Storie Di Famiglia

Focusing on Italian Genealogy and uncovering the testa duras in my family tree

Maria Francesca Muglia Pepe – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Maria Francesca Muglia Pepe 1932

When I was young, my brothers, sisters and I were often relegated to the basement, mostly to keep out of my mom’s way while she was cleaning and cooking. But we didn’t mind. The basement was cool in the summers before we had central air conditioning. It was full of old books, old records and old photo albums. I loved looking at the old pictures, carefully arranged on the black sheets. At first, I was only interested in seeing pictures of me and my siblings growing up, but later I started prowling among the older photo albums, amazed at seeing my mother as a child and teenager. One photo in particular stood out. It was a large picture. There were about thirty people arranged outside a house. The mothers held babies in their laps and the fathers wore white shirts and ties. In the middle of the photo sat a stout, old woman, her white hair pulled back into a bun. She wore a black dress and although many in the photo were smiling, she was not. To me, she looked like Queen Victoria of England. I carefully carried the album upstairs and asked my mother who the woman was. “That’s my Grandma,” my mom told me. She laughed, looking at the photo “My brothers and I used to joke that she was as wide as she was tall.”

Maria Francesca Muglia was born on November 22, 1866 in a tiny town in southern Italy called Guardia Piemontese. The town is located in the mountainous region of western Calabria, on the Tyrrhenian Sea. The people speak a peculiar dialect called Occitan, which originated in Southern France and was brought to Guardia Piemontese with refugees from Northern Italy who were escaping persecution from the Catholic Church.

Maria Francesca stood only 4 foot 8 inches tall. She married Francesco Pepe on August 5th, 1886, when she was 20 years old and he was 27. Francesco was also born and raised in Guardia Piemontese and the two families were most likely piesans, or close friends. On the marriage certificate, Francesco’s occupation was listed as contadino, or peasant. He was most likely a worker on a farm. Maria Francesca’s occupation was listed as filatrice, or spinner. Her father was deceased by the time she married, so perhaps she had a job to help support her family.

A year later, the couple had a son, whom they named Luigi after the paternal grandfather, as was the custom. Luigi was followed two years later by Maria, then Giuseppe, born in 1892 and named after the maternal grandfather. Tragically, Maria Francesca lost her daughter when little Maria died when she was only four years old. Maria Francesca was pregnant with son Domenico at the time. Tragedy struck again as Domenico died at the age of fifteen months. Her heart must have broken in two when baby Carmela, born in 1898 died after only eight months.

Around this time, the couple decided to leave Italy behind and start a new life in America. Francesco saved up enough money for him and oldest son Luigi to travel to New York. In March of 1901, they arrived in New York and went to stay with relatives in Bellington, West Virginia. Remaining in Italy, Maria Francesca was five months pregnant and had a young son to care for. Did she stay with relatives or go back to being a spinner to support her family?  How did she send word to the United States that a son named Domenic was born in July?  How long would a letter take to cross the ocean?

Maria Francesca and Francesco spent two years apart as he struggled to establish a new life and earn enough money to send for his family. By 1903, Francesco and Luigi had moved to Philadelphia, New York, where Frank Pepe, as he was now known, worked for the railroad. Maria Francesca traveled 300 km to Naples and left on the S.S. Umbria on May 27, 1903 and arrived in New York on June 10. She traveled with her sons Giuseppe and Domenic, aged 11 and 2. It is interesting to note that she traveled under her maiden name, and is listed on the ship’s manifest as Maria Francesca Muglia. The boys are mistakenly listed with the last name of Muglia instead of Pepe. However, once in the United States, she became Mary Frances Pepe. Luigi’s and Giuseppe’s names also were Americanized to Louie and Joe.

The next years must have been happy ones as the family was reunited. The family grew with the births of Grace, Gus and Rose over the next four years. But the happiness was not to last. Frank contracted pneumonia and died on October 15, 1907, leaving Mary Frances widowed with six children to care for. The baby, Rose, was just seven months old. Mary Frances wanted to return to Italy, but her older sons convinced her to stay, reminding her how hard life had been in Guardia Piemontese. Louie married in 1910, and moved with his new wife to a house down the street. Mary Frances continued to live with the remaining five children in Philadelphia. Around 1923, Mary Frances and her children moved seventeen miles south to Watertown, New York, probably to live with one of the older sons. Louie, Joseph, Domenic and Gus all moved to Watertown and all worked as buffers in a brass plant. In 1932, when the picture I had dug from the basement was taken, Mary Frances lived with her son Gus and his family.

She died ten years after the picture was taken, survived by her six children and 34 grandchildren. Mary Frances was a feisty, resilient woman, who, even when faced with extreme difficulties, taught her children the importance of family.

