Yesterday I wrote about the possible involvement of my 2nd great grandfather, George W. Huff and the famous Ulysses S. Grant funeral procession. At the end of the blog post I asked the question if he played taps at the internment. I researched this a bit further by reviewing the historic Brooklyn Daily Eagle throughout the first week of August.

Beginning in July and through August 8, there are articles about the funeral and wake preparations with names, dates, and places. It is remarkable to have free access to such amazing documents.

I was able to find some information about the important role the military band(s) played in the funeral procession. Here are a number of excerpts from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on August 8, 1885.

excerpt 2 from Brooklyn Eagle 8-8-85
Excerpt 1
Excerpt from Brooklyn Daily Eagle 8 Aug 1885
Excerpt 2
last excerpts from Brooklyn Eagle 8-8-85
Excerpt 3
excerpt 3 from Brooklyn Eagle 8-8-85
Excerpt 4. NOTE: Taps was played by a bugler from the 5th Artillery, just not my 2nd great grandfather. 

I am amazed that in 24 hrs I was able to find numerous articles on-line detailing the entire death and funeral process for President Grant from one paper in Brooklyn, NY. And to think that his paper actually names the bugler and cites his battery, is remarkable. Thank God for great journalism and digital archives.


When a Hero Dies

In June of 1885, former President and Civil War Hero, Ulysses S. Grant, retreated to Mt. McGregor in the Adirondacks to fight his last fight. Battling throat cancer, Grant weakened considerably in the last few weeks, he was still able to write his memoirs before passing away on July 23, 1885.

On August 5, 1885, soldiers from the 5th Artillery, were dispatched to Mt. McGregor and would become part of history. Batteries comprised of the 5th Artillery stationed in New York at the time, were a band company. Musicians. Their mission on August 5, 1885, was to guard and march the President’s body from the Adirondacks to his resting place in Riverside Park in New York before being moved to the General Grant National Memorial (Grant’s Tomb) in 1897.

George W. Huff first enlisted in the US Army in July of 1878, at only 17 years old even though his father died during the Civil War (July 9. 1862.) Yet, the legacy of service was long and proud for the Huff family as George’s great grandfather, Edmund Huff reportedly served in the American Revolution in Pennsylvania.


On July 21, 1885, George W. Huff married Mary Murphy in Manhattan, NY, only two days before President Grant passed away. Less than a month after his wedding, the young soldier, along with thousands of other military personnel, three living presidents, and a number of Civil War generals marched from Wall Street to Riverside Park in Morningside Heights.  The entire funeral procession, which took place from August 6-8, was attended by nearly 1,750,000 people.

On August 8, 1885, “Batteries E and K 5th Art left park at 7:30 and 8…for  NY City to participate in the funeral procession of Gen. Grant at NY City…returned to their proper station Fort Schuyler.”


I wonder if George and his company played taps or some other military eulogistic song at any point during the procession or upon their final stop at Riverside Park. It would seem like the artillery companies with the band were selected as part of the honor guard for a reason and that would be to play music.

My great great grandfather may be a side-note to history and pales in comparison to President Grant, but it must have been an amazing honor to take part in such a moment in history. My 2nd great grandfather, George Washington Huff, would serve in the US Army for another 17 years before passing away at the young age of 42. However, for 25 years, his entire adult life, he served this country and though there was no funeral procession for him when he passed, when a hero dies, we all will remember.



Little Italy and Missed Connections

Bristow Street in Saugus, MA runs parallel to Lincoln Ave. and Eastern Ave., nestled in a fairly secluded area that used to be called Little Italy by its residents. Nowadays, Bristow Street may no longer be considered Little Italy as the Italians have moved out and other families from Latin and South America have moved in. However, the neighborhood still feels the presence of the old Italian heritage as Bristow Street is bookended by Bucchiere Park on the Northwest and the Saugus Italian American Club to the Southeast.

The Italians that literally created this neighborhood were from Sicily and Southern Italy mostly. The 2nd husband of my 2x great grandmother (Rosa Ledda) built his house at 63 Bristow Street with his bare hands. Francesco Forti and Rosa (Ledda Barresi) Forti lived on Bristow Street for nearly 45 years raising children and grandchildren in the house he built. The house still stands today. 63 Bristow Street

In this house, the Barresi, Forti, and Congliano children and grandchildren played. I know most of this because I connected with the grandson and great grandson of Francesco Forti and Rosa Ledda. Frank Forti is now 93 and his son Joe is retired and living in North Carolina. I had the privilege to meet them and talk about our shared family. Frank is my 1st cousin 2x removed and Joe is 2nd cousin 1x removed.

Father and son have many great memories of Sunday dinners at the little house on Bristow Street. They said that even if you weren’t going to stay for dinner, everyone in the family would go by the house every Sunday to pay respect to their grandparents.

After meeting with Frank and Joe, I did some more research and found that in 1910 John and Cora Beatrice lived across the street from the Fortis. So I called my grandmother, whose mother was a Beatrice. She said that yes, her family lived on Bristow Street but she didn’t know John and Cora. That made sense because I was looking at the 1910 US Census and my grandmother wasn’t born until 1926. She said her great aunt Antonia married a Graziano and they lived on Bristow Street. I called her back and said that John and Cora was her 2nd great aunt and uncle, as John was Giovanni Beatrice and he was Antonia’s uncle.


