The Short Bartender

I recently updated the blog header with a picture taken at a bar in Hopkins, MN.  In the photo my grandfather, Frantisek Seraphim Kaspar (called Frank) stands back a bit behind the bar, glass in hand, with a look of  wariness and concern aimed at the photographer.

We believe this picture was taken at what was called the “908 Bar” sometime before Prohibition.  And it’s one of the few photos I have of my grandfather Frank.


It’s photos like these that tell a story.  I know at one point my grandfather owned a bar with another man who was related to my family through marriage.  But he also worked at other bars as a bartender both before and after his years as an owner.  I’m unsure at this point which of the two situations is pictured here, is he the owner or a bartender?  We believe the man standing to the right in the photo was either my grandfather’s business partner or a fellow employee.  The three men who are most likely customers at the bar are unknown to us.  Also to the left of my grandfather you can see the face of another bar patron reflected in the mirror behind the bar.

The first clue as to a date for this photo includes the date on the State Bank calendar just above my grandfather’s head.  It’s very difficult to blow up the digital photo, the dates become pixellated and I can’t make them out.  But using a magnifying glass on the original it looks as if the calendar has FRI on the top above the date, and SEP on the bottom.  Googling dates on which Friday, September 18th occurred after 1910 when my grandfather arrived in Hopkins, I get the years 1913, 1919, 1924, 1930, and 1936.  We can eliminate 1924 and 1930 as Prohibition was from January 1920 until December 1933.  My grandfather died in 1939 at the age of 54.  He looks a lot younger than 50 in this photo (as compared to another photo we have of him sometime in the 30s where he was quite grey-haired), so I am left with the dates of 1913 and 1919.

Another clue in this photo is the banner hanging above the men that says “Smoke Martellus Cigar”.  I tried Googling Martellus to see when the company or brand was in operation, but other than a few cigar boxes offered on eBay, so far I haven’t had much luck finding out anything.  If Martellus was only in production for a short period, or perhaps went out of business before 1919 we could settle on a 1913 date for this photo.  But this clue will have to hang tantalizingly until I can do more “on the ground” research, perhaps at the local historical society.

Personally, I’m leaning towards the 1913 date for this photo.  My grandfather was an immigrant from Drahobudice, Bohemia, in what is now the Czech Republic.  He was born in 1885 and came to America around 1904.  We think we found him in Cleveland, Ohio for the 1910 census.  He came to Hopkins soon after this, so 1913 wouldn’t be unreasonable for a date for this photo.  He does look quite young and he would have been about 28.  He was also, as you can see, short.  According to his naturalization papers, he was only 5’4″ (which means he and I would have been the same height!).   Frank went on to marry a young woman named Mary Holy, the daughter of the boarding house owners where he was living.

Frank and Mary had 9 children between 1918 and 1937, all of which I knew as the most wonderful aunties and uncles!  Unfortunately, as I said before, Frank passed away in 1939 so I never had the opportunity to meet him.  Listening to the accounts of his children though, he was a most generous and loving father, often bringing back candy for the younger children, and taking the older ones to the local ice cream shop  during the Prohibition years for a root beer.

By using the clues found in this photo, I hope someday to know exactly when it was taken, who the men in the photo were, and ultimately learn more about my grandfather in the process.  He stands there as if challenging me to find out more, and I accept the challenge!


Brooklyn to Sicily: A Case of Reverse Immigration

Sometimes you run across a document that not only fills in dates and names, but also is a snapshot into a person’s life at a specific moment.  The Passport Application of my great-great aunt, Francesca Sancetta, is a perfect example of such a document.

Francesca was born in the New York in 1892.  When her mother, Rosa, died in 1905, her father made the decision to travel back to Sicily.  I knew through family stories that his oldest child, John, traveled back with him, and I suspected more of the six children went as well.  Two of them, my g-grandmother, Jennie, and her married sister, Mary, did not return to Sicily (and that’s why I’m here today!).  It was a mystery to me what happened to the other children from the years between about 1905 to the 1930s.  Did they go back to Sicily and then return to the States?  Or did they stay here?  It just wasn’t clear.  Especially because ship logs going from the U.S. back to the “old country” are so scarce!

