John Mancini Visits the Bar – #SoCS

It’s a special Saturday as we’re gathered at the bar, waiting for John Mancini to join us for a bit of bourbon, a beer and some conversation. Unfortunately, John and I wrote this post – jointly, live, SoC-style – before Linda G. Hill released the Stream of Consciousness Saturday prompt. So, I can either sneak the prompt in after the fact and try to camouflage my effort to escape my predicament, or I can handle it here before enjoying the alcohol and camaraderie – oh, I guess I’m done. The prompt, in case you haven’t guessed is,

“Your Friday prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday is “cam.” Find a word that contains “cam” or use it as is. Enjoy!”

Without further delay, if we were having a beer, David would be anxiously awaiting our guest.

“Dan, what time is your friend John coming?”

“He should be here in a few minutes, David. Why, are you in a hurry to meet him?”

“Well, I’m waiting to start in on my bourbon until he gets here.”

“Go ahead and drink, David. I’ll give you a splash when John arrives.”

“Thanks Cheryl. Will that splash be on the house?”

“No, it’s all on Dan today.”

“Wait, I think I see John…yep, that’s him. He just came in.”

“John, I’d like you to meet Cheryl, and…”

“Hold that thought, Dan. Welcome to my bar, John. Did I hear that you’re drinking Woodford Reserve? “

“Yes, neat.”

“I’ll get right on that.”

“Thanks, I’m glad you’re here, Cheryl. It classes up the joint.”

“We often need to import the class to this bar, John. Hello, I’m David, the other bourbon drinker, although I prefer John Howell’s Bourbon.”

“Hi David. I’m not familiar with that brand, but any friend of Dan’s is a friend of mine.”

“Well, I’m very happy to have you join us, John. I have a keen interest in genealogy and the saga – I think that might be the right word – you shared in your book is amazing.”

“Wait, David, did you actually buy John’s book?”

“I did, Dan. That’s why I wanted to wait until he got here. I wanted to toast to his success.”

“Well, here’s his bourbon, toast away.”

“Thanks Cheryl, Cheers John.”

“That’s it? Cheers? I suppose it’s enough, but let’s get this conversation started. John, I read a number of your blog posts as you were searching for your grandparents. You managed to thread that story in pretty well with Information Management topics. At what point did you decide to focus on the story and publish the book?”

“The evolution of the book started with a focus on understanding the genealogy and who was connected to whom. Then as I realized that there were a set of people that essentially had unchronicled lives, I started to move into the realm of doing the part focused on my grandparents’ lives in a bit of a historical fiction kind of way, hopefully with an emphasis on the historical part. And then like many books, as I got into it, it dawned on me that what I was really doing was reflecting on my father’s story and the secrecy of his backstory and why he may have approached his life in that way.”

“I’m guessing that there were numerous ‘ah ha’ and ‘oh my God’ moments as you were conducting your research. Could you share a couple that really made you take notice?”

“There were two big ones, David. For those unfamiliar with the story, the net-net was that my father never talked about his childhood or his family growing up. I know that might seem weird, but in a family of six kids, I guess we just were so focused on each other that it didn’t dawn on us that we knew nothing about my father’s childhood and that there were no relatives on that side of the family. The little bit we all thought was that his parents died about ten years after coming to the United States, sometime in the nineteen thirties. 

So the first big aha was when they turned up in the nineteen forty census.”

The second was that they turned up listed as inmates at the Rockland Insane Asylum.”

“That had to shake your tree a bit. No one had ever mentioned that while you were growing up?”

“No. I know that must sound like we were the most oblivious sorts of characters but with six kids in eleven years, I guess there was enough to keep us occupied. I first started getting interested in researching all of this when I started having grandchildren – a lot of people get interested in genealogy about that time – and it just snowballed from there.”

“I get that, the notion that you have someone to pass the story onto.”

“Exactly, David. That and the fact that at some point in there, I had lived longer than my father – he died at sixty-two – and that creates a certain ‘What does it all mean?’ mindset.

“And I understand that aspect, John. My father died when he was sixty. When I turned sixty-one, I felt a bit of relief and also wondered if there was more to it.”

“John, Dan tells me that you had a long and successful career in Information Management. Not that I fully understand what that means – we’re all used to that with Dan – but did it bother you that the nineteen forty census was your first indication that your grandparents had survived longer, or were you happy that you at least had that as a starting point?”