By 1920, John and Cora were no longer on Bristow Street, but their niece Antonia Beatrice Graziano was living at 57 Bristow Street, nearly next door to Francesco Forti and Roa Ledda. In 1920, Antonio Graziano and Antonia (Beatrice) were living with their 11 children, a nephew, and a boarder, and likely making a racket out of the entire neighborhood


A couple doors down, the Forti residence was home to the extended Forti and Barresi family. Francesco and Rosa lived with their sons Francis and Andrew, as well as their daughter Mary, and her husband Michael Lopalito. Renting an apartment from Francesco Forti was his son Joseph Forti and his wife Mary (Cogliano) and a brother-in-law, Ciciro Barressi.

At 58 Bristow Street, Salvatore Barressi (the son of Rosa Ledda and her first husband Arcangelo Barresi, my 2nd great grandfather) lived with his wife Mary (Festa) and their 6 children. This Salvatore Barressi (notice the spelling,) was my 2nd great uncle.

My grandmother remembers spending time on Bristow Street with her parents visiting her great aunt and uncle and playing with her cousins. She also remembers playing with the Forti grandchildren as well. She said she likely even went in their house a few times in the early 1930s. She likely met my grandfather’s grandmother and she didn’t even know it until a couple of weeks ago!

This is complicated to say the least, but this was only the one single page I was reviewing in the 1920 US Census. On the next page I found more Beatrices, Losanos, and Tordigliones, all who are related to me one way or another, yet not related to the Fortis…that I can gather at least.


I find this Little Italy neighborhood fascinating for their close knit community. They knew each other and liked each other enough to intermarry quite a bit and continue to live in the same neighborhood for decades. Unlike nowadays when many of us fail to speak to our neighbors or build a community of our own.

It didn’t matter that the Fortis and Barresis were from Italy or that the Beatrices and Grazianos were from Campania. What mattered was that they shared a culture and community.




The Value of Civil War Pension Records

On March 8, 1861, in a little town 60 miles outside of Chicago, the only son of William Huff and Levina Foulk was born. Named after the first president of the United States, George Washington Huff’s early life was forever influenced by the American Civil War. Five weeks after his birth, on April 12, 1861, troops from the Southern and newly Confederate states, fired the the first shots of the Civil War upon Fort Sumter. Almost a year to the day of his first birthday, March 3, 1862, George’s father William enlisted in the Union Army in Company H of the 53rd Illinois, along with his brother Silas.

For the first month, the 53rd Illinois guarded Confederate prisoners in Chicago before marching to St. Louis under First Brigade, Fourth Division, Brigadier General J.G. Lauman commanding Brigade and Brigadier General S. A. Hurlbut. The regiment was ordered to Shiloh but couldn’t get transportation until the 2nd day of the battle, April 7, 1862. After Shiloh, the 53rd was at the Siege of Corinth which lasted from April 29-May 30.

After Corinth, the 53rd set out for Memphis, TN. The average temperature in Mississippi and Tennessee in June and July is 88-92 degrees. Fatigue and disease wreaked havoc on the soldiers. claims that 620,000 soldiers died during the Civil War and 2/3 of those deaths are attributed to disease and not wounds. That is over 413,000 soldiers dying from dysentery, typhoid fever, ague, yellow fever, scurvy, malaria, tuberculosis, and more.

One of those 413,000 soldiers was 37 year old William Huff, my 3x great grandfather. On or about July 7, 1862, William Huff became ill. His pension records alternately indicate it was chronic pneumonia or dysentery or typhoid fever. Regardless of the actual illness, William was sick for a couple of days before dying at La Grange, TN on July 9, 1862.

Christopher Starr testimony for William Huff-1

His friend and fellow soldier was with him during his service and at the time of his illness. Christopher Starr’s testimony to the State of Illinois in Grundy County, states,

being duly sworn upon oath (illegible) that he is a resident of Grundy County, Illinois  and that he knew William Huff, Private Co. H 53rd Regiment Illinois and that he died on or about the 9th day of July 1862 at Lagrange, Tenn. of a disease contracted  while in the service of the United States.

Later in the same testimony, Starr says,

about a month before his death the Reg marching from near Corinth to Grand Junction said Huff carried his knapsack until at Grand Junction on account of  exposure and fatigue during this march he was taken down with fever and chronic diarrhea of which he died as aforesaid.

Starr, a friend of Williams prior to the war, served alongside his friend right until the end. Starr ends his testimony with a show of friendship and camaraderie,

This officiant was with the said Huff on the March and saw him taken down, was with him and waited on him during his sickness, up to a day or two before his death.

This officiant was well acquainted with him before he entered the service and know that he was in good health before he entered the service and that he is not interested in this claim.

