Did Angelo LanFranchi come to the U.S. to avoid the draft?

The Society of American Archivists recently wrote, in promoting Margot Note’s new book, Creating Family Archives, that “family history is important” with photos, videos, aged documents, and cherished papers, saying “and they need a better home than a cardboard box,” adding that “gathering up the boxes of photos and years of video is a big job.” I can’t agree more, which is why I am putting together this post.

On September 6, 1896, in Casola, a town in Parma, within Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, my great-grandfather, Angelo LanFranchi, entered the world with shining eyes. [1] While we don’t know much about his parents, his mother was undoubtedly Adelaide, with a likely last name of Berte. While there is no doubt that his father had the surname of LanFranchi, his first name is in dispute. Some records, like Angelo’s  passenger record call him Giuseppe, while others call him Francesco. In any case, Angelo had five siblings back in 1896: 14-year-old Francesco, seven-year-old Marietta “Maria” Louisa, seven-year-old Giuseppina “Pina,” nine-year-old Barbara, and two-year-old Angelina (also named Angiolina or Angela). In later years, he would have two more sisters: Rosina in 1903 and Elena, with an unknown year of her birth. Of these siblings, four of them immigrated to the U.S.: Francesco, Maria, Angelina, and Barbara. Angelina married two times, having one child with her first husband, whose name is not currently known, and six children with her second husband Ettory Bertolo (1886-1974): Secondnina “Nina” (1914-2010), Frank (1917-2009), Peter “Pete” (1917-1982), Angelanna “Babe” (b. 1918), Irene “Rena” (b. 1924), and Henry (1926-1999). As for Barbara, she married Giovanni “John” Cattani, and had eight daughters: Genevieve “Jean” (1911-2002), Alice (1914-2002), Onellia “Nellie” (1916-1998), Frances Ann (1919-p 1998), Lena (1921-1994), Perina “Perry” (1926-1993), Mary (1929-1990), and Rosemary (1934-p 1998). As for Francesco, he arrived first in April 1907 and again in 1914, living in Avonmore from 1908 to 1911, marrying Domenica Cattani. Maria, on the other hand, married Giuseppe Berte sometime before September 1912, arriving in the U.S. later that year, living in Berte, Vermont, and had three children: Ketri (b. 1913), Lina Maria Nita (1915-1992), and Ancilla Francesca Ermelinda (b. 1918). The stories of Angelo’s two other sisters, Barbara and Angelina tie into his own story.

In this post, I’d like to investigate why Angelo, who later took the name of Louis Franci, came to the U.S., giving some background before addressing the question posed in the title of this post. Below are photographs of the ships that the LanFranchis and Cattanis traveled on to the U.S. from Italy:

Angelo arrived in the U.S. in 1914. In the passenger manifest, it states that he is a 18-year-old laborer (more on that later) who last lived in Lesignano, also known as Lesignano de’ Bagni, a municipality (or comune) in the province of Parma, 56 miles west of Bologno, 9 miles south of the city of Parma, and 15 miles southwest of the small town of Casola. The port he left from, Le Havre, France, 587 miles or 944 kilometers as the crow flies. Undoubtedly, Angelo got to Le Havre by using a railroad. As historian Bruno Derrick writes on the National Archives of the UK’s website, railways across Europe grew exponentially from 1874 to 1914, new lines and capacities were being built, “with virtually every major town and city being connected by railway lines.” James Simpson, a web developer and writer, added that the scale of the continent’s railroads made World War I possible. He was single and unmarried at the time he immigrated, as the below document indicates:

Angelo listed at the bottom of the page. A Paulo Cattani and Gugligemo Chioldi also listed on this page. We’ll get to them in a later post.

The following page shows he was en route to Avonmore, Pennsylvania, a small town with a nearby railroad and a population of about 1,200 people as noted in the 1910 and 1920 censuses for the borough, situated in Westmoreland County. This record also claimed his birthplace as Lesignano, while also noting that a 27-year-old married man named Paulo Cattani traveling to the house of his brother, Valentino, in the town (Box 844), with his wife Angela still living in Italy, and a 22-year-old single farm laborer named Gugligemo Chioldi, leaving his mother Rosa Branchi in Lesignano, where Angelo has last lived before leaving the country, but to no specific address.

Says he is going to Avonmore, the same place that Gugliemo Chioldi, and varied others are going.

But why there? It is relatively far out of the way, about 34 miles away from Pittsburgh, not near any major center of commerce now or in the past. The reason is obvious: his siblings were already living there! His married sister Barbara traveled with her husband, John Cattani and their child Genevieve “Jean” back in 1912. They also left from Le Havre, France, and traveled on the S.S. Rochambeau.