Because I already knew that three of the remaining four mystery children, Jim, Tom and Francesca, were in MN or NY in the 1930s, I started searching for clues online for the missing years.  For years I searched for the family in Sicily with no luck.  Then one day that little “hint” leaf appeared next to Francesca’s name on  While sometimes these hints amount to nothing, when I clicked on the link, I discovered it was Francesca Sancetta’s application for a U.S. Passport…from Salaparuta, Sicily in 1920!  I started jumping up and down and had to chill myself out before I could read the document.  Finally had something to work with!

Francesca Top


This document is a gold mine of information about what happened to Francesca and her family.  First, she states that her father Joseph Sancetta lived in the U.S. for 16 years, from 1890 to 1906.  She states that she left the U.S. in April of 1906 and lives in Salaparuta “temporarily” with her parents.  She affirms that was born in the U.S. in 1892 and she is a U.S. Citizen.

The reason she gave as to why she resides in Salaparuta, she stated, “My oldest brother was in the Italian Army and due to the fact that he remained in the Army for ten years it was impossible for me to return to the U.S. unaccompanied.  So I remained in Italy waiting for my brother.”  She goes on to state that she maintained ties with a sister and uncle in the U.S.  Then on the “Opinion of Officer Taking Affidavit” section of the application, the officer wrote, “…she was brought to Italy by her parents.  She adds that domestic troubles arose in her family and that the parents have no intention of going to the United States…”

Francesca's Affidavit, 1920

Francesca’s Affidavit, 1920

With this one document I learned so much, and now have so many more questions!

1. Francesca states she is waiting for her “oldest” brother.  An assumption can be made that this would be John.  Jim and Tom were younger, but where were they in 1920?

2. Francesca states that she is living with her “parents”.  We know that Rosa is dead, so is there a new step-mother?

3. If there is a new step-mother, did Joseph marry here in America or Sicily?  Are there half-siblings to discover yet?

4. What were the “domestic troubles” that were causing a rift in her family?

5. The oldest brother (most likely John) had to serve in the Italian Army from 1909 – 1919, the years covering WWI.  Are there records of his service somewhere?

6. We know her older sister and younger sister were already in the U.S.  Who is the “uncle” she mentions?

7. Is Salaparuta the original point of origin for the family in 1890?

8. If Francesca returned, did John come with her and stay in the U.S.?  What happened to John?

9. It seems that Joseph is still alive in 1902.  What happens to him after this?

10. Looking at this from a 21st Century point of view, Francesca would have been about 28 years old when she applied for this passport.  What social norms were in place that a grown woman could not travel unaccompanied in 1920?

These are the next questions I hope to answer.  The road won’t be easy though.  Salaparuta was destroyed in 1968 by the Belice Earthquake and the entire town moved to a nearby location.  (see;jsessionid=4AA7C520FCB8B341AA29DE85BE270976)  I haven’t yet tried to get in touch with anyone there, but I’m hoping that some parish records survived, and perhaps city records as well.  The good news is the name Sancetta does not seem to be very common, so hopefully I’ll have some luck doing research.

For those of you who lost track, rest assured Francesca did make it back to the U.S. at some point, where she lived in Minnesota until her death in 1989 (she was 97!).  I doubt Francesca would even guess that someday her g-g-niece would be fascinated by the story she told the consulate officer in Palermo on that September day in 1920.  I’d like to think that by doing this research, I honor her unique experience and thank her for being so honest in her passport application all those years ago.