“Certainly a long career, not so sure sometimes about the successful part. But that’s a story for another day. But the career I had often involved records people, archivists, and people focused on documenting who did what to whom when in the context of a business. This whole thing made me realize two things about the people entrusted to this information stewardship task.”

“Well, I’m in the alcohol stewardship business, and I can see that Dan needs another Corona. You guys want me to top off those bourbons?”

“I think we’re good for now, Cheryl, but circle back in a while, we don’t want John to get parched.”

“Thanks David. First, some people back in the nineteen twenties, thirties and forties made some smart decisions about how to keep and preserve information, decisions that allowed the information to stay intact until later technologies could suddenly make all of this information available to people a century later. I have great respect for that and wonder sometimes whether the heaps of digital information we’re collecting now will make any sense at all a century from now.”

“When I first met you, John, you had a blog called Digital Landfill. I always thought that was an apt description.”

“I should have trademarked that, Dan.”

“Oh my goodness John, you should have. You must have seen my hard drive. Sorry, back to your second thing.”

“The second thing, David, was that ultimately people made the difference to my ability to discover this saga. Like just about any pursuit, some records managers and archive people are committed to helping others find what they need. Others are just a pain in the you know what, keeping information and records tied up and unavailable to the outside world and part of some sort of personal preserve.”

“So, John. Do you think you might be the last person to experience this? I mean any kid growing up today could have discovered this on a rainy Saturday when baseball was cancelled.”

“Not really, Dan. Because any baseball fan worth their salt in the DC area would use a rain delay to go back and view recordings of the twenty-nineteen World Series. But seriously, it took quite some time to unravel the threads. Some parts popped right up in Ancestry, but others required quite a bit of digging.”

“What parts were the hardest?”

“For people with a story like this that hinges on mental illness, health records – even for dead people and for direct descendants – are notoriously difficult to access.”

“In the book, you wrote about your grandparents’ early life in Italy and New York. I get that that was the fictionalized portion, but you did some research with that as well. Sometimes, I think people underestimate the amount of research that goes into writing fiction. Can you share some of the things you did, and maybe some of the things that impressed you?”

“You’re right, Dan. The way it worked for those sections was that I discovered over the course of the research some anchor points – their birth dates (which we never knew), World War One records, some social background on what was going on in Itri (where they were from) in the nineteen tens, ship manifests, marriage certificates, that sort of thing. And then I started to think about how these facts could be strung together, and what kinds of things these people might have thought and cared about. Essentially, I was trying to bring them to some sort of life, because they certainly had no existence in our experience.”

“Your description of their life in New York, your grandfather’s job, the apartment they lived in, it all seems like you were there. I was especially impressed by the interaction between…was it your grandmother’s brother…I forget, but it seemed like I was watching a movie.”

“Wow, I appreciate that, David. With regards to the apartment, one thing that was helpful was a visit to the Tenement Museum in lower Manhattan, which is a terrific place to visit. The tours – and one focused on an apartment in the nineteen thirties where an Italian family lived – are really terrific.”

“Did your research expose any fun facts?”

“One piece of information that I was particularly fond of was discovering, Dan, was that Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. were on the ship that brought my grandmother to America, along with a sixteen-year-old named Archie Leach, who eventually became Cary Grant. I had a bit of fun with that. Related to that was the fact that the ship they were all on – the Olympic – was the sister ship of the Titanic.”

“I loved Mary Pickford in ‘The Taming of the Shrew.’ Do you guys need another round now?

“I think we do, Cheryl, but, um….you forgot my cherries earlier.”

“I didn’t hear John ask for cherries in his bourbon, David…just sayin’. John, did you have a character in mind that you fashioned your grandmother after?”

“Not really a character per se. But growing up Catholic and thinking about what that might have been like for a kid growing up in Italy in the nineteen tens, and knowing my grandmother’s unfortunate tale and descent, I stumbled upon a local saint, Saint Rita, who is the patron saint of lost causes. And when I researched her, I discovered that Saint Rita was married to an abusive husband named Mancini, and that she had two sons. The coincidences were so interesting that I wove them into the story.”

“The patron saint of lost causes – I could have used her help when I was trying to convince my coworkers to adopt some information management techniques.”

“True that, Dan.”

“Don’t start talking shop guys. John, you mentioned that you grew up in a family of six children. Did you ruffle any feathers with this book? I don’t mean to pry, but I’m imagining my own family, and well, they’re why I come to this bar so often.”

