A life-long quest has finally come to an end! Growing up with the last name Sallurday was always interesting. From the earliest days, I can recall being teased by the unique moniker. It didn’t help that two very popular songs during those early years included Elton John’s Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting and the Bay City Rollers Saturday Night. As a 10-year-old on the playground, those songs were sung over and over whenever I arrived to play baseball or football down at the “Oxy”.
To this day, many people comment on how unique the name is. Many ask, “what nationality is Sallurday?” – a legitimate question. When I reply that it’s Italian, no one believes it. “It doesn’t end in a vowel” is the usual response. Or, “you don’t look Italian”. I always respond to that “someone must have come off the boat on a weekend”. The tendency upon arrival to the US was to have the immigration officers anglicize the spelling of difficult names or use their best judgment given the issues of translating a foreign language. All of that uncertainty and doubt, early on, started me on a mission to determine the true origin of the Sallurday name.
I recall asking my father about it growing up. He didn’t know much, but he did say it was Italian and that his grandfather, Joseph Sallurday, married Anna, an English woman and they lived in Hawk Run a tiny town outside of Philipsburg in Clearfield County.
That’s about all he knew of his grandfather, who passed away when my father was only 8 years old. He would always downplay it and say “why do you want to know that” or “argh, leave it alone”. I wondered why he had no interest in pursuing his past, but I believe it was a generational way of thinking – sort of “Leave it behind. You can’t change the past.”
My father was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania (made famous by the flood of 1889) in 1926. He had an older brother, Joe and a younger pair of twin brothers – John and William born in November, 1927. Tragically, both twins passed away due to pneumonia as infants. John at just 5 months and William at just 14 months.
Sometime before 1930, and in the midst of the Depression, my grandparents moved to Scranton, leaving their grandparents and all their siblings behind – and perhaps painful memory of losing two sons.
My grandparents had only two surviving children, my father, and his brother Joseph. These Sallurdays were the only Sallurdays we knew. While we were aware there were other Sallurdays in Central PA, we weren’t close to them – literally or figuratively. My grandfather had one brother, three sisters, and three more step-sisters (Anna’s daughters from her previous marriage that ended in her husband’s death).
My grandfather passed away at 68 years old when I was only six. My grandmother, Sarah Vallelli (originally Villella), was 88 when she passed, so I was able to ask her about the family. She was 100% Italian and shared what she knew about her family and their home towns in Motta Santa Lucia and Decollatura in Catanzaro, Calabria – but she knew little about her father-in-law. The only clue she gave was that she thought it might have originally been Sabato (or some version of that) – which means Saturday in Italian. Makes sense, I guess…
I had always wondered if there were other Sallurdays out there in the world that we didn’t know – perhaps siblings of Joseph and their descendants. I remember driving to Florida as a kid and staying in motels each night. I would open the nightstand, pull out the phone book, and look for Sallurday in the White Pages. I never found any along the way.
My curiosity piqued when I went to work for a company that was based in Salt Lake City – home of the Mormon Church and their collection of family records. Sometime during the late 1980s, we had a company meeting in Salt Lake. They took us on a tour of the Mormon Temple and the massive Family History Center – essentially a library full of familial records. I told them I wanted to find the origin of Sallurday and they assured me they could find it. After numerous “name not found” queries and scanning countless rolls of microfilm, they gave up. I had stumped the experts in genealogy.
That set me off on a quest to find out the original name and place of birth of my great grandfather, Joseph Sallurday.
After moving to Arizona in 1995, I was relatively close to a smaller Mormon Family History Center and I spent countless hours in the evenings and on the weekends searching census records and immigration lists. Little by little, the pieces started to come together. My family tree was beginning to blossom.
I scoured Ellis Island’s immigration records, but couldn’t find anything. What many people don’t realize is that Ellis Island didn’t open until 1892, so if your ancestors came to the US prior to that, records are scattered and very hard to find – and even so, early passenger lists had limited information such as name, age, and country. Later passenger lists include much more information to aid research including home town, relatives back home, sponsors in the US, and final destination in the US.
After striking out with Ellis Island, I contacted Clearfield County’s historical society and they helped me to secure his immigration papers. Fortunately, they had the records! Joseph came to the US on December 13, 1881, through Annapolis, Maryland (just seven weeks after the famed Gun Fight at the OK Corral). Annapolis was a curious place to land; one that has stumped professional genealogists – even those based in Annapolis. No wonder I couldn’t find him in Ellis Island records!
From Annapolis, he somehow made his way to Hawk Run, where he worked in the coal mines. Why Hawk Run? No one knows.
He signed his Declaration of Intention to become a US Citizen on December 4, 1888 and received his Naturalization papers, officially becoming a US Citizen on November 17, 1890. Again, early Naturalization papers didn’t include any additional details to help the search – compounding the challenge in research, his name was spelled Solladay.
He married Anna Jackson, the English widow with three daughters in 1893. Their marriage certificate would provide additional clues. His parents were listed as Alfonzo and Vincenza Sallurday, but still no mention of his home town.
