Welcome to the Riva – Alaria Connections. This blog is an attempt to preserve family history from my father's side and to share it with others who might be interested in following our ancestors over the past hundred plus years.

There are three ways to find your way around this blog. 1) Under 'Family History' (right hand column) you'll find links that are arranged in chronological order of when events happened in the family including documents, photos and other research found. 2)
The 'Blog Archives' is a list of blog entries organized in their posted order. 3) 'Labels' are links to blog entries that include some mention of the key words listed. My research has gone as far as I'll probably take it but if anyone reading this has something to add, I'd be delighted if you'd leave it in a comment. Or to just contact me just leave a comment at the end of any blog entry and I promise not to publish your e-mail address. ©

November 11, 2017

The Immigration Suitcase

 When my grandfather immigrated to the United States from Italy in 1895 he carried all his earthly possessions in the wicker suitcase below. When my uncle died it was offered to my dad and it came with a treasure trove of papers inside, all of which have been posted on in this blog.  The suitcase itself now has a new home with my oldest niece who has it on displace at the family cottage. Her mission, I told her, is to figure out who should get it next when the time comes---who, in the newest crop of babies in the family grows up caring the most about genealogy and family trees. I need to put a note inside with a list of those of us who the suitcase has passed through. It will contain the names of my grandfather, my uncle, my dad (for about a minute and a half) then me and now my niece.


November 28, 2012

Certificate of Competency of Coal Miner Illinois 1916


My niece had a wonderful time in Italy last summer and she was able to find Case Riva to visit. She met a woman there and showed her a photo of my grandfather and the women thought he looked just like her grandfather. The best they could figure out is that her line and our line have common ancestors. One day I'd like to post the photos of Case Riva here but we couldn't figure out, yet, how to get them off her new iPod and on to my computer. It's a tiny place.

May 3, 2012


I'm so excited! One of my relatives is going to Italy this summer, to the exact location of our ancestors. Hopefully, she'll be able to find more information to take our family tree back even farther.

December 20, 2008

WWI Registration, Coal Country - 1918

On September 12th, 1918, three Riva's walked into the Putman County local draft board office in Granville, Illinois, to register. WWI was going on and the month before President Wilson had agreed to co-operate with the Allies by sending "volunteer" troops. Those Riva's were James/Giacomo Riva (age 45), John Riva (35) and another John Riva, (35). James, we know from crossing checking information on various documents, is OUR James. The other two Riva's we have no documented proof that they are related but we believe they are.

One of the John's lived in Granville and worked for the St. Paul Coal Co. James and the other John (John #1 below) both lived in near-by Standard, Illinois, and worked at the B.F. Berry Coal Co. James and John #1 are also recorded on the 1910 Census as both living in Greenfield Township, Grundy County,IL---both on Sixth Avenue right next door to each other.

James Riva's Registration, Click to enlarge

Birthday: March 25, 1873 – age 45
James is listed as have black hair and blue eyes
Josie Riva (his wife) is listed as his nearest relative
Living in Standard, IL

#1 John Riva's Registration, Click to enlarge

Birthday: June 11, 1884 – age 35
Wife: Minnie Riva
Living in Standard, IL

#2 John Riva's Registration, Click to enlarge

Birthday: August 1, 1883 – age 35
Living in Granville, IL
Nearest Relative: father Bertolomeo Riva in St Ponsio Canavese Italy, Torino Province

So far, I haven't been able to find a St Ponsio. It's possible the above registration document should read San Ponzio or that the village of St. Ponsio no longer exists. Either way it's an interesting mystery because San Ponzio is a village in the same province where James/Giacomo was born. (If anyone has any information on how these two John's might fit into the James Riva family tree please leave a comment.) J.E. Riva © 2008

EDIT TO ADD: Since writing this, I've been told that the "St. Ponsio" is probably San Ponso in the Piedmont region of Torino. (See comment below.)

