100th Anniversary of Arrival at Ellis Island

Mark LesinaFrom Mark Lesina, United States

It has been said, “In a hundred years, who will know anything about you or your family”. Well it has been a hundred years! Yes – on Friday, April 16th 2010, it has been 100 years since Erminia Martini arrived in New York Harbor at Ellis Island.

Erminia was not yet 20 years of age (born, July 20, 1890) when she left her home in St. Antonio, Valle Morobbia – never to see her parents (Giovanni and Angelina Maria Martini-Martini) again. Why did she come one might ask – like most of the others, to start a new life, to find work, to survive and maybe one day return to Switzerland.


Why would she pick Northern California instead of San Francisco or the other areas of California, where there were Ticinese emigrants? Her brothers; Carlo and Caesar Martini were already in America. Caesar (b 1882) had arrived in 1899 and had left St Antonio when she was only 9 years old, while Carlo (b 1893) came the year prior in 1909 and they were both living in Crescent City at the time. More than likely they were helping the family out as much as possible by sending what they could, back to their parents. In Crescent City, they became friends with Elvezio Lesina (b 1878), a man of 32 years of age from Giumaglio, Valle Maggia. Caesar arranged a marriage between Elvezio and his sister, Erminia, who he had not seen in eleven years. How long was the arrangement made prior to the arrival, we will never know.

Erminia like so many others left Ticino – went over land to the coast and then across the Atlantic. Most of these Ticinesse boarded the boats either at Le Havre, France or Southampton, England to sail to New York. Erminia sailed on the America Line, thus leaving from Southampton. Since she left from Southampton, she would have crossed the English Channel on a ferry.
What did Erminia have to do to prepare for this voyage? First she had to purchase a ticket, which she did from the agency called, “S.A. Corecco & Brivio” for 320 francs. She purchased a steamer trunk and packed it will all the items she would need for the voyage, a Bible, a paiolo, clothing, food only the necessities and her most chariest items. Next, she would have said good-bye to her parents, siblings and other friends and relatives, stopped by the Church of St Antonio, to say a prayer for safe passage and then descend the valley Morobbia to Giubiasco, then Bellinzona and then the world.

She traveled in the company of Achille Tamagni; together they departed April 9th, 1910 from Southampton, England on “The New York” which was a ship that belonged to the American Line. The history of the ship is noted on the Ellis Island web site as, “The New York – Built by J. & G. Thomson Limited, Glasgow, Scotland, 1888. 10,499 gross tons; 560 (bp) feet long; 60 feet wide, steam triple expansion engines, twin screw. Its service speed was 20 knots. It held 1,740 passengers (540 first class, 200 second class, 1,000 third class). It had a Clipper stem, three funnels and three masts.”


“Built for Inman & International Steamship Company in 1888, it was named City of New York, and serviced passengers from Liverpool to New York. It was known as the world’s fastest ship from 1892-93. The ship was sold to American Line in 1893, and renamed The New York servicing Southampton to New York. It was renamed USS Harvard in 1898. The ship served briefly for the US Navy in 1898 during the Spanish-American war. It returned to The American Line in 1898, and returned to service from New York to Southampton at that time. Again in 1917 it was renamed USS Plattsburg, and used as an armed merchant cruiser. Sold again in 1920 it returned to New York working for the Polish Navigation Company, New York-Danzig service, New York-Mediterranean service in 1922 and was scrapped at Genoa in 1923.”

One additional fact that is of interest is that on 10 April 1912, The New York was berthed in Southampton beside the Oceanic. The three-inch steel hawsers that secured her were torn from their moorings when the much larger Titanic passed, creating a suction. A collision was narrowly avoided when Titanic’s captain, Edward Smith, ordered the port propeller to reverse, turning the larger liner while a nearby tugboat towed “The New York” in the opposite direction. Yes, the Titanic almost had an accident before its sinking and it was with the ship Erminia arrived on, just two years prior!
The journey across the Atlantic Ocean took 7 days, which was seven days traveling in steerage packed into the hull of a boat. Erminia is listed on the ship’s manifest as being 20 years of age; however she would not turn 20 for another three months. Her occupation was a servant, having 30 dollars cash, being 5 feet, 6 inches tall, with dark complexion, brown hair and grey eyes. (Note the years in Northern California, must have fade, her complexion as Jacque remembers her as having beautiful, fair complexion.)

