By Rachel Dworkin, Archivist
Between 1915 and 1935, Elmira midwife Rose Spadaccino delivered 551 babies, including five of her own grandchildren. Most of her patients were members of the city’s Italian and Polish immigrant communities. In her notebook, she recorded each birth she attended, writing down the names of the parents and children, as well as details like the parent’s ages, place of birth, and address. The notebook is a veritable genealogical gold mine.
|Rose Spadaccino, ca. 1900
Rose Spadaccino (1873-1950) was born in Macchia Valfortore, Italy to Dominico Spadaccino and Josephine Callucci. Sometime in the early 1890s, she married Donato Muccigrosso (1875-1943). In 1898, the two immigrated to Elmira along with their young son, Anthony (1896-1979). They went on to have three more children Lena (1902-1988), Thomas (1903-1989), and Joseph (1905-1987). Note that, despite being married, she continued to use her maiden name. That’s because, in Italy, women don’t take their husband’s names and instead use their own surname their entire lives.
|Donato Muccigrosso and son Anthony, ca. 1900
The family was part of a wave of Italian immigrants arriving in Elmira in the 1890s and early 1900s. They were likely drawn here by the presence of several Muccigrosso siblings and cousins who were already living in the area. Over a dozen other families from Macchia Valfortore also settled in the area including members of the Spadaccino, Gallucci, Santone, Rossi, and Cassetta families. These surnames appear multiple times in Rose’s notebook.
Rose was first licensed as a midwife in 1912, after beginning her studies around the time her youngest started school. Her husband, Donato worked as a shoemaker. He also played the tuba as a member of a member of the Duca D'Abruzzi's Band, a local Italian marching band. The couple were both active members at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Elmira. Donato played the organ and Rose was a member of the Sacred Heart Society and Order of St. Francis.
Rose’s midwifery records were donated to the Chemung County Historical Society in 2022 by some of her descendants along with a collection of family photographs and genealogical notes. In early 2023, we received a grant from the South Central Regional Library Council to digitize the collection. The notebook and a selection of family photos and documents are currently available on the New York Heritage website: https://nyheritage.org/index.php/collections/rose-spadaccino-papers
|page from Rose's notebook
The grant was part of New York’s Consider the Source program, an initiative through the New York Department of Education to help teachers bring primary sources into the classroom. This round of grants focused on digitizing records related to historically underserved communities including people of color, women, immigrants, and the poor. The Consider the Source NY website (https://www.considerthesourceny.org/) hosts historical documents and images, along with lesson plans based on the items. In the coming months, Rose Spadaccino’s records might just end up in a classroom near you!