John’s brother, another Cattani, lived in Avonmore at the time, so it only made sense for them to travel there. But, that wouldn’t be the only reason of course, as they likely had other family connections, something which later posts will expand upon.

That’s not all! Angelina came to Avonmore two years after Angelo and went to live with Barbara. This record names their father (and my great-grandfather) as Francesco LanFranchi, despite the passenger manifest of Angelo (noted earlier in this post) which called their father “Guiseppe LanFranchi.” This also lists her birthplace as Casola, which more aligned with what I have heard about Angelo.

Angelina goes to her sister’s home

That brings us to the one million dollar question: why did Angelo immigrate to the U.S.? This is an important question because 1914 was at the tale end of the wave of immigration in the early 20th century to U.S. shores, most coming from Southern Europe and Eastern Europe, with Italians, by the 1930s, as the largest group, in terms of immigrants, in the nation as a whole, in various states, including New York, Louisiana, New Jersey and Nevada. During this immigration movement to the United States, roughly from 1890 to 1919, 18.2 million came to the U.S., 62% from South/East Europe, 26% from North/West Europe, 3% from Latin America, and 2% from South/East Asia.

One theory I heard from some relatives and I considered myself, is that Angelo ran away from Italy due to the draft and that he would be arrested if he went back to Italy. As the story goes, he couldn’t even attend the funeral of his mother Adelaide due to fear he would be jailed as a result. Just to be clear, the draft in Italy wasn’t like the still-existing “Selective Service System” in the U.S. Some have argued that Italy wouldn’t have existed without conscription, a part of wider social and political reforms, and introduced onto the peninsula by none other than Napoleon! In recent years, some Italian politicians wanted to bring it back, claiming there were “threats” which necessitated it! As Marcia Melnyk writes in Family Tree magazine, you can get conscription papers on an Italian ancestor, with the records called registro di leva and listing all “males by year of birth within each military district,” with the records often indexed.

History is Now Magazine notes that Italy, generally a new nation-state, only becoming a united country in the 19th century, had an economy mainly based in agriculture but lacked a “competent military.” However, the magazine adds that those who wanted Italy to not enter the war (neutralisti) and those who did want want to enter the war (interventisti) clashed with each other, in the political arena. The latter group won when Italy ceased to be part of an alliance with Austria-Hungary and Germany, joining France, Britain, and Russia, declaring war on Germany and Austria-Hungary on May 24, 1915. This meant that Italy didn’t enter the war until that point. At the same time, the size of the Italian Army increased from 300,000 in 1915 to five million by the end of the war in November 1918. A strong anti-Austria-Hungry sentiment likely spread across the country since Austria-Hungary was “Italy’s historical enemy.” The country’s armed forces only expanded due to…conscription, which Italy relied upon since its creation in 1861, in an attempt to supposedly “forge a sense of nationhood.” The Italian the army forces used it to acquire personnel until the abolition of conscription in peacetime in 2006, phasing it out after 2000.

Europe in 1914, via The National Archives (UK)

Of course, there are records of such recruitment, since the Italian government introduced military conscription in 1907. Alexander Watson of the British Library writes that 55% of male Italians aged 18 to 50 were called to military service from 1914 to 1918, while another says conscription of those over age 18 began in 1865. Due to the Pope’s message and high death rate, peasants in Italy, apparently, shunned the war, refusing to abide by conscription orders or enlist. This wouldn’t be a surprise since Italy decided to base their army after 1870 on unfree labor. Even in August 1914, General Luigi Cadorna, chief of staff of the Italian Army, expected war and began building up the Italian army, concentrating military forces on the country’s borders with Austria-Hungary. A few months later, in June 1914, widespread strikes (including a two-day general strike) and rioting rocked the Italian provinces of Emilia-Romagna and Marche, with seizing of railway stations, cutting telephone wires, and burning tax registers, the so-called “Red Week,” with the former being the province where Angelo was living.

Furthermore, this description from Mary Tedesco, a professional genealogist who co-authored a book titled Tracing Your Italian Ancestors, gives some tips on tracing your Italian genealogy, points to military conscription records as one of the sources of genealogical information:

Following Italian unification in 1861, military service was required by each Italian male. These records are classified by city or town of birth and year of birth, and in many Italian areas date back to birth years 1840 – 1842. Historical draft records and military service records can typically be found at either the Archivio di Stato [Italian State Archives] in the province where you ancestor lived.