“Surprisingly, not so much, David. My brother Joe was also very interested in this research, and a lot of the ‘I founds’ in the book really should have been ‘We found’ or ‘He found.’ But we complemented each other well – he loves the facts, and I love the story. My sister June was really interested, because she’s in child psychology. The one we were really worried about was my mom, who is ninety and what she would think – and what she knew.”

“Did she know your father’s parents were still alive?”

“After going over what we found with her, she either didn’t know any of the story, or she is an Academy Award caliber actress. Her main concern was wondering why SHE hadn’t asked more questions. She said, ‘Well, I thought his parents had died, and he was uncomfortable with the subject, and I just didn’t push it.’ She also added at one point, ‘I guess I thought I was lucky not to have a mother-in-law to worry about.’”

“Now that I understand.”

“David, stop picking on that poor woman. Do you boys want anything to eat?”

“Do you have any Italian food, Cheryl?”

“Yes, we do, John. We have awesome thin crust pizza, calzones that will make you open your belt a notch and ‘Edna’s Lasagna’ which is my personal favorite.”

“When I was doing the book, I thought about the weird fact that we never really had any of the fabulous Italian foods that I love. Except lasagna. My Dad would corral all of us periodically for a lasagna cooking festival. I have no idea where my mom was during all of this production.”

“That’s funny. I find that Dad’s often focus on one or two signature meals. My dad took over the kitchen for breakfast.”

“Mine, too, David. John, I remember reading bits of your research journey on your blog, and hearing some of the stories that you wove into presentations or shared in meetings. I’m very happy that you decided to publish this book. Were you thinking about that all along, or did you decide one day to gather everything and put it into book form?”

“You have a good memory, Dan! I started writing the blog posts mainly because I like to write and I just wanted to get some of the tale down in writing, for whatever benefit it might have for my kids and grandkids. The book part came later. My wife and I have always loved “dual-track” stories…”

“Sorry to interrupt, dual-track?”

“Stories told in parallel from different points in time, David. So that started creeping into my thinking – somewhat of an itch that wouldn’t go away. Once I started to weave the whole thing together in the book, I didn’t show anyone for a long time. You know how that goes, you always fear looking foolish – ‘What on earth made you think you could write a book that anyone would care about?’ And after a bit my wife Mary Glenn read it, and then I started asking people to read the draft – maybe about ten people I trusted in all – which changed the draft a bit with each iteration. I think it came together when I started to realize that a big part of all this was actually about my Dad and then things flowed more coherently from there.”

“Well, John, David bought a copy, so I think it’s clear that people are interested. I see our lasagna coming over, and Cheryl is topping off the bourbons and I hope she’s opening a fresh Corona.”

“I am, Dan, and I’m taking my lunch break so I’m going to join you guys for some food. John, it’s been a pleasure having you visit. Best of luck with the book.”

“Thanks a bunch for the invitation. And don’t forget – you always knew I was a marketer, Dan – ‘Immigrant Secrets’, available now on Amazon. And happy to do presentations or talk to book clubs. OK, no more commercials.”

“Thanks so much for visiting, John and for sharing one of the most interesting family stories I’ve ever heard.”

Again, that’s:“Immigrant Secrets: The Search for My GrandparentsAvailale on Amazon.

99 comments

  1. When I got to David’s comment about the mother-in-law (“Now that I understand”), it was good that I didn’t have a mouthful of coffee; it would have been unfortunate for my computer screen. What an interesting bar you visit! This was for me a fascinating account of writing; there would be nothing simple about putting such a book together, and I’ve benefited from John’s telling of the story of how he got to the story. As always, I love the daily in your photos, I agree with Maddie about that leaf shadow, and I am in awe of Maddie’s color in that one shot where she looks as though she’s made of new copper.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice to meet you, John. Your new book, Immigrant Secrets, sounds intriguing. I will be checking it out for certain. Thank you, Dan, for the showcase and the beautiful fall photos. Have a great day both of you. 😊

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Always enjoy meeting your guests Dan. John is a really interesting guy, and I give him a lot of credit for diving head first into his family history not knowing what he would find. Immigrant Secrets is sure to be a success.

    Maddie is right on target with her shadow description! And she is a copper beauty blending in with the fall leaves. The shots of the late autumn sun are beautiful, and I just love the baby red maple.