Erminia, as previously noted was traveling with an Achille Tamagni (b.1875) who was listed as being from Bellinzona, a friend, a distant cousin, we many never know – or what happened to him. The manifest records Achille as being 35 years of age, a farmhand, who had previously lived in the States from 1900 thru 1907, and was traveling with 50 dollars. He was going to San Francisco, as his brother Celestino Tamagni was there. His mother is listed as next of kin in Switzerland, but the writing is not clear, “Venauzio Marcio”.

As a young girl, Jacqueline Russell-Rose would spend time with Erminia, who was her Grandmother. Erminia told Jacque that she had actually met a young man and wanted to marry him, but her brother, Caesar, had made arranged for her to marry Elvezio and she could not go against him – so she did marry Elvezio as planned. Could Archille have been this man she was in love with, or did she leave someone back in the valley?

Upon arrival at Ellis Island, Erminia and Archille were detained – how long, we do not exactly know, but we can make some educated guess. They are listed as detainees on April 17, 1910 with the code “LPC”, which stands for “Likely Public Charge.” “The LPC exclusion was introduced to US immigration law in 1891 and was the most common cause of detention and grounds for exclusion/deportation. Immigrants were most likely considered a likely public charge if they had little money and no family, friends, prospects, or if they were disabled in some way that would prevent them from earning their own living. The majority of LPC exclusions were overcome during the Special Inquiry process, usually when friends, family, or some Immigrant Aid organization came and vouched for the person or posted a bond for them. The record lists the two of them receiving between 16 and 17 meals – each for breakfast, lunch and dinners at Ellis Island, so they were detained about two and a half weeks. Who eventually met them or which agency came – we do not know, but the word “Admitted” is eventually stamped by their names on the manifest and they enter America.
Erminia since not married at the time of her arrival at Ellis Island had to provide proof that she had work upon arrival. She had two sources of income that she could list – the first being that in Smith River, near Crescent City, her first cousin Robert Sarina (b. 1883) owned and operated a large dairy ranch – it is said, she was indentured to him for some of her passage to America. Robert was known to have brought many of his relatives to the States via his ranch and made multiple trips back to Valle Morobbia during these early years. The second source of income was a stop along the way to Del Norte (the county in which Crescent City and Smith River are located). This was what was listed on the manifest as her destination; 319 Broadway San Francisco – she was to be staying with her aunt Mrs. R. Buletti. This was in fact the Swiss Hotel in San Francisco owned and operated by the Buletti family – where Erminia would be a chambermaid for a short time. Archille’s brother is also listed as residing at this address.

We have learned that “her aunt Mrs. R Buletti” was actually the wife of Erminia’s mother’s first cousin. Rocco “R” Antonio Buletti (b 1864) was the son of Margarita Martini Buletti-Storni, the twin of Giovanni Johann Martini (b 1823) – Erminia’s grandfather. It is unsure of when Rocco Buletti first arrived in San Francisco but by occupation he was a chef at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco (It is believed that he also sponsored a Buletti nephew while working at the Place Hotel). In 1898, he married Erminia Gilardi who arrived from Ticino in 1891.

Rocco and Erminia Buletti had a series of hotels catering to the Ticino immigrants in San Francisco. In 1900 they had the Ticino Hotel (their business partner was Alexander Togni) at 514 Pacific and in 1902 at 516 Pacific. There was also a hotel on Battery Street, prior to the Swiss Hotel at 319 Broadway.

The hotel at 319 Broadway was initially a dormitory for the U.C. Berkeley students in the 1880’s and was known as the Swiss Hotel at the time of Rocco’s sudden death on Christmas day 1905, just five years before Erminia Martini’s arrival in the Bay area, so the cousins would never have seen each other in America.

Widowed, Erminia Gilardi-Buletti continued with multiple businesses in the Bay area after her husband’s death, she was an amazing businesswoman, nothing keeps a Ticinese down! Not only did she keep the Swiss Hotel running after Rocco’s death and the 1906 earthquake, it seems she made a comfortable living off the hotels and her “soda pop” business.
(Please Note: The address of; 319 Broadway no longer exists – the building that is in now in that location now faces Samson street – and the building to the right was built of it was built in 1923 and bears the address of 333 Broadway.) How long Erminia stayed in San Francisco working for Erminia Gilardi-Buletti at the Swiss Hotel is unclear – but it was surely was not very long. Erminia would have probably sailed on the Del Norte Steamer (or Schooner) from San Francisco to the Crescent City harbor – where she would have been met by her brothers Caesar, Carlo Martini and possibly her cousin Robert Sarina, and other relatives from Ticino.
The courtship with Elvezio Lesina must have been a short time, as on August 27th, 1910 at the home of Golia G. & Gilda (aka Hilda) DeBernardi – Elvezio and Erminia were married. As the Del Norte News Paper records;
Last Saturday evening, August 27, 1910, at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Debernardi, near this city, Miss Emma Marini and Ed Lesino were united in marriage. Rev. Father McNaboe performed the ceremony. The bride recently came here from Switzerland. She is a sister of C. Martini who is well known in this county. The groom is well known here, having lived in this county for several years. He is an enterprising young man and has lately purchased a farm near Roseburg, Ore. After a short honeymoon spent here, the young couple will take up their residence on their farm in Oregon. They have many friends who wish them a happy married life.
Immediately after the marriage – Elvezio and Erminia along with her brother Caesar and Elvezio’s brothers (Pacifico and Santino Giuseppe aka Joe) and their families were off, moving north to Oregon, to run a ranch at Glide, Glide, is on the north end of the Umpqua River. We are not sure if Carlo went with them to Oregon or stayed in Del Norte, as he would return soon to Ticino.

