My blog Today on Novel Adventurers:
I like mysteries. That seems self-evident given I also write them. But the mystery I’m most interested in at the moment isn’t fiction. It’s an American historical mystery—a lost immigrant story that unfolded in turn-of-the-century Idaho.
Last year I posted a blog about my great-uncle who lived in Deadwood during the gold rush of the late 1800s, as well as a family tree I pieced together that stretched back to the King Henrys (maybe). However, there was one branch missing, the fourth leg of the stool if you will: my maternal grandfather’s line. As a good mystery goes, what little I’ve discovered during the past year has only led to more questions.
My maternal great-grandfather, John Melise (previously, Giovanni Milesi or Melice), arrived in the United States in 1884 at the age of twenty. From where precisely, I’m not sure, although family lore places his hometown in Italy near the boarder of Austria. That same family lore also gives John Melise at least one brother, a brother who also married my great-grandmother’s sister. But the big story is that my great-grandfather abandoned my great-grandmother and her six kids, including my 5-year old grandfather, to strike it rich in the Idaho silver/gold rush.
My research (thus far) suggests none of my family stories are true. John Melise was still living with my great-grandmother in the midst of the Idaho silver-mining boom in 1920, at which point they’d been married nearly seventeen years. And he died shortly after the 1920 census (my only reference material for those years), in 1922, around the time my great-grandmother likely moved back to her hometown of St. Louis. That doesn’t seem like abandonment.
Then there’s my possible great-uncle, Joe Melici (or Guiseppi Milesi), who may or may not have married one of my great-aunts. Yet through the 1940 census there is no record of a marriage or kids. He worked his entire American life as a silver miner in Wallace, Idaho, always single, always living in boarding houses. By the 1940 census (the latest available) he was living in the historic Jameson Hotel, which may have been a run-down boarding house in those days, but is currently on the market for $549,000.
Included in that price is a ghost named Maggie who awaits a long-lost love who never returned from a quick-trip East after striking it rich in the silver mines. It’s a bargain!
Perhaps Maggie’s lost lover, like my great-grandfather, didn’t abandon her. Perhaps he simply died. Or did he? >> Read the rest.