    Hoping your weekend is both relaxing and fun and that you and Maddie get in a couple of invigorating walks before the temperature starts tumbling
    Ginger

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Ginger. Maddie and I just returned from our walk. She jumped up on the couch and settled in, still wearing her buffalo plaid vest. It’s warm and snug so it makes her feel good.

      I also give John a lot of credit for pursuing the truth about his father’s family. It had to be a long set of mixed emotions. The book tells about the twists and reverses he was dealt in the process. I found it fascinating

      I have to gather those leaves today. The little red maple is still saying “no, you can’t have them,” but others are willing to share. I hope you have a nice weekend.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Ginger. Writing a book is one level of challenge. Getting it noticed is quite another. I appreciate being invited to the conversation. Let me know what you think of the book or if you have any questions.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Well, I was hooked from the get-go. The book, as well as John’s family history, sound so intriguing! I’m thinking it might make a nice anniversary gift. Hubby loves stories like this. That time period really calls to me more than any other. I’ve seen Titanic 50 times at least and own the movie, not just for the romance but the gravity of what happened is just so compelling. Who wouldn’t have loved meeting 16 year old Cary Grant? So nice to meet you, John and much luck to you with the book. Thanks for the introduction, Dan. Great photos, as always.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m glad you’re hooked, Cheryl. Nice of John to attribute the ambient classy feeling in the bar to you – he’s probably right ;-)

      It sounds like the book has a little for both of you. You may not have met a young Cary Grant, but your hubby is a good soul, a good sport and not bad looking either.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Cheryl. I hope you like the book. Finding out about the Olympic was a lot of fun. It was launched first, and was the largest ship in the world before the Titanic a bit later, which was marginally bigger. Thanks to the Titanic movie, there, is a lot of information available about those White Star Line ships. For example, all of the detailed deck plans are available online. Needless to say, like Kate Winslett and Leonardo DeCaprio, Mary Pickford et al and my grandmother were in very different classes of travel (first class vs. steerage).

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thanks for the additional details, John. I loved the end of the film and buts where they showed the reproduction of the ship’s interior with clips of the wreckage and the artifacts found there when it was discovered. I never knew about the Olympic. No wonder they were Blaise about the success of Titanic’s maiden voyage. I look forward to reading your book. It’s always nice to meet another whiskey fan too. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  5. This is fascinating, Dan. As I had done some research and came across a few things about my grandparents I did not know, I appreciate the genealogy and the quest for answers. While I didn’t know any of my grandparents, my own parents did talk about them, especially my mom. I only wish I would have asked more questions about them and put answers down in writing. Pour John another drink for his book and the desire for revelation. I may have to add his book to my growing wait-list pile.

    Woodford Reserve – I have a humorous/not-so-humorous story about that bourbon from Denver. For another time.

    Happy Saturday! Give all of the furry ones a skritch or two from me.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. What an interesting process! I have lots of photos and some documents, but this inspires me to delve deeper into my family history, including finding out when my Catholic grandmother came over from Italy.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Really good getting the prompt challenge in the intro, Dan!

    The book sound very interesting. I think my Mom can relate to the hunt through the records thing as she’s really into it. I’ll point her to this book she loves a good read!

    I wish John all the best with his book and much success!

    Liked by 2 people

    • All of what I found out rests on smart decisions made by people 100 years ago re how and where they would preserve the records. And the accessibility was brought about by applying OCR and AI to those records, so that they became findable.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Imagine the courage it took to get on a ship and head to a new country, Pam. I was always so impressed with my paternal grandmother’s strength. She came here as a teenager and started a family, a business and a church!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I am the family genealogist, so I was anxious for this trip to the bar to hear what John had to say. I have the book on my Christmas list and I better get it!

    I am excited the 1950 census will be released April 1. Every census I discover something new. I am envious John found ship manifests. My Irish ancestors came over in the mid 1700s and there are no ship records yet to be found. Lots of brick walls in my tree. I dream of a trip to Ireland someday.