December 12, 2008

Christopher, IL & Coal Mining 1920

Christopher, IL, 1928

Josephine (Alaria) Riva died in northern Illinois in 1919 and by the following year her husband Giacomo/James Riva and their three children had moved to the southern part of the state. The 1920 U.S. Federal Census places them in Franklin County, Tyrone Township. More specifically, they moved to a house at 247 Snider Street in Christopher, Illinois. The C.B.& Q. Railroad and four large mining companies had recently transformed the village of Christopher into one of the nations' most productive coal regions.

My generation of Riva's probably all remembers our fathers, John and Peter, talk about their early years in Christopher. We heard stories about how the town was a "company town" with company stores and the mine owners kept people living on credit to stores when the mines were closed seasonally. When they were open, the miners would struggle to pay down their debt. The story goes that there was only one guarded road in and out of the town and no one could leave if you owed money to the company store. According to oral history, James Riva planed his "great escape" from Christopher by growing
potatoes for a store keeper he had befriended thus allowing him to build up a nest egg to send his oldest son north to work in a factory. That son, John D. Riva---so the st
ory goes---was able to accumulate enough money up north to move the rest of the family out of the coal mining community up to Michigan.

Franklin County Miners, 1920

Years ago, Peter Riva gave a taped interview where he talked about his father, James Riva. This is what he said: "My dad worked in the coal mines a lot of years and he was stooped over quite a bit 'cause he worked in the mines where you had to be stooped over. In the mines my dad wore white pants. Figure that one out! They were special heavy canvas bib overalls. They were tough to wear, but besides that, they didn't want no color in them 'cause they'd get poisoned from the dye on the skin. They changed them overalls once a week."

Family folklore also says that James picked and loaded coal for eighty-two cents a ton, and he was almost buried in a cave-in. I've tried to match up cave-in accidents from 1890 through 1930 with the towns that James lived without much success---not all the cave-in accidents are documented on-line at this point in time. One of the worse coal mine accident in history, however, took place near-by where he worked in northern Illinois in 1909. 259 men and boys out of the 481 who worked in the mine died. There is an interesting article about that Cherry accident here. It gives a good description of what it was like to be down in the mines during that time frame.

Another mine accident happened in Christopher just three years before the Riva's moved there and 18 men were trapped in Old Ben. You can read the newspaper account here. There was a second mine accident that occurred in Christopher in the 1920s and that may have been the one our grandfather was involved in but other than the date, I've found no on-line mention of that accident.

Click to enlarge

One of the most interesting articles I've found that gives a
good flavor of coal mining in the 1920s is about the Herrin Massacre. It was a time in history when The United Mine Workers was first organizing and striking and many times they came face-to-face with strike breakers hired by the companies. That bloody day of the Herrin Massacre many people were killed. There is no proof that our ancestor was involved in any of the sit-downs except a vague memory of a story I heard in my childhood about a mine owner who had a machine gun aimed at sit-down strikers who refused to go down in the mine. But James lived in the same county when and where the United Mine Workers were forming, so the bad working conditions and low wages reported in the Herrin article would have applied to him as well as those directly involved in the massacre. J. Riva ©2008

The Riva Family, circa 1920s
Maggie, James/Giacomo, John and Peter

Reference for the Census:
Year: 1920 State: Illinois County: Franklin ED: 43 Page No: 026
Reel No: T625-365 Division: Tyrone Township SD: 17 Sheet No: 37B; 226A
Incorporated Place: Snider Addition to Christopher Illinois (lined out) Ward: X Institution: X
Enumerated on: January 14th, 1920 by: Scott McGlasson
Transcribed by Delores Wolos for USGenWeb,
http://www.usgwcensus.org/. Copyright: 2006

1920 Federal Census Franklin County, Illinois (ED 43: File 9 of 34)


December 10, 2008

1910 Census and the Riva Family

Coal miners, colorized postcards, 1910

The "13th Census of the United States -1910 Population" establishes that Giacomo (36) and Josephine Riva (26) were living at 80 Sixth Avenue in South Wilmington, Illinois, Grundy County, Greenfield Township. Living with them are their three young children: John four, Maggie two, and Eurelia one. Eurelia we know from other documents died not too long after this census was taken and Peter would be born the next year. This document also establishes that by 1910 Giacomo was using the Americanized version of his Italian name---James---and his occupation is listed as coal mining.