In the 1900 census, he was one of only two Italians in the town. I tried to find a connection between the two and couldn’t. This census taker spelled his name as Sallada. You can see his wife Anna, her three daughters, and Joe and Anna’s three daughters.
Together, they had three additional daughters and two sons (including my grandfather). This meant, there would only be two boys to carry the Sallurday name forward.
Aligning with Italian tradition, their first-born daughter was named Virginia, in honor of Joseph’s mother and their first-born son, my grandfather Alfonso, in honor of Joseph’s father. The 1910 Census confirmed this, even though they listed them as “Saturday”.
Through the years, the records have spelled his name many different ways – making it even more difficult to track him down. All of them, however, indicating that he arrived from Italy.
He was said to have walked with a cane – most likely from injuries sustained in either a car accident with his son-in-law in 1927…
Or while leaving Jury Duty in 1929, when he fell down the courthouse steps.
He passed away on March 21, 1935, in Hawk Run. His obituary stated that he was a native of Italy and had been in the US for over 50 years, but it did not list any parents or siblings – only his wife and children.
Fortunately, his death certificate indicated his birth date as July 3, 1859, and it added Vincenza’s surname as Janatisi. A major clue – even though it was misspelled as there’s no “J” in the Italian alphabet. I made the assumption that it was likely Giannatisi or some other derivative.
With all of this information, as I built out my tree, I talked to numerous cousins – descendants of Joseph, but none could add any insight to the origin – but several pointed back to Sabato or Salbeto.
The use of DNA for genealogy purposes came on strong a few years ago. That provided more clues, but nothing concrete. As I poured through the hundreds of DNA cousins, I was able to narrow down those that are connected through Joseph. Each one I would work to connect in the tree by gathering paper evidence to support the DNA evidence. My tree grew to include over 17,000 people! And yet here am I still pondering my real last name. Frustrating.
By doing this, however, I was able to start to see trends occur. I could see different DNA networks form and I could link some of them together. Common surnames allowed me to quickly link different DNA cousins together. Then I started to see the Sabato name appear. Then the Giannattasio name. Many of the connections in this network pointed back to the Campania region of Italy outside of Naples. Then a few started to pop up around the town of San Cipriano.
At this point, I had a strong feeling that Joseph was born in San Cipriano, but I couldn’t find any documents or DNA cousins that would link this network of people to Joseph (Giuseppe), Alfonso, or Vincenza. Coincidentally, many of these DNA connections had a link to Philadelphia.
Then, a couple of days ago, I got an Ancestry hint for Vincenza Giannattasio. You know, the little leaf you see on their TV commercials. When I clicked it, my eyes blew up. Often times, the hints I get are for other relatives that I’m not as focused on. This one was different.
A person in Philadelphia built a “Joseph Saturday” tree – starting with Joseph and included his parents, grandparents, and more. I was intrigued, but skeptical. There are tons of trees that people build with erroneous information so you have to be careful you’re not adding the wrong information to your tree. Once you do that, everything else is wrong. Kind of like the leaning tower of Pisa. You need to have a solid foundation and “concrete” evidence.
As I investigated, not only did this person have the names and dates, but she also included source documents – gold when documenting a tree.
The documents confirmed – Giuseppe Sabato, born July 3, 1859, in San Cipriano to parents Nicola Alfonso Sabato and Vincenza Giannattasio! Additional documents included the marriage of Alfonso and Vincenza, which included their parents as well. She went even further back on Vincenza’s side. Amazing!
After trading emails, I finally got to chat on the phone with the researcher, Anna Marie Scarpato, to understand her interest in this family. She said she’s DNA connected to one of my Sallurday cousins and, like me, builds out their trees to see if she can find the connection. She’s 100% Italian and uses an Italian website that includes thousands of images of birth, death, and marriage records. The site does not include an index to the name, instead, houses them by towns and communes collected by year. I’ve used the site and have looked for Joseph’s information there in the past but was unsuccessful. They are constantly adding images to the site – and my guess is, they added this set of records after I searched them. Either that or I just flat out missed it.
It’s an incredibly tedious process – scanning each physical document, by year, while trying to interpret Italian at the same time, trying to decipher the handwriting.
Anna Marie and I haven’t made the connection between us yet. Our common ancestor is so far back, the DNA is not matching, but we do know that we’re related based on triangulating with other common relatives.
After uncovering this critical set of documents, the search continues. Within minutes of searching, I was able to find a sister of Joseph, born just three years later. Now, to see where Angela Sabato ended up in life while at the same time searching for additional siblings.
I’m thrilled I was able to find his town. But there are so many questions still unanswered. Why did he come through Annapolis Maryland? How did he get to Hawk Run? Why did he settle in Hawk Run? How many siblings did he have? Did he come by himself?
So there you have it. The history of the Sallurday surname! Just call me Guglielmo Sabato from now on…