    Every family has secrets. I have looked through so many institutional records, this cannot be a rare circumstance. Why do we wait until we are older to start this research?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Maggie. I’m excited for the 1950 census as well. Where in Ireland is your family from. My grandmother on the other side of the family was from Clonaslee – a few kilometers outside of Tullamore. My grandmother was one of 13, only half of which came to the US. She came in 1924. She never got back, although my mom says there was a time in the early 1930s when things got really bad that they got passports and considered it. We went to her town a few years ago, dying to go back.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The best I can discern, they were from [DONAGHMORE,TYRONE,IRELAND] if I even have the correct family. I had an international Ancestry membership for a while, but found it overwhelming and difficult to nail down accurate information. I don’t know if I will be able to unravel it all in my lifetime. Right now I am tracing and emailing Protestant churches looking for baptism records. It helps nail down locations and dates. It is all so fascinating.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Your history may be in Ireland, Maggie, you might need to book that trip 😏

      I hope you are eventually able to find more information. I’m glad you could join us for John’s visit.

      Like

    • I cleaned up a lot of leaves, Judy but no snow stakes in the ground yet. We had a foggy start but it turned into a nice day. I’m glad you could be here for John’s visit. I wish him success with the book.

      Liked by 1 person

        • Yeah, Mother Nature is letting us know that winter is coming. We had a lot of rain last night, and some of the puddles had ice forming on them as we walked this morning. I sucked up the leaves in the front yard. I will mow the grass low and mulch the rest of the leaves then set the stakes.

          Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Judy. The book was an interesting journey. It started out as a straight out series of blog posts on my genealogy hunt. Then I decided I also wanted somewhat of a historical fiction voice to try to bring these long lost grandparents to life. And then (as was likely inevitable when I began the project, although I didn’t know it), it became a reflection on my father (gone now for 35 years) and why he chose to keep this entire half of our family story a secret.

      Liked by 1 person

      • When I was a young child, a neighborhood friend’s mother was in what at that time they termed ‘insane asylum.’ Her family visited on Sunday afternoons. Sometimes, I would ride with her and wait in the car. There was a lot of discrimination against her from other kids, and there was fear of those affected by mental illness. It was very hard and isolating for them. They eventually moved for a new start. You took yourself on quite a journey and must be satisfied with the results. I hope the book brings comfort and enjoyment to others and proves to be successful for you.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I am so late to the party!! David was quite chatty today, wasn’t he–and I missed it! John’s book sounds great. My grandparents (on my dad’s side) came over from Italy, also. My dad was the first child born in the US. Unfortunately, my uncle (my father’s older brother) thought their last name was too Italian (since when is that a thing??) and Americanized it. Ugh. I loved the old Italian name. This post about John’s book brought back so many memories, for me, of the wonderful Italian meals my grandmother cooked, and my grandfather’s sandwich shop in Jersey, and the great bakeries. So glad you had a good time at the bar, John.

    Liked by 2 people

      • Thanks Lois. Your comments about anglicizing names are interesting and so on target. One of the great genealogy urban myths is that names were anglicized by english-only immigration officers as immigrants passed through places like Ellis Island. That really likely didn’t happen, because the way the process worked was that manifests were set back at the point of origination, and numbered by page and line, and then IDs were matched to the original manifests and used to navigate the process at the port of entry. So anglicization likely occurred either on the European end, or by people wanting later on to fit in.

        Liked by 2 people

  10. What a fascinating interview and look into how John’s book came about. Really good fiction, especially historical fiction, has to entail an enormous amount of research to be believable. I like the fall colors shots and those of Maddie although I had to look closely at the second one to determine which end was up. 😉

    janet

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I received my copy of the book in the mail yesterday! It was intended as a gift, but I think after reading your post I’ll read the book before I give it to my daughter. Thanks for sharing the bar tales with John today. You and David asked great questions. Oh, fun photos you captured. And, the leaves falling to the ground are leading to you know what…I saw it happen in Wisconsin! ;-)

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I am late for this party, Dan, and it’s such a good one. I enjoyed reading about how John went about uncovering the story of his grandparents and their life. I know from my own historical research that some parts are easy, some are a struggle but you can get it, and some you have to fictionalise because it’s just not there. My husband also has 2 or 3 signature dishes he makes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Jennie – let me know if you have any questions. Two tips for aspiring family history people — 1) I have a lot of concerns about Facebook in general, but the people in the genealogy groups are awesomely helpful. 2) For those who dream of a book, I’m going to do a livestream with one of the founders of Reedsy.com sometime after Thanksgiving. Two talents there were really helpful in pushing me to get this off the ground.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thank you, John. Hubby does a great job at uncovering family history, especially with Ancestry. I couldn’t imagine FB, but perhaps that helps some. It’s good to know that there are people in genealogy groups there. I think your story is fascinating!

        Liked by 1 person

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