The true purpose of Starr’s testimony is to defend the pension of William’s son George by stating that the death was solely caused due to his service in the Army during the war. However, as a genealogist and keeper of family stories, it is a true act of grace to be able to find a document like this showing the friendship between two people during war. William’s death was not glorious, but it was painful and tragic all the same. Like 413,000 other soldiers, William is more than just a statistic and Christopher Starr only helped preserve his story.



What’s in a name?

I called my paternal grandfather, Papa, and my maternal grandfather, Pop. I know my mom called her grandfathers, Pa Driscoll and Pop Fields, so once again, fairly easy for us English speakers and very common. My father called his maternal grandfather, Grandpa, and he never knew his paternal grandfather. Even though many of these men were not native English speakers, French and Italian, they didn’t have traditional native nicknames for grandparents. We didn’t have any Nonnos or Grand-peres in our family.

That’s why I have always been fascinated with my father’s nickname for one of his maternal great grandfathers. He called his great grandfather, Stefano Belmonte, Dado (pronounced Tha-dough.)

My father Michael Barresi on the left, his cousin Nancy Belmonte in the middle, and their great grandfather, Stefano “Dado” Belmonte on the right.


I have not found a translation of the name, partly because I don’t know how to spell it and neither does my father. I know it may be a pet nickname that the family created for him, but it could also be a nickname that was common in Campania.

Once, a few years ago, while watching Lidia Bastianich’s cooking show on PBS, her son Joe was on and he was briefly talking about his grandfather…and he called him Dodo (pronounced Dodo.) It was the first time that I had heard an Italian reference their grandfather in similar terms. The pronunciation may have been a little different, but I’m willing to bet that is merely a difference in dialect.

My journey to decipher the origins of Dado’s continues because I’m thinking that one day maybe my grand children will be able to call me Dado and I’ll actually know what they mean!

Blood Memory

What do you call it when you have nostalgia for a time and place that you have never been? Blood Memory. This is when the traditions and culture of your family and relatives is imprinted in your DNA…it’s in your blood.  Or so they say.

I’ve been thinking about this more frequently over the past year as I’ve delved deeper into my Italian-American heritage. Perhaps I’m feeling nostalgic for a time and place that really never was, because I am getting older. I’m becoming sentimental as I climb closer to old age.

I first heard of blood memory while listening to Dolores Fieri’s and Anthony Fasano’s The Italian American Podcast. I never had a name to attach to my feelings, but this episode summed it up pretty well.

It really all started when we grew our first real garden last year and just having tomatoes growing in my backyard made me think about my grandfather. You could always find him tilling his beloved garden. I remember the tomatoes and the smell of the garden out by his metallic shed. I remember my grandfather wearing his khaki shorts, with a white tank top tucked in, and always a bandanna on his head. Like many Italian Americans, he took great pride in his garden as he cultivated and grew food that hgis family would eat. Like making bread, growing a garden is a spiritual thing.

Even as I write this, I think about my mother’s family too. They may not have been Italian, but I remember stories my mother told us about her grandmother, Nana (Elizabeth Slater) Driscoll. Nana Driscoll was Irish-American, but could speak Italian. Her neighbors and friends in Everett, MA were Italian and she picked up the language over the years. Italian culture has a way of doing that…it takes over.


I even find myself wanting to try many traditional Italian recipes, like making homemade sausage. I have no idea if my great grandparents made homemade sausage, but I would like to think they did. And if they did, I would like to think that they invited friends and family over, drank wine, got loud, and ate most of the sausages the same day! Yet, I have no idea if they did or did not. It’s just another instance in which I am overcome with blood memory.

The benefit of this blood memory is that it makes me want to record these traditions. This way, my children and grandchildren won’t just have blood memory, but actual memories of sharing time together, telling stories, and enjoying our shared culture.


Researching dit Names

Up until a few years ago, I had no idea what a dit name was. However, if you are researching French-Canadian families, then you will quickly begin seeing these elongated names. The first one I came across was my infamous 7x great grandfather, Nicolas Joseph Deschamps dit Cloche. Since I don’t read French, I remember reading dit Cloche and not even paying attention to it. I should have paid attention.

Dit names are common among French-Canadians and are fairly frequent in the 18th and 19th centuries. Dit names are nicknames that the person takes on to differentiate themselves from someone else. Or perhaps they are simply a nickname. However, if there are a number of people in the same community with the last name Deschamps, but one was a farmer, they may be called Nicolas Joseph Deschamps dit Ferme (farm in French.) Yet, Nicolas had a different dit name…Cloche. Cloche is bell in French, but it is also a “transparent plant cover used outdoors especially for protection against cold.”

Nicolas Joseph was a farmer in Nova Scotia and Ille St. Jean (Prince Edward Island) so perhaps the dit Cloche was in reference to the definition of cloche regarding the gardening device. Or perhaps he lived near a bell or rang a bell or was shaped like a bell. I don’t know and I’m not sure we will ever know.

Many families carried using the dit name in future generations, though this didn’t happen for Nicolas Joseph’s descendants. His family continued using Deschamps, including my 6x great grandfather Joseph Philippe. It wasn’t until my great grandfather, George Arthur Deschamps, decided to Anglicize the name to Fields in the early 20th Century that my maternal line ceased using Deschamps, and only Deschamps.