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Our Ancestors Hoped for a Better Life

Italian birth record for Speranza Maria Esposito
Speranza Maria was born of an "unknown union"
on 13 May 1803.
It's hard to imagine how difficult life was for our ancestors hundreds of years ago. Mine lived in rural Southern Italy where there was no industry or luxury. Each town had a barber, a shoemaker, a shopkeeper. But most people were simple farmers.

Hundreds of people died each year—even in these small towns. Families struggled to survive.

With their life-and-death struggles in mind, it's easier to understand how people remarried within months of their spouse's death.

That was a hard thing for me to imagine at first. But as I documented more and more people from one such town, I saw the same pattern over and over. I found dozens of people who had married more than twice.

Let's take a look at Speranza Maria Esposito. Speranza was born in 1803 to genitori ignoti—parents unknown. The midwife delivered the baby and reported it to the mayor. They named her with the traditional last name for such babies: Esposito. Loosely translated it means without a spouse.

At age 21, Speranza married Mario Nicola Basile and had four children all of whom died in infancy. Their 14-year marriage must have been hard on them, burying four babies. Mario died before his 40th birthday.

As a young widow and with no family, what could Speranza do? This was not the time or place for independent women.

Less than two years after her husband Mario's death, Speranza married Pasquale Ferro. Pasquale was a 40-year-old recent widower with one surviving child, aged 10. Together they had one baby girl, Mariarosa, who also died in infancy. Three years later, Pasquale died, leaving behind a 14-year-old daughter from his previous marriage.

Speranza went another four years before marrying Filippo Colucci. He was a 43-year-old recent widower with a nearly-grown daughter and a teenage son. They married in May 1848. Speranza died in October 1848, childless. She'd married three times, widowed twice, and given birth five times.

Do you know what the name Speranza means? It means Hope. I'm sure Speranza hoped for a better life than the one she got.

Her last husband, Filippo, also married a third time, less than two years after Speranza died. He and his third wife Annamaria Pisciotti had three children. This was also Annamaria's third marriage. The children survived.

Speranza's three marriages
Speranza married three times. Each time she must have hoped for a better life.
It was a hard life. A man needed a woman and a woman needed a man to survive. To care for one another as best they could.

Seeing so many cases of multiple marriages helped me understand my grandfather's final days in New York City. When my grandmother died in 1954 my grandfather was 52 and in good health. He had a long life ahead of him.

He lived with my parents for a few years, but months before I was born, he married a spinster. Sadie was 56 years old and childless. When she died in 1986, Grandpa still had decent health and needed a woman to care for him. He chose to stay in his neighborhood and spend his time with a widow who cooked for him and made him happy.

In Grandpa's case, he had choices. He chose not to live with his daughter, who had opened up her home to him. He chose not to marry a third time. But a man still needed a woman, and a woman still needed a man to survive.

Be sure to consider the time and place when you make unexpected discoveries about your ancestors.


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