Virtually nothing but the clothes on their back

By Jessie, United States

 I am a second generation descendant of Ticino-born ancestors.  My grandfather was Raimondo Vosti who emigrated from Gerra Verzasca to settle in California in 1888 and who married Virginia Berri, eldest daughter of Vittore Berri who had emigrated from Vogorno in the late 1860s.

I never knew my grandparents since my father was orphaned as a teenager.  I was not raised in the Swiss culture and did not think about my Swiss heritage until quite late in life when my niece began asking questions about our Swiss ancestors so she could pass the information down to her teenaged son. That started the search which has been quite rewarding.

In my search for my Swiss ancestors, there is something that I have found quite profound about the Swiss who emigrated from Ticino to settle in central and northern California in the late 1800s and through the turn of the century.

For one, it’s the shear numbers of Ticinesi young men who left their country for an uncertain life elsewhere. They arrived at Ellis Island outside of New York City, which was the clearing point for émigrés, with virtually nothing but the clothes on their backs. In case after case, immigration records show perhaps $20 or $30 dollars in their pockets. Out of this they had to provide for shelter in New York City plus train fare to the Pacific coast. The majority of these young people spoke no English and many were illiterate. How they negotiated travel across 3000 miles to San Francisco, I do not know. As for work, I can only imagine that these young men had word of mouth recommendations to Italian-speaking Swiss in California who already had an established farming business and needed farm labor. Many émigrés had family members who had preceded them and were able to provide lodging and work for them. 

In researching my genealogy, I see page after page of the census records are filled with entries of persons from Ticino and that these people spoke Italian only. The majority of the workers were dairymen, either owners or milkers or butter churners or laborers. The laborer wages were $15/month.  I assume room and board was free.

What I find amazing is that these Ticinese Swiss worked very hard, saved their money out of their meager wages, and within ten years had dairies of their own, milking perhaps 250 cows or better and still employing young Italian-speaking Swiss from their homeland. By the time these hard-working dairymen had retired and moved to town, they had amassed a small fortune.

These are my impressions.

2 thoughts on “Virtually nothing but the clothes on their back

  1. Dear Jessie,
    I’m so happy to hear you are a descendant of Raimondo Vosti. He emigrated to California with his brother Federico and her sister Teresa. Other brothers and sister stayed in Ticino. They were children of Geremia Vosti and Margherita Massera both from Gerra Verzasca. Geremia jr was my great-grandfather. Federico settled in Gonzales and had four children (Fred, John, Dorothy Briscoe and Rosaline Tharp) Teresa married Celeste Besimo and had a daughter Michelina married to Alessio (Lacy)Vosti, Raimondo had several children: Stella, Frances, Amy Pia, Jerry, Jury. If you are a descendant of this family please contact me.
    Giovanna in Ticino

  2. Hello Giovanna….yes, Raimondo was my grandfather. I am the daughter of Jerry who I suppose would have been Geremia had he been born in Ticino. Ceresa I knew well also since we were constant visitors to Alessio and Mickey’s ranch in Hollister. The last of Frederico’s children, Rosaline, recently passed on. You can reach me at zappy39@juno.com.
    Jessie in Taos, NM

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