Almost Wordless Wednesday – Celio “Jay” Capelli

Jay Capelli is my grandfather.  He passed away in June 2009.  I found this photo of him in a file of family documents at my parents house about nine months ago.  I believe that it was taken in his early twenties.  It may even be the photo he needed for his naturalization application.

I just love how happy he looks in this photo.  I remember the twinkle in his eyes when he was happy and smiling.

Jay Capelli

The First Story I Wish I Had Not Found

My family (and my husband’s family) has its share of scandal.  I have found stories of slave owners, murder, multiple marriages, illegitimate children, suicide, alcoholism, and teenage pregnancy.  I have never been the kind of researcher who questioned what to do with stories that can cause trouble.  They need to be told just as much as the rest of the story.

I have learned this week that another kind of story also needs to be told.  The gut wrenching, heartbreaking stories of loss in an ancestor’s life are just as influential as any scandalous stories.  I was truly devastated when I found the following news article about the death of two children in a fire.  While I was happy to be able to confirm a family story, I could not help but mourn for Mary Capelli and her children.  I wish I had not been able to find this story because I would never wish a tragedy of this magnitude on anyone.

Every event that occurs during your life helps to shape you as a person.  It is easy to see how this accident shaped the Capelli family.  I now have a reason why the family left coal country for the big city.  I also have some insight into how my grandfather, at age 5, was welcomed as part of the family after arriving in Pittsburgh just a few years later.

This article appeared in The Morning Herald, Uniontown, Pennsylvania on November 24, 1916.



 Third Child, Aged Six Months, Tossed From Second Story Window by Mother Who Also Leaped to Ground

(By H.H. Baer)


BROWNSVILLE, Nov. 23 – Bodies of two babies, with their charred arms clasped about each other, was the grim spectacle brought to light after the flames had been subdued at the Alicia works Thursday afternoon.  Another baby six months old had been tossed by the mother from the second story of the building and was unhurt.  The mother leaped after the baby and was badly bruised.  Her condition is most serious as a result of the shock when she learned the babies had been burned to a crisp.





ELSIE CAPELLI, aged 6 months, injured when she was thrown from the window to the ground; will recover.

MRS. FRED CAPELLI, mother of the babies, bruised when she leaped through the second story window to the ground; condition serious.

Just how the fire started is a mystery.  The large double frame dwelling, nos. 68 and 69, were burned to the ground.  Four other houses across the street were blistered and damaged from the heat of the frames.

All the families are either Italian or Slavish.  A telephone call was received from the W. Harry Brown works to the effect a fire was raging in the company houses.  Both South Brownsville and Brownsville fire trucks, loaded with firemen, went to the scene.  They found one house in flames and others about to ignite.

Water in the fire plugs would not throw a stream five feet.  Chemicals from the trucks were thrown on adjacent houses to save them, while the hose were taken in the second stories and nozzles run over the sides of the houses to keep the flames in check.  It was due to the excellent work of the two fire companies that the entire lower two rows did not burn to the ground.  The Alicia fire company formed a bucket brigade and assisted in quenching the flames, which were fanned by the stiff river breeze.

Mrs. Capelli, whose children were burning to death, dashed from those holding her several times in an effort to rush into the burning building to the relief of the little tots.  Each time she was caught before she accomplished her purpose only to make another effort to enter the building.

Mrs. Capelli was quieted somewhat when told her babies had been saved.  She stated in broken English she was down stairs in the front of the hause [sic] asleep when she was awakened by the smoke choking her.  She rushed up stairs, where her three babies were sleeping in a bed.  She grabbed the smallest child and threw her through a pane of glass from the second story to the ground.  She then made another effort to save the remaining children but was almost suffocated by the heat and smoke.   Finally unable to reach them she threw herself through the window.  Her clothes were singed and her arms and limbs cut by the glass and the jolt of the fall.  The house was then a mass of flames and none dared to enter.

It is thought the fire originated in the kitchen from the cooking stove, having a good start before it was discovered by the residents, although there are 150 houses in the two rows.

Fred Capelli, the husband, was in Brownsville at the time of the fire and his homecoming in the evening at 5:30 o’clock was another sad affair.  The fire started at 1:45 in the afternoon.

When the building had burned to the ground, nothing standing but the two brick chimneys, the charred remains of the little babies were found locked arm in arm.  The bodies were in the basement, having fallen from the second story, but the death lock was not broken.

The theory is advanced by the firemen that the children were suffocated before the fire reached them.  This was also the reason the children did not answer the mother’s summons at the window.

The bodies were taken to the morgue of Kisinger & Luce.  They will be buried together sometime today.  Both will be laid to rest in one little coffin.  Two elder children were attending school at the time of the fire and added to the pitiful scene, when school was dismissed.