In her twenty’s (in the 1910’s), her first ten years in America must have been hard. There were joys but also many, many sorrows. First she left her parents and family behind, in her beloved Switzerland. She then voyaged half way across the world into the unknown. After being detained at Ellis Island, she was reunited with two of her siblings and several cousins. She then married a man she had just met, and said good bye to her brother Carlo who would soon return to Switzerland. She moved from California to Oregon, gave birth to her first child, a daughter (Olympia 1911), then received notice in 1911 that her father in Switzerland had died. As her brother Caesar prepared to return to Switzerland to help care of their mother, he was killed in an accident. In 1913, she gives birth to her second child a son, she named Caesar after her beloved brother, and returned to Del Norte County at some point after his birth, as in 1914, her third child, Eddie was born there, at the Swiss Hotel. Erminia and her brother Rocco Martini (b. 1896) were also reunited at this time as he has just arrived from Switzerland, to work on their cousin’s ranch in Smith River. Also arriving from Switzerland with Rocco, was the return of Robert Sarina, whose ranch Erminia and Elvezio were probably stay at, Geneva Gianocca (b. 1896), the soon to be wife of Robert Sarina and an Andrea Maretti, first cousin to all of them. We know her husband, Elvezio, attends the Worlds Fair in San Francisco with Dominic Buzzini, but we do not know if Erminia goes with him or not.
By February of 1915, Erminia and Elvezio were back in Glide, when her young brother, Rocco, had an epileptic fit while crossing the Smith River, and fell from his horse and drown. As noted in his obituary,
“…He leaves to mourn his early death a mother and one brother who reside in Switzerland and a sister Mrs. Ed. Lassino (Lesina), who resides at Roseburgh (Roseburg), Oregon. Robert and John Sarini (Sarina) and Mrs. Rossini, all of Smith River, are his cousins. The father of the deceased died about two years ago and a brother Caesar Martini was accidentally shot and killed a few days later at Roseburgh. The mother had 30,000 francs in a bank in Switzerland and last year the bank failed and she was left almost without means. She has certainly had her share of trouble during the past two years and we sincerely sympathize with her and the other relatives.”

In 1915 her fourth child (Benjamino) was born, and in January 1917 her fifth child (Benjamin Bernardo) was born in Glide, however several months later the family was living in Parksberg, Oregon near the coast when Benjamino was kicked in the head by a horse in late June and dies several days later in July. This does remain a mystery – the name of the fifth child is changed to the name of the fourth. Was the fifth child really Bernardo, named for Elvezio’s grandfather – but in memory of Benjamino, Benjamin added to his name? Also during this time Elvezio and Erminia has some financial troubles and lost the ranch in Glide. By 1919, they returned to Del Norte, first staying on the Robert Sarina Ranch in Smith River. Based on all this, one could say her first ten years in America were difficult!
In her thirty’s (in the 1920’s) life became better – she and Elvezio purchased a ranch in (1921), located in Elk Valley, Del Norte County. She did give birth to two more children, her sixth, and a girl whose birth certificate was blank and when Elvezio took her to the church for the baptismal named her Elizabeth Emma in honor of his wife Erminia (1922). As Jacque recalls “Mom’s name is Elizabeth Emma – I found that out from Mom and Grandma didn’t even know that. She was surprised when I told her that Mom’s middle name was Emma – she was surprised that Grandpa had named Mom after her. She said that Grandpa would take the baby to the Church and priest for baptism and then Grandpa would come home and tell her the baby’s name. She said he named all the babies, Grandpa also called Mom Lilly – so Grandma thought that was her name. Mom said that she knew Lilly wasn’t her name, and changed it to Lillian as she got older.”

