Tuesday, January 28, 2014

52 Ancestors: Vincent Spina or "James Penn" - Born 1874 Simbario, Calabria, Italy

So, we're not all Irish! We're a little bit Italian, too. Here's the proof:

This is the petition for naturalization for my great, great grandfather James Penn, whose real name we were told was Vincent Spino. This record proves at least half of this is semi-true, with his last name being "Spina" on this record. His son, Bruno, known as "Bruce," was my great grandfather. 

Below is a picture of James, with wife Sarah Payne, born 1881 in Lee County, VA and daughter Laura, born 1909 in Wise County, VA.

James, Sarah and Laura Penn, circa 1911, picture in possession of the author's grandmother
There is a record of a Vincent Spina arriving at Ellis Island in 1892, just as his naturalization record states, but immigration records at that time did not list much more than name, age and how many number of bags the immigrant had in their possession. He was by himself, but it did not state where he was going once he reached the U.S. This arrival could have been him, but I can't say for sure.

I do have a copy of James and Sarah's marriage license, which states that James was a widower at the time of their marriage on May 20, 1899. James, born in Italy, listed his parents as Bruno and Mary Penn on that document. 

A trip to Wise County, VA is in order for me to dig up information on his first marriage, among the ten thousand other things I need to look up down there. Looks like I'll need to win the lottery, so I can spend months in these courthouses. Luckily, most of my family comes from southwest Virginia/western North Carolina, so not too much traveling is required!

James was a coke puller in the Wise County coal mines.

James Penn, circa 1910's, coke puller, photo in possession of the author's grandmother
Raw coal was placed in a hot oven and the combustible properties of the coal were discharged and melted down. The result of that burning process was coke, which is used as a type of fuel and was also one of the materials used on the Apollo command module heat shields. James' job was to pull the coke out of the ovens when it was ready. It was hard work, especially in the heat of the summer.

James moved his family to Fluvanna County, VA sometime between 1930-1934. He died in 1962, eight years after Sarah passed away in 1954. Our family still owns a small farm just a few miles from where James and Sarah settled when they moved to Fluvanna over 80 years ago.

They are buried at Effort Baptist Church in Palmyra, VA.

©copyright Piper Oneto

1 comment:

  1. Interesting read. I came across the Spina surname during my own family research. It was a Teresa Spina born in about 1837 in Boiano, Campobasso, Italy. Good luck with your continued research.