The extent of the damages is not known exactly, but estimated to reach $8,000.  Besides the home of Fred Capelli in the house No. 68, the belongings and furniture of John Tompko, in house No. 69, were completely lost.  Martin Yallincich living in house No. 67, suffered heavy loss as did John Superak, living in house No. 66.  House No. 70, Pauls Disi’s residence, all household belongings and furniture was either ruined by fire or chemicals and water.  House No. 71, Steve Paviectovich, suffered slight damage by chemicals and water.

The fire occurred in the “patch” of the Alicia works which are located 150 feet from the river bank.

Company Physician J.H. Lab??? remained with the mother for five ???? administering medicine and ????

All telephone communication between Brownsville and Alicia ??? severed for a short time.  The el??? Current at the plant was shut off ??? wires burned in two.  Those we??? Paired in a short time.

Superintendent Reynolds state??  houses would be rebuilt immed??? and the homeless families sho??? and cared for until their new bu????   was completed.

All men residing in the house ??? employed at the works, either in ??? mines or on the outside.

Treasure Chest Thursday – Marriage Application For My Grandparents

I was recently browsing the record collections on Family Search when I stumbled across Pennsylvania County Marriage Records, 1885-1950.  Since my Dad’s family lived in and around Pittsburgh, Pennyslvania, I immediately clicked on the record set.  A quick search brought up the marriage record for my grandparents! Yipee!

The three images included an outside cover, the application, and the portion returned to the county by the Priest who officiated their wedding.  The information is all items I already know about my grandparents.  It is nice to have something with their signatures on it.

Celio Capelli and Mary Dempsey were married the day after Valentine’s Day in 1947.  My grandfather told us the story once about how he met my grandmother.  He had been driving home with a friend in the car.  The friend, who also knew my grandmother, pointed her out  walking down the street.  My grandfather pulled over to offer her a ride home.  My grandfather was so focused on my grandmother that he did not notice his sister(cousin) walking down the street.  He failed to give her a ride home and heard about it when she finally made it.

Another Self Addressed Envelope

That tingle of excitement is back!  There was a self addressed envelope in the mail today.  I want to repeat just how much I love these envelopes.

I now have a death certificate for Salvatore Siletto.  To refresh your memory, Sal Siletto is my grandfather’s, Celio “Jay” Capelli’s, uncle.  His wife, Anne, was a witness in my grandpa’s naturalization paperwork.  Since Siletto is the maiden name of my great-grandmother, I asked family if there was a connection.  My grandmother confirmed that Sal was the younger brother of grandpa’s mother, Adele.  I now know that Sal immigrated to the United States in March 1921, he became a naturalized citizen, and was a baker in Pittsburgh.  Sal’s passenger manifest listed his mother as Dominica Brunero.  I also found a 1938 passenger manifest entry for a Lucia Siletto Brunero who was going to visit her son, Salvatore Siletto in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Sal’s death certificate confirms most of the information I have already found.  His wife was Anne Bordone.  He was born 17 December 1900 in Italy.  He worked as a baker and lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The death certificate also lists some new information.  Sal died 27 July 1967 of carcinoma of the lung.  He is buried in Calvary Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The best part is that Sal’s parents are listed as Joseph Siletto and Lucia Brunnero.

I now have indirect evidence that proves Salvatore Siletto is my grandfather’s uncle.  I am so excited that I have made so much headway in researching my grandfather’s family.  I have another piece of the puzzle since Sal was not listed in the baptism records from Cossano Canavese, Italy.  The church records only went through 1899.

New Documents Add to the Story of my Grandfather

I have written a couple of times about my grandfather, Celio “Jay” Capelli.  He was born Celio Ciardonei in Cossano Canavesse, Turino, Italy on December 31, 1914.  His parents were Matteo Ciardonei and Adele Siletto.

On March 22, 1920, Celio (5 years old) and his father, Matteo Ciardonei, arrived in the United States on the SS Dante Alighieri.  According to the ship’s manifest, Matteo was deported March 31st because he had been diagnosed with tuberculosis.  This information came from the passenger manifest found on almost 10 years ago.  I got a printed copy for my Grandfather for Christmas about 8 years ago.

Yesterday, with the free access to immigration records at, I found another piece to the story.  Since I do not have a digital copy of the passenger manifest, I did a search for the last name “Ciardonei.”  I was surprised to see several entries for both Celio and Matteo.  When I opened each digital image, I realized that they had been included on additional lists in the ship’s paperwork.  Specifically, the Record of Aliens Held for Special Inquiry and the Record of Detained Aliens.

The Record of Aliens Held for Special Inquiry states that 31 year old Matteo was hospitalized upon arrival and given a “tuberculosis cert” designation.  He was deported on April 12th at 1:45 pm on the SS Guiseppe Ver??an.  Celio was admitted to the U.S. on March 31st at 10:55am.

The Record of Detained Aliens lists my grandfather being held with other passengers from the Dante Alighieri.  He was fed 8 breakfasts, 7 lunches, and 8 dinners during his detainment.  He was released on March 31st.  The Disposition column for the other passengers lists the addresses of where they were going.  My grandfather’s entry is blank.  It is interesting to note that almost everyone else on the list had a Cause for Detention listed as lack of funds.  My grandfather’s Cause for Detention is “father in hosp.”