Her seventh child, Julius, was born in (1923); he lived only one day and died, as they settled in to life on the ranch. In her early forty’s (in the 1930’s) she gave birth to her eight and final child Robert (1933). Her daily life was a mixture of children, chores and chickens. Sunday afternoons were filled with visits from friends (Togni, Luckman, Domenighini, Tosio Laffranchi, Martinelli, Pozzi, etc) and other family members (Sarina, Rossini, Tamagni, Mossi, etc) who had emigrated from Ticino. During this time the Depression occurred, which took its toll, but being a strong Swiss farm family, living in the country, the family faired well. Elvezio – made and sold a little grappa or moonshine, on the side (during prohibition) and the kids milked cows. In 1938 another tragedy struck Erminia, she lost her oldest son, Caesar, the one named for her brother that was accidently shot while living in Glide. He died from injuries occurred during an auto accident near the Apple Gate Bridge, west of Grants Pass Oregon. Erminia knew he had died prior to receiving the phone call, when she saw the sign of the moth, while doing laundry with Lilly.
In her fifty’s, sixty’s and seventy’s (in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s) Elvezio developed diabetes, eventually lost his sight. It is said that Elvezio knew he went blind, when one evening he went to bed and could see the pigeons on the roof and then the next day when he awoke he could not. He basically went blind over night. Eventually they moved into a small house in town and off the farm. Many trips were made to San Francisco for medical treatments. At this time they would stay at the Hotel San Gottardo in San Francisco’s North Beach. (Please Note: The times have surely changed since their visits to the Bay area, the building that housed the San Gottardo still stands today, and however it is now Brandy Ho’s Hunan Restaurant! The Hotel San Gottardo can be seen in a photo by J.B Monaco, the great San Francisco photographer who was also Ticinese and photographed may of the immigrates, including Elvezio and Erminia from these early days – and from the same point via Google Earth today!) Elvezio passed away in 1951. Erminia would visit her cousins throughout California sometimes working for different families. Maybe this was the connection to the homeland she needed. Some of these cousins were Louis (b. 1895) and Giuseppa Pedraita-Sarina (b. 1895), who she was God Mother too, to their youngest daughter Dorothy Sarina (b. 1936). Dorothy did say that as a child she remembered Erminia, saying in her broken English-Italian, “I want to go for a ride in la macchina”. They lived in the Salinas valley at the time.
In Greenfield was Emma Maretti-Guidotti (b. 1927), whom Erminia was the caretaker of Emma’s two children, Leonard and Larry Guidotti, so Emma could work in the lettuce fields. She was also known to visit, Dora Tamagni-Lanzi (b. 1915) of Chileno Valley, near Petaluma, Isolina “Hazel” Sarina-Roth (b. 1910) from Ferndale, Romilda Maretti-Barbettini-Corda (b. 1884) of Gonzales and Felicita Maretti-Giottonini-Pelascini (b.1886). These were all first cousins, all of whom had also left their homes in St Antonio and the Valle Morobbia to immigrate to California.

Erminia had wished to return to Switzerland during this time. She did start to gather the paperwork, but un-fortunately it never happened. Her brother Carlo, who had immigrated to Crescent City for a short time, then returned to Valle Morobbia had also wanted to return to California, but never did. Erminia would never see him again after 1910 or her other siblings in Switzerland.

In her eighty’s (in the 1970’s) she lived with her daughter Lilly. These are a few of my memories of Erminia, my Grandmother. As the collector and recorder of this information, I am the second youngest of her grandchildren. In all she had, 14 Grandchildren, if alive today her bloodline would descend to Great, Great, Great,Grand-Mother.

My memories are few, but always vivid in my mind. The first memory I have is when I was about four years of age, and it was Christmas Eve. I remember going into town from the farm. I really do not remember much but as I recall my cousin Debi was there along with another one of her grandsons and others. She sat in; I believe a green or yellow leather chair, with her legs up. She had silver hair and a giant smile. The next memory I have of her, is in the early 1970’s,and we had went to the city – which for me could have been anywhere compared to the farm, but I believe it was Stockton or Redding, where my aunt Lilly was living at the time. I do not remember much, just sleeping on the floor and her walking by saying, to get up, I am making pancakes – oh the memories of a five year old!