At first, I thought draft records for the Province of Parma didn’t survive since a listing of Italian military records lists none for the province, abbreviated as “Reggio Emilia” within the Italian State Archives. However, the State Archives of Parma holds a series titled “Leva Militare” meaning “military draft” [2] which has a 209-page collection from the Ufficio di leva di Parma, otherwise known as the Parma Draft office, the series lasting from 1883 to 1915! This would be a much better resource than trying to page through the hard-to-navigate census (there are only ones for 1861, 1871 and 1881) for Reggio Emilia, which I have basically given up in trying to search through on my computer. I WILL pursue that in the days to come.

War Resisters International claims that draft evasion under existing Italian law is “punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, and five to 15 years’ in wartime,” relying in a 1991 report on “Conscientious objection to military service” by Amnesty International. However, when translating article 336 of the Italian penal code, known as Codice penale [3], into English, it only clearly only refers to anyone who uses violence or a threat of violence against a public official or someone “in charge of a public service.” It has nothing to do with draft-dodging, which is illegal under U.S. law. At the same time, it wasn’t until 1972 that the Italian Parliament approved a law which made conscientious objection to the draft by those with “profound religious or philosophical or moral beliefs” legal. Even so, those who were approved to be conscientious objectors still had to perform an eight-month term of “unarmed military service, or civil replacement service” in its place. If someone refused that, then they could be imprisoned for 2-4 years. I’m pretty sure that this provision is no longer valid since conscription fully ended in 2006 for the country as a whole.

How in the world does this relate to Angelo? In order to determine that, some background needs to be established. Italy has established three criminal procedure codes since its creation: one in 1865, another in 1913, one in 1930, and a final one in 1988. Furthermore, the current constitution of Italy wasn’t enacted until 1948, and the current civil code, also known as Codice civile, began in 1942. This replaced the one in 1865, an Italian translation of the Code Napoleon, the French Civil Code established in 1804. [4] I am also aware that the Albertine Statute, also known as Statuto Albertino, established by the ruler of Sardinia in 1848, soon became the constitution of the Kingdom of Italy, remaining in force until 1948. This is despite the fact that the fascist rule of Benito Mussolini after 1925 mostly voided its text. The Albertine Statute  mentioned the draft in Article 75, stating “the military conscriptions shall be regulated by law.” In doing some digging around, I found that article 11 of the Italian Civil Code of 1865 stated that those who received citizenship of a foreign country lose their Italian citizenship. Luckily for all Italian immigrants, a 1912 law revised this. The latter asserted that if someone naturalized after July 1, 1912, all their children “retained Italian citizenship even if they were unemancipated minors as long as they were granted the same foreign country’s citizenship automatically when they were born in that country.” As such, Angelo was unaffected by this change.

There is only one mention of “leva” or military service in the 1865 Italian Civil Code: clause 6 of Book 1, Title I (Of Citizenship and Enjoyment of Civil Rights), which focuses on citizenship. That section is shown below:

The son born in a foreign country from a father who lost citizenship before his birth is considered a foreigner.

However, he may elect the status of citizen, provided that he declares it in accordance with the preceding article and establishes his home in the kingdom within the year from the declaration made.

However, if he has accepted public employment in the kingdom, or has served or serves in the national army on land or sea, or otherwise satisfied with military service without invoking an exemption for the quality of foreigner, he will certainly be considered a citizen.

Without a need to examine the previous maritime penal code of Italy or the 1865 procedural code, I looked at the 1869 Codice penale per l’esercito del regno d’Italia, otherwise known as the Criminal code for the Army of the Kingdom of Italy. One provision, article 277, noted how soldiers who forces conditions on others will be excluded from the military for five years. However, a later version of the same document, in 1869, indicates, in Appendix I, Title I, clause 1 that the military will recruit people voluntarily and through the draft, sometimes translated as “military lever.” The next title focuses entirely on the draft, with the first chapter outlining those subject to it. I expected the parts about how there is an obligation to contribute to the draft, with certain distributions and determinations, or that all citizens of Italy are subject to the draft, only men in certain draft categories, called upon in “extraordinary contingencies.” Even so, clause 7 was the most chilling of all. It stated that citizens subject to the draft cannot “obtain a foreign passport if he does not obtain authorization under the precautions determined by the Regulation mentioned in article 1.” A footnote explained this further:

The naturalization abroad, without the prior consent of the Government of the King, does not exempt the citizen from the obligation to draft, whose enrollment must follow only the list of the municipality of the last domicile in the State.

