person buried at Braddock Cemetery that day, May 8, 1914, and his name was Lewis Furcein,” said Annette Serafini, a Schenectady native and a Linton High graduate who went on to SUNY-New Paltz and became a school teacher at Zoller Elementary School. “Could Lewis Furcein be Luigi Serafini? By finding documents like the death certificate, autopsy report, inquest record and newspaper articles we were able to show how the spelling of his name gradually changed.”

Eventually, the Serafinis put together enough evidence to convince the Braddock Cemetery officials, who had provided much of the help themselves, that Lewis Furcein, killed by a falling anchor bolt, was indeed Luigi Serafini.

“We got a letter from them last July, saying we got it correct, and on Aug. 13, me and Gianluca went down there and planted the flags and the rose,” said Tony Serafini, who was a very successful home builder in Guilderland and Rotterdam.

While the cemetery knew where “Lewis Furcein” was buried, there wasn’t any headstone or marker indicating his whereabouts. Last year, Serafini paid to have a marker placed with the correct spelling of his grandfather’s name along with the following inscription. “Nonno (which means grandfather), who came to America to create a better life for his family.”

“It was a special experience to see those different generations come together like that,” said Alonzi, a Guilderland High graduate and currently a junior at Penn State. “It was cool to learn how he came over here to start our family so long ago. Many of them never had plans to stay. He might have been planning on going back to Italy but we don’t know for sure.”




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