Francesca Pic

Francesca Sancetta, 1920

One more mystery remains from Francesca’s life, one that someday I’ll tell if I can get some facts straight.  Apparently the sons of Francesca and her husband, Peter DiGiovanni, were caught up in a plot to assassinate Benito Mussolini sometime around the years of WWII.  There is come confusion as to where Francesca was at this time, here or in Italy again. Somehow the boys or the family made it to Morocco where they were evacuated with the help of another Sicilian family here in MN, the Piazzas.  I think Francesca’s life might be worth exploring further!

DNA Testing: Real Science or Reality Show?

Let’s talk briefly about DNA testing for ancestry research.  Briefly mainly because I need to get to bed early tonight, but also because what I know about DNA testing could only fill up a brief blog entry.

My ancestors were apparently world travelers!

I think I mentioned before that I have taken multiple DNA tests for ancestry research purposes.  It all started back around 2001 when the National Geographic’s Genographic project was begun (see  Being a longtime subscriber, I think I saw an ad for the project in their magazine.  Being partial to redheads with brains, I immediately developed a crush on the lead scientist Spencer Wells, and managed to pull together the fee to buy a kit for both myself (for mt DNA) and my Dad (Y Chromosome).

Current number of participants in the Genographic Project.

When we got back the results, Mom and I were surprised to learn our maternal line was Haplogroup Z and not the more mundane European lineage we expected.  Knowing that my maternal great-great-grandmother was from Varmland, Sweden, we assumed it would be a more “European” result.  Z, or more accurately now Z1a, apparently means that we may actually have been descended from the Sami peoples of the Arctic areas of Europe, or perhaps were descended from Hun invaders.  (Mom tends towards the Sami connection, while I love the idea of being a Hun!)  In fact, this haplogroup has more relation to people in present day Korea and the Kamchatka peninsula in far eastern Russia than to the people of Europe.

My mt DNA results from

When new companies started to come out with new tests that purported to trace your overall ancestry using new segments of DNA, I quickly signed up.  I won’t go into too much detail about which companies I’ve used (I’ll go into that in a future post I’m sure though) because what I’d like to talk about here is how can you trust the results you receive?

That’s what it’s about: Trust.  You have to trust the company to test your DNA accurately and scientifically to come up with what your ancestral make up is.  Trouble is, can any company truly test your DNA and predict your ancestry from the results?  I’m not questioning if it’s possible to test DNA for ancestry, I’m questioning if the companies doing the testing are actually doing it right.

Before I go much further, I must say that so far all the tests I’ve done have come back to be mostly what I’ve expected.  I’m mostly European (shocker!), with a little North African, Sub-Saharan Africa, Middle Eastern and Jewish tossed in for good measure.  I didn’t expect to find any truly Asian, or for that matter Native American roots in my family tree, and neither did any of the tests.  And, to be clear, all of the tests that also tested my mt DNA results came back with the same Haplogroup Z that the original test pointed to.

My ancestral origins according to

What I’m wondering is this: Are we advanced enough in our scientific knowledge of DNA to understand specific locales for specific DNA sequences?  Really DNA for the common masses is a really recent development!  It’s not been that long since we’ve been able to sequence the human genome.  How on earth are we able to accurately test people’s ethnic origins?

I know this entry is full of unanswered questions.  And that’s because I’m no expert.  I want to believe that my results are accurate.  I like the idea that my ancestors may have been Bedouin nomads, or people living in sub-Saharan Africa 500 years ago.  But I have so many questions without answers at this point.  It’s hard to not question whether or not we’re all being sold a bill of goods.

Really, only time will tell.  I just hope that it’ll tell us that the tests were legitimate, accurate, and only expand our knowledge of the Human Family.

Cave Girl say “I’m less Neanderthal than the average European!”

By the way, for those of you wondering I am also apparently 2.6% Neanderthal.  No wonder I was driven in college to write thirty-five page paper trying to debunk some of the myths around Neanderthal lack of speech and lack of culture!  And now research is starting to prove me right!  (I see a Neanderthal post in my future.)