My next memories are more somber, it was now the mid 1970’s and I am about ten or eleven. My father, (Eddie), loaded all of us up – my mom (Benora), my uncle (Bobby aka Robert) and myself in our car, which at the time was a large yellow Ford. This was before the gas crises of course, and drives all of us to Redding. By this time Erminia needed 24/7 care and is now in a care facility. I remember my parent‘s talking about how she just did not look right. She was very frail and just not right – come to find out the nurse’s station had given us the wrong room number! We changed rooms and visited for a while. I remember my uncle did need to leave the room. On the return trip home, we stopped in Mt Shasta, at Mike and Tony’s for raviolis, and then further north. The car broke down just before the Siskiyou pass, and I was in the back seat where I was happy to be with Uncle Bobby – as there was much noise coming from the front seat by this time! (I’ll leave it at that!) A few months passed, when my father received a call. As I recall it was a Saturday or Sunday morning, saying that his mother had passed – He took the call, then sat with his hands over his eyes, in his 90 years this was the most expression of emotion I had seen in my father.

Erminia’s body was returned to Del Norte for the Rosary and funeral. The open casket at the Rosary is my last memory of her, with her silver hair, her small Bible in her hands (it had came with her from Switzerland and by now old and worn) and a beautiful necklace around her neck that my aunt had made for her with the birthstone of each of Erminia’s children. She died, May 22, 1976 in Redding, California at the age of 85, then buried in the Lesina Family Plot, St. Joseph’s Catholic Cemetery, Crescent City, Del Norte County, California, next to Elvezio.

It was after Erminia’s passing that I began the study and research of the family (some may say obsession). It started from a desire to find a photo of Erminia and Elvezio together and 34 years later I am still learning more about her. So last weekend, I put the “paiolo” (polenta pot) on the stove – added the 8 cups of water, a dash of salt, brought to a boil, slowly added the three cups of polenta meal and stirred for one hour, adding a little butter and cheese at the end – then poured it onto the wooden board, shaped it into a loaf and cut myself a slice, poured a glass of “vign” and raised my glass in honor of her memory. I guess I forgot to mention, the paiolo, came with Erminia in the steamer truck, 100 years ago!

So yes, we can say, “It’s been a hundred years and we still know about her”.

Erminia Martini-Lesina July 20, 1890 in St Antonio, Valle Morobbia, Canton Ticino, Switzerland – May 22, 1976 in Redding, California United States.

5 thoughts on “100th Anniversary of Arrival at Ellis Island

  1. What a wonderful story full of history! It tracks with my ancestors lives coming to America from Valle Morobbia in 1910. My grandfather was a Tamagni, my grandmother was a Buletti, my grandmother was a Sarina and my great-aunt was a Martini. No doubt these folks in this story were relatives. They may all have known each other. My grandparents also lived in Northern California (Ft. Bragg & Ten Mile River), farming until approximately 1914. A great story!

  2. Dear Mr. Lesina, Thank you for the wonderful story. Some of the names are familiar to my family tree also–Togni, Buzzini, but not sure if any connection. My father came to America must later–1930–also lived in Greenfield/Gonzales/Soledad–worked on his sister’s ranch and then went north to SF Bay Area-Alameda, where I was raised. We will spend our 5th summer in Ticino this year, taking our eldest granddaughter with us to introduce her to her Swiss Roots…Again, Thank you for sharing your story with us….Amy

  3. Wonderfuk article! I’m doing some family research for the Domenighini Family from Torino who have lived in Salinas, California for a number of generations.

    Louise Radcliffe
    Salt Lake City, Utah

  4. Mark, This story of Erminia brought back many great memories. I am Larry Guidotti, son of Leonard and Elma Guidotti. Erminia was I guess what would be in modern terms my nanny.
    She was so much more than that, she was family. I will be brushing off the dust of my parents photo collection to bring back more memories. She was a wonderful lady. As for now, I will leave you with the saying she use to say to me when I would go off to school. See you in the funny papers!

    Love and Respect
    Larry Guidotti

  5. Hello Larry,

    Thank you for your response! It was wonderful to hear from you and thank you for your memory of my grandmother! Your Mother, Elma Maretti-Guidotti was a major influence and help to me when I first started researching the family. She was actually the person that first explained how everyone fit together, within the family. Prior to your mom’s explanation – all we know was everyone was referred to as “a first cousin” of my grandmother and that they had all emigrated from Ticino over a period of time. She connected the pieces!

    Not sure if you noticed the posting called “School photo from Val Morobbia 1930” – the photo that this posting was written for was based on a newspaper clipping your mother sent to me in the late 70’s/80’s.

    I do have copies of some photos from when my grandmother stayed in Greenfield with your family – would you mind taking a look at them some time to see if you can identify some of the additional people.

    In April, I was in Ticino and did get to see your uncle for a short time, such an interesting person. His latest book is a treasure for the Valley – “Alpi e storie di alpi della Valle Morobbia”.

    All the best
    Mark Lesina

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