These documents made me very sad last night.  I had known that Matteo was brave and left his son with his sister-in-law when he was deported.  I had never considered what had occurred between the time Matteo and Celio arrived and when Matteo was deported.  It must have been so scary for a 5 year old to be separated from his sick father and be detained for a week.  He did not know any English at the time so communication must have been difficult.

The only glimmer of hope that I see in these documents is that my grandfather was detained for only 8 days (as indicated by the number of meals).  His ship arrived 10 days prior to his release leaving us with a 2 day difference.  I am hoping that he got to spend the time with his father in the hospital during those 2 days.  It would have been the last times they would see each other.  Matteo died in his hometown in Italy just under a year later on Mar 14, 1921.

I will end on a positive note.  I also found a Lucia Siletto Brunero on a passenger manifest in 1938 last night.  She listed that she would be visiting her son, Salvatore Siletto.  I have previously documented that “Sal” is my grandfather’s uncle.  So it seems that my grandfather got to visit with his grandmother when she came to visit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  It would have been the first time he saw his grandmother in at least 18 years.

Those Places – Cossano Canavese, Piedmont, Italy

I have written a couple of posts about my paternal grandfather, Celio “Jay” Capelli.  He was born Celio Giuseppe Ciardonei on December 31, 1914.  His parents were Matteo Ciardonei and Adele Siletto.  They lived in Cossano Canavese.  It is a small town northeast of Torino in the Piedmont region.

In May 2006, I got the chance to drive through the town that my grandfather was born in.  Unfortunately, the visit was not a research trip.  We drove through on a Sunday and everything was closed including the local cemetery.  I hope to spend some time in Cossano Canavese one day.  Here are a few pictures from that trip.

Entering the town from the North.


Outside the town hall
The main street through town is very narrow.

A plaque honoring those who died in WWI.  I have several
Ciardonei’s listed.

The church is the tallest building in town.
View of town from the South.
These stones lined the road leading to the cemetery.  All of the stones match the names listed on the plaque in town.  I believe that this stone is a memorial for my great grandfather, Matteo Ciardonei.


An American Dream

Today is the 4th of July.  The day to celebrate the independence of this great country.  The most common ways to celebrate are barbecues, fireworks, and parades with lots of American flags.  I would also like to celebrate by telling you a little about my paternal grandfather.  Celio “Jay” Gordon Capelli lived the American Dream.


Jay Capelli, March 1942

Jay was born in Cassano Canavesse, Turino, Italy on December 31, 1914.  His parents were Matteo Ciardonei and Adele Siletto.  On March 22, 1920, Celio (5 years old) and his father, Matteo Ciardonei, arrived in the United States on the SS Dante Aligheri.  According to the ship’s manifest, Matteo was deported March 31st because he had been diagnosed with tuberculosis.  Matteo was a strong man because he left his young son in the United States with his sister-in-law, Mary (Siletto) Capelli.

Jay grew up in the Capelli household in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with his 3 cousins, Mabel, Bruno, and Elsie and his aunt and uncle, Mary and Alfredo (Fred) Capelli.  Jay became a citizen of the United States on February 25, 1937 when he was 22 years old.  He also changed his name at this time to Capelli.  My grandfather attended Duquesne University, majoring in accounting.  He also served as a Quartermaster in the Army during World War II.

My grandfather met my grandmother, Mary Dempsey in Pittsburgh and they married February 15th, 1947.  Later that year,  they migrated out west to California with my grandmother’s brother.  They settled in Los Angeles and had three children.  The oldest boy being my dad.   The kids grew up in Anaheim and my grandparents moved to Mission Viejo during the 1970’s.


Jay & Mary Capelli, 40th Wedding Anniversary, February 1987

Jay was ninety four when he passed away just over 2 years ago.  He was a hard working man who loved his family deeply.  I remember being in high school when he finally retired from being a CPA at 80.  He loved to go bowling and did so until his late 80’s.  There are many family photos of Jay camping with his family.

He was hard of hearing in his later years.  I will never forget the first time I visited him after he got his hearing aids.  There was a look of astonishment on his face when I spoke to him.  I realized that my voice had been out of his hearing range for years and he was excited to hear what I sounded like.

One of my most favorite memories of my grandfather is from Christmas about 7 or 8 years ago.  I had found the passenger manifest for his arrival in the U.S. on and ordered a copy of the manifest and a photo of the ship to give to him for Christmas.  He was so amazed by the gift!  It made me so happy to be able to bring a piece of his past to him.

It is amazing to think that my grandfather did it all in this country.  He immigrated here as a young boy, learned a new language, grew up in a loving family, attended university, became a U.S. citizen, served his country in war, found the love of his life, followed his dreams out west, and raised a family.  He really did live the American Dream.