Josephine Riva with two children, circa 1905 -08

Another family of Riva's was also living South Wilmington on Sixth Avenue: John 26 a coal miner, Minnie his wife 24 and Maggie two. We strongly believe he is related to our family. He could be a brother or cousin to James. I plan to to research him and a second, older John Riva, because they both show up on the Draft Registration Records for 1918, Putman County, Illinois. The older John I'm hoping is James' father. (We know from oral history that his name is Giovanni, Italian for John.) If it can be established that Giovanni did immigrate, the 1918 draft registration will provide us with the first name and home town of James' grandfather, giving us yet another generation back in time. (If anyone reading this knows anything about these two John's please leave a comment.) J.Riva 2008 ©

South Wilmington is located in Grundy County at the bottom of the map. (Click to enlarge.)

Click to enlarge census


The 1919 Flu Epidemic Takes Josephine

Josephine (Alaria) Riva died on February 2, 1919 after having bronchi pneumonia for six days and influenza for three. Statistically, she was a victim of the Great Flu Epidemic of 1918-1919. But on the human side our 33 year old ancestor left behind a husband and three children, the youngest of which was eight year old Peter. It's estimated that between 20 to 40 million people died of the flu in those two years nation wide and 32 thousand just in the state of Illinois.

Her Death Certificate reveals a few interesting details like the fact that her father's family name is spelled the same way as it was on the 1900 U.S. Federal Census---"Olario"---and that she was buried at the Granville Cemetery in Granville, Illinois. This latter fact is interesting because her oldest son, John, had her marble grave marker in his garage for many years. The family couldn't afford to buy one when she died so decades later Josie's three kids had one made. The stone made at least two trips down to Illinois from Michigan but the cemetery location couldn't be found. From my understanding, it was finally left at a cemetery adjunct to a catholic church but the cemetery keeper didn't have any record of her being there. "But," he said, "They'd find a place for the marker."

Click to enlarge

Town listed on the Death Certificate:

* Standard where Josephine Riva lived Putnam County

* Granville where she was buried
Putnam County

* Spring Valley where she died
Bureau County

This whole area of Illinois was involved heavily in coal mining. Spring Valley alone was over 6,000 people at the turn of the century and it was one huge mining camp. Saint Margaret's Hospital, where Josephine died, was built by seven French sisters to service those miners. J.Riva © 2008

Click to enlarge map above and below.

The pins on the bottom map shows where all the Granville cemeteries are located today.

Granville, IL coal yards and trains on their way to Chicago, circa ?


December 9, 2008

Philadelphia Passenger List 1888 - Alaria

Click to enlarge

Philadelphia Passenger Lists, 1800-1945
Name: Aurelia Alaria
Arrival Date: 27 Jun 1888
Age: 25 Years
Estimated Birth Year: abt 1863
Gender: Female
Port of Departure: Antwerp, Belgium
Ship Name: Nederland
Port of Arrival: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Last Residence: Belgium ?
Birthplace: France
Microfilm Roll Number: T840_11

The Philadelphia Passenger Lists of 1800-1945 establishes that Aurelia Alaria arrived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on June 27, 1888, just two days after there was a huge fire in the city that started in a kindling factory and spread to a near-by coal yard and school house. She was twenty-five years old and her husband, Pietro Alaria, had come to America the year before. Her birthplace is listed as 'France' and Belgium is named as her last place of residence---but with a question mark.

Milk Woman 1890
Antwerp, Belguim

Also in the index for the Philadelphia Passengers Lists of 1800-1945 was another Alaria: Josef Alaria is listed on the line below Aurelia as a male two year old child. I strongly suspect that the 'Josef' is probably Josephine Alaria and the 'male' was a clerical error. We know from the U.S. Census records that Josephine immigrated the same year as her mother when Josie was very young. J.E. Riva © 2008

Philadelphia, 1800s

1888 Philadelphia (click to enlarge)