This would mean that if Angelo was naturalized in the U.S. after he immigrated, but had been put on a draft list, then he could NOT return to Italy as he would be arrested for a crime of avoiding the draft, commonly called “draft-dodging.” He, like all young men those in Italy from age 16 to 19, would have also needed a written statement known as a nulla osta to legally emigrate. However to get this document would would need to fulfill your military obligations and then you could get a passport. Under Italian law, you could be exempted from “reporting a vital necessity of emigration” if you had brothers or relatives who would engage in “permanent service to the Italian Army.”

Further clauses (9, 10, and 11) explained how the King of Italy would determine the distribution of the draft quota, with each province subdivided, and having drawings of citizens for the draft itself. However, as noted in second section of this law’s chapter, exact draft operations would be overseen by the Minister of War, seemingly appointed by the King, coupled with various draft boards and commissioners, the latter appointed by the King, to enforce the draft itself. Clause 19 of the law’s second chapter noted that men when they turn age 19 (I’ll come back to that later on in this post) need to be registered with the draft. The following clause said young people are considered as residents of a certain municipality if their father, father, or guardian lives there, those born in the municipality itself, those from another country who been naturalized in that municipality, and so on. Clauses 22, 23, and 24 were intriguing as they pointed out that the draft list was originally compiled in January by the town mayor:

The Leva [draft/service] list is compiled for the care of the Mayor within the same month of January on the declarations referred to in art. 19, and investigations to be made in the civil status records, as well depending on other documents and information. The first of the following month of February, and for fifteen days consecutive, the list of young people inscribed on that list is published by the Mayor…During the same month of February the Mayor must record all the observations, declarations, or reminders that are made to him for omissions, for false indications, or for errors whatever they may be. The Delegated Council examines the list of Leva [draft/service], and if it is necessary to rectify it in regard to young people who in any way are omitted or unduly registered; and taking into account the observations, declarations and recalls, referred to in article 23 above, it follows the modifications, additions and cancellations that are necessary.

Lets go back to the passenger manifest for the S.S. France. It notes that the ship left Le Havre on January 24, 1914 and arrived in New York on January 30, a six day journey. Angelo’s birthday was on September 6. When he left for the U.S. he wasn’t 18 years old, yet. He was 17 years, 4 months, and 18 days old, when he left Italy, and six-days older when going through Ellis Island, having lived on the planet Earth for 6,354 days, to take from a handy dandy age calculator. Angelo would turn 18 later that year. I looked back at clause 19, to refresh my memory:

On the 1st of January of each year the Mayors are obliged to make known by express notification to young people who in the beginning of the nineteenth year of their age, the duty to be registered on the Leva [draft/service] list of the Municipality in which they have legal domicile, and their parents or guardians. Obligation that they are required to take care of their registration.

For Angelo, he would not be notified by the mayor of Casola he was being drafted until January 1, 1915, taking this law literally. As such, under this law, he wouldn’t be eligible for the draft at the time he left Italy because he wasn’t old enough. Later clauses (28 and 29) talk about those who “escaped” draft registration, and note there is a crime for those who escaped the draft, while also noting how the draft will be conducted (see clauses 34-43), specifically this crime is for those that aided and abetted those on draft lists, a punishment of prison and a fine of two thousand lire (see clause 169). This punishment applies to draft dodgers per the previous clause, clause 168. However, if the age Italians was drafted was lowered to age 18, as some sources indicate, then that means that he would have been notified on January 1, 1914!

What I found so far makes me skeptical that avoiding the draft was his reason for immigrating to the U.S. One source contradicts the age I found in the Italian Criminal Code: FamilySearch. The page on Italian military records states that all Italian males since the creation of the Italian state have been “subject to military duty,” and stating that the draft of young men began at age 18, a compilation of lists into the liste di leva. [5] These records categorized individuals by year of birth, providing the name of the young men, their parents, place of birth, where they were living, and other relevant data. This is followed by the Liste d’Estrazione (also known as liste di arruolamento), with age 21 males examined by the draft board, looking at the physical, mental, and legal eligibility of men. Again, the men’s name, parents’ names, place of residence, and other information is listed. In 1923, the preparation of the liste di leva ended, replaced by only the estrazione. Here is where Angelo would have gotten in trouble, without a doubt

Young men had no right to emigrate from Italy before the age of 18 unless the whole family had departed. From the list of all males eligible for the draft, a certain amount of young men were called (extracted) to actually serve the draft. This depended on eligibility and the number necessary to fulfill the draft quota of the Italian State. Therefore, the liste d’estrazioni set forth the names of those draft-eligible men who were actually drafted or exempted. If a young man did not present himself for the draft and was not represented at the draft call he could be declared eligible and labelled as a deserter or accounted for because of an exemption. This happened at times to those who legally emigrated to North or South America and also to those who illegally emigrated and who did not return because they could be imprisioned [sic] for draft evasion.

