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Family History

The Story of the Roots of the Girardi Family



The Girardi Family Story


Father and uncle of John Lewis

“Where we came from, where we are and where we are going”.

Italy “The Old Country” from the fall of the Roman Empire to the latter part of the 19th century, Italy was Italy in name only. During this period, it was subdivided into many political and geographic entities. It was also ruled by many outside forces. For example, from 476 AD (the date recognized as the fall of the Roman Empire) until the year 1000, Ostrogoths (Romania, Ukraine, Russia), Lombards (German), Byzantines (Greeks), Franks (France) and Arabs (Africa) ruled parts of Italy at given times. Many of the cultural aspects of Rome were lost. From 1000 AD to 1500 AD, the Normans (Western France) arrived, in 1071 they drove the Greeks out of southern Italy. In the northern part of the peninsula, two major occurrences, the Papacy States emerge and the city states of Florence, Genoa, Pisa, Venice, Milan and Siena Develop. At that time, there was very little development in southern Italy.

The mid1500’s to 1800 were characterized by the domination of foreign nations over Italy. The economy declined as most trade growth was not within the Mediterranean. But with the New World, the “nation” cities were powerful entities. (if interested do separate readings and focus on the papal states counter-reformation actions). During this period, northern and central Italy comprised one of the most advanced industrial areas of Europe. The had an exceptionally high standard of living. By 1870, Italy was an economically backward and depressed area. Its industrial infrastructure had almost collapsed. Its population was too high for its resources. Its economy had become primarily agricultural. Numerous wars, political fractionalization, limited fiscal capacity and the shift of world trade to northwestern Europe and the Americas were key factors for this condition. Meanwhile, the country’s various political (and largely local) were in disarray. Inspired by the uprisings in other parts of Europe, the unification of Italy began to take form in the 1820’s and 1830’s. The name given to this period is “Risorgimento” (Resurgence or Rising Again).


  1. Napoleon is defeated in 1815.

The congress of Vienna sets up a process so that no nation is strong enough to wage war against other nations, especially France. Northern Italy had been under French rule. Now it was placed under Austrian rule and Lombardy and Venice were Austrian. Also, Austrian had considerable influence on other Italian states. The only area not under their control was the Kingdom of Sardinia, which controlled Piedmont, Nice, Savoy, and Genoa.

  • Revolutionary Phase

In the first half of the 19th century only aristocrats, intellectuals and upper middle class took the cause for unification. Then the people started to form secret societies called the Carbonari. By 1820, the Carbonari were involved in numerous failed revolutions against the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, the Kingdom of Sardinia, Bolonga, and other Italian states. However, the Austrians crushed all of these efforts and caused great resentment throughout Italy. The leader of the Carbonari was Giuseppe Mazzini. In 1831, he created ‘Young Italy’ that was designed to spread ideas of unification, revolutions and republicanism.

In Europe, a series of uprisings know as the Revolution of 1848 occurred in France, Germany, the Austrian Empire, and Northern Italy. In the Papal States, the Pope had to flee and Mazzini and Garibaldi created the Roman Republic. It was later removed by the French. Then with the appointment of Count Camillo Di Cavour as Prime Minister in Piedmont (Kingdom of Sardinia) in 1853, things began to change.

  • Cavour’s policy and the role of Piedmont 

Cavour set about economic development for Piedmont. He wanted unification. However, he believed, different from Garibaldi and Mazzini, that a strong state (i.e. Piedmont) was needed to lead. Cavour developed a strong relationship with France. Cavour would eventually cause trouble for Austria.

Eventually, Austria declared war on Piedmont and the French came to their aid. The plan worked. However, the plan may have worked too well. As more Italian states wanted to be involved, France, in a surprise move, signed a peace treaty with Austria. As part of the settlement, Piedmont received Lombardy and became a strong entity. Still, there was no unification of the whole peninsula

  •  Garibaldi’s campaign in southern Italy

If Mazzini was the sould of unification, then Garibaldi was the hero. In early 1860, he started to gather volunteers in Genoa for an expedition to Sicily. Thousands of men left with him. It was called the ‘Expedition of Soldiers’. Although Garibaldi’s Red Shirts were less skilled and ill equipped, they were a tremendous success. They occupied Sicily within two months and Garibaldi was setting his eyes on mainland Italy. Instead of going after Naples, he decided to capture Rome. Cavour, hearing of the plan, was concerned that Austria and France would come to the aid of the Pope. Cavour’s plan was to cause riots in the Papal States then bring his Piedmont army in to settle the uprisings and bring the Papal States under Piedmont rule. At this time, Vittorio Emmanuel III was king of Sardinia and Piedmont and he secretly supported Garibaldi’s efforts. With Piedmont in control of Italian territories north from Rome (except Venice which was still under Austrian rule) and Garibaldi in control of Southern Italy, in one of Italy’s most historic gestures, Garibaldi resigned and gave the king control of southern Italy.

  • Creation of the Italian Kingdom

This control, through parliamentary action, allowed the king to be proclaimed King of Italy on February 18th, 1861. Venice was eventually added to the kingdom in 1866 through an alliance with Russia against Austria. Only the Papal States were not part of the unification and were protected by Napoleon III of France. However, in an increasing need to have his soldiers in the war with Russia, he pulled his soldiers out of Rome. On September 20th, 1870, the Italian army marched into Rome and on July 2nd, 1871, Vittorio Emmanuel himself entered Rome and the unification of Italy was mostly complete. Rome was to become its capital. Cavour, Mazzine and Garibaldi became the founding fathers of a nation and have been immortalized. Unification, however, did not change much regarding the economical issues of the south. In 1870, there were about 25,000 Italian immigrants in the U.S. mostly from the north escaping the wars of unification. This was just 9 years after the unification of Italy. Then, between 1880 and 1924, more than four million Italians were in the U.S. Half came between 1900 and 1910. Dire poverty, overpopulation for resources available in the south, taxes by the central government, and violence were the primary causes.


Grandpa (Big Papa) was born in 1877 and Grandma (Big Mama) was born in 1882 both in Petilia Policastro, Calabria. It is an ancient village, presumed to be of Byzantine origin. Today, the commune has a population of 9,073 citizens. Saint Sebastian is the patron Saint. Because the nation had only been unified for a few years, most of the immigrants considered themselves Calabrian, Sicilianos, and other regions, not Italians.

Also, most were single men, and many came to America for a short time. Within five years, between 30 and 50 percent would return home.

The short history of the peninsula (takeaways):

The takeaways are:

  1. There was no Italian identity as such
  2. Heavy foreign intervention and subjugation;
  3. Vast economic differences between the more cultured, industrial north and the agriculturally based south
  4. Very independent sense of loyalty and localized affiliation of one’s heritage

Ellis Island opened in 1892. At that time, most of the immigrants were from northern and western Europe. Later in the decade, the immigrants were from southern and eastern Europe. When they arrive, they were tagged with information from their ship’s registry. Then they waited in long lines for medical and legal inspections in order to determine if they were ‘fit’ to enter the United States. The years from 1900 to 1914 were the peak years of Ellis Island’s operation. An average of 1900 people passed through the immigration station every day. Most successfully passed through in a matter of hours. But others could be detained for days or weeks.

This was the environment in which the originator of the American Girardi’s Grandpa (Big Papa) was born into in 1877. Interestingly enough, Ellis Island records show that a Rosario Ierardi of Petilia Policastro arrived in America in 1903. Ierardi is the original name for our family. However, somewhere along the line, most likely at Ellis Island, the name was changed to Girardi. A mystery to be solved as to when we became Girardi. The same for our grandma (Big Momma) who was born in 1882. Her maiden name was Rizza.

We do not know how or when they arrived in Williamson, Mingo County, West Virginia. Their first born, Dominica, arrived in 1913. The other children and their birth dates will be filled in later. Grandpa died in 1942 and grandma was struck by a reckless driver in 1950 while returning home from shopping.

As always, more to be added… after all, we are a growing family               !

We stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us.

Legacy of Rosario Ierardi

The happiest moments of my life have been the few which I have passed at home in the bosom of my family.

Thomas Jefferson

We are the children of Rosario Girardi