Other Italian military records include the Registro dei Folgi Matricolari (draftee curriculum of service record), Foglio di Congedo Illimitato (discharge records), and Registro di Ruolo (service records). These would all be part of a “treasure trove of information” than some Italian genealogists have written about. This makes it likely that the law that stated that those age 19 and older would be added to the draft role was changed, especially since terms one would be conscripted into military service declined from five years in 1863 to two years in 1910. [6] Not only in September 1915, when those born in 1896 where called into service, 12.1% did not appear for draft calls, despite a decline in emigration, but to escape extreme misery in the country’s agricultural sectors, Italian men (mostly) left the country in huge numbers, about 6.5 million in total from 1905 to 1914, equivalent to 1/6 of Italy’s population! Almost 60% went to the U.S., while those that remained, like the peasants (contadini) undoubtedly continued to reject conscription despite the Italian state trying to impose it. [7]

What FamilySearch says puts some credibility to the story he would have fled Italy to avoid the draft. As Jerry Finzi, a semi-retired photographer writes on Grand Voyage to Italy, many Italian men wanted to leave Italy to escape military conscription, although many others wanted only to America, “earn money and return to buy their own land.” Avoiding the draft was not uncommon, as thousands did so, either by dodging it, revolting or deserting, when it was introduced during Napoleonic rule over Northern Italy from 1802 to 1814, even though such an effort was said to be “successful,” despite the cost that Italians had to bear in Napoleon’s imperial designs, coupled with heavy taxation.  If FamilySearch has their date wrong, which doesn’t seem likely at this point, perhaps Angelo was a planner and realized he would be drafted ultimately and wanted to leave as a result. After all, there were a good number of people who had the surname of LanFranchi who died in Italy in WWI, as noted when you search this Italian genealogical website. I may need to go to a Family History Library to continue this quest to get records or directly request them from Parma. [8] In any case, Angelo had family in the U.S., including his sister Barbara, and joined by his sister Angelina, all concentrated in Avonmore. Even so, there were intricacies in Berte which pulled Angelo away from Avonmore, which created a fascinating set of circumstances…


[1] This is noted by his 1929 Declaration of Intention, his WWII draft card in 1942, Al Franci’s notes on his father, and his birth certificate issued in 1959. Some other documents say he was born on September 7, specifically his 1915 Declaration of Intention, his WWI Draft Card in 1918 and the marriage application with Jennie Baccarini in 1931. Some information in this post relies on information from one of living cousins, who also mentioned a number of other people like Ralph Nastari.

[2] Leva means either lever, draft, conscription, and so on. After all, the term “servizio di leva” means “national service,” referring to the draft. I have used it to be draft or service here, just in case there are any translation errors.

[3] As noted by one legal site, Italian criminal is codified into the Codice Penale (Criminal Code) and Codice di Procedura Penale (Code of Criminal Procedure) and is divided generally into three books: “Crimes in general”, “Types of Crimes”, and “Types of Misdemeanors”.

[4] One site remarks that “the civil code of 1865 seemed to be the perfect goal of li-beral politicians, who wanted to strenghten State’s unity through legislative unity. The State Library of Louisiana adds that in 1865, the newly-formed Kingdom of Italy created “its own new Codice Civile, which retains and reflects much of the original Napoléonic Code.”

[5] The age of 18 as the beginning year for those drafted has also been asserted by David A. Fryxell in Family Tree, ItalyGenWeb, My Italian Family,  By 1927, the age the draft began was also age 18. In A Handbook of Military Conscription and Composition the World Over, Rita J. Simon and Mohamed Alaa Abdel-Moneim write, on page 85, that “after a 200-year old practice of conscription since the Napoleonic time in Italy, where all males aged 18 to 26 had to perform military service for 10 months, the Italian Senate voted overwhelmingly in 2000 to abolish conscription…conscription can still be reactivated in times of war or national crises.”

[6] John Gooch, The Italian Army and the First World War (US: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 8-9.

[7] Ibid, 135, 214-215.

[8] There are four collections which I’d look at: “Liste di leva della provincia di Parma 1913-1914“; “Liste di leva della provincia di Parma 1914“; “Liste di leva della provincia di Parma 1914-1915“; “Liste di leva della provincia di Parma 1915“. It says that to access these images you need to access the site at a family history center or at a FamilySearch affiliate library. If anyone could help with this, that would be great.


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