Pepe family reunion 1932(Picture of Mary Francis Pepe surrounded by her children, their spouses and grandchildren. My mom is being held by her father – third man from the right in the last row)


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15 thoughts on “Maria Francesca Muglia Pepe – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

  1. Information about their marriage:
    Marriage Bann:
    Bridegroom: Francesco Pepe Age: 27 Father: Luigi Pepe Age: -, Mother: Caterina Bonetti Age: – ; Bride: Maria Francesca Muglia Age: 20 Father: Giuseppe Muglia Age: -, Mother: Maddalena Lanzillotti Age: -; Publication Date: 5 Aug 1887

    Marriage Act:
    Bridegroom Francesco Pepe Age: 27 Father: Luigi Pepe Age: -, Mother: Caterina Bonetti Age: – ; Bride Maria Francesca Muglia Age: 20 Father: Giuseppe Muglia Age: -, Mother: Maddalena Lanzillotti Age: -; Marriage Date: 20 Aug 1887

    Francesco’s Brother:
    Marriage Act:
    Bridegroom Vincenzo Pepe Age: 24 Father: Luigi Pepe Age: -, Mother: Caterina Bonetti Age: – ; Bride Rosa Sceglio Age: 26 Father: Vincenzo Sceglio Age: 50, Mother: Maddalena Talarico Age: -; Marriage Date: 12 Apr 1891

    Maria Francesca’s Sister:
    Marriage Act:
    Bridegroom Vincenzo Muglia Age: 29 Father: Giuseppe Muglia Age: -, Mother: Maria Maddalena Turco Age: – ; Bride Marianna Muglia Age: 19 Father: Giuseppe Muglia Age: -, Mother: Maddalena Lanzilotta Age: -; Marriage Date: 19 Feb 1881

    This webpage gives access to a collection of state record maintained by the province of Cosenza. In English as well. For Guardia Piemontese it lists marriages, births and deaths from 1809 – 1865. Searchable by name, free sign up.

    Hope this helps!

  2. kimleclaire on said:

    If you are a descendant of Maria Francesca Muglia Pepe, I have started a Facebook Page for us all to connect. It is a private page so I will need to approve your membership. Send me you Facebbok message or email with a description of how your related, and I will send you an invitiation.

  3. kimleclaire on said:

    Let me try this again, I keep making mistakes:

    Top row: (Augustus) Gus Pepe, (Luigi) Luis Pepe, Mike Muglia, Frank and Mary Pepe, (the photo is wrong, it says Charlie Maiorano) Frank Maiorano holding Rosemarie, (Giuseppe) Joe Pepe and (Domenico) Dominick Pepe.

    Middle Row: Peggy, (boy behind her) Frank, Carmel Pepe, (?) Luis’ wife, (Rosa Pepe Muglia) Rose Muglia holding Lucy, Maria Francesca Muglia Pepe, (Grazia Pepe Maiorano) Grace Maaiorano holding Jimmy, Tessie Pepe holding Annie, Marion Pepe.

    Bottom Row: Joe, Frank, Virge, Lena Pepe, Jim and Madeline Muglia, Carmen (AKA Sunny) Pepe, Rosie, Frank and Mary Pepe.

  4. My name is Debby Guardino. My grandmother was Marion Gelia Pepe. She was married to Dominic who died when my mother, Rosalie was very young. Maria Francesca Muglia Pepe was my great grandmother. My daughter and I traveled to Guardia a few years ago. There are no Pepe’s living there anymore. My daughter, Melissa has done a lot of research on the family. I am sure she’ll love reading your blog. I have many beautiful memories and photos of my family and the trip “home” to Guardia. We went with a large group of cousins who reunited or met on the trip.

    • Hi Debby! I would love to connect with you and your daughter. I have been working on my family history for over a decade and have finally started to post things online to share. All these photos do no good sitting in a drawer.

      My email is I look forward to hearing from you.

  5. ps, I have a listing of all the names on the photo if you don’t have that info. My grandfather is the one all the way on the right in the top row.

  6. This is funny that I just found this article because I was just delivered this very same photo for a distant cousin, Donald Steinaker . He is the grandson of Rosa (Rose) Pepe. I am the granddaughter of Domenico (Dominick Pepe). So you are a granddaughter of my great Aunt Grace I take it? My mother was Rosalie Pepe, Dominick’s youngest daughter. I am Kim Ferguson/LeClaire Rosalie’s youngest daughter. Greetings cousin!!!!

    • Hi Kim! I would love the names of everyone in the photo! My Mom provided me with some names, but not all. My grandpa Frank Maiorano is holding my Mom in the back row.

      My Mom passed away in 2013 so I am finally going through the old photos and digitizing them. My email is I will try to post more here or can email them to you.

  7. I’m seeing my parents Joan and bob muglia tomorrow. What is ur name ? I’m sure my dad knows you. !

  8. I enjoyed reading your story. My name is Dean Muglia and I live with my wife Mia in Scottsdale Arizona. We will be visiting Guardia Piedmontese in April of this year. my grandfather was Michael Muglia and he migrated from Guardia to the US when he was 16 years of age. He was married to my grandma Rose Pepe. I am just curious if you know of my grandparents or any living relatives in Guardia. Thank you so much !!

    • Hi Dean and Mia!
      Yes, we are related – Your grandma Rose Pepe was my grandma’s sister and is in the photo above. I remember seeing Aunt Rosie a lot growing up and visited her in 1995 in California. I am very jealous that you are traveling to the “old country” but I don’t know any relatives that still live there. Chances are anyone with the last name of Muglia or Pepe are paisans. Buon viaggio!

  9. I love how your stories are making the names and dates from your research come to life! I want to do this, too, but when I took a look at 2 of my great grandfathers, all I could see were the plot holes. Addresses that don’t exist today. Facts that don’t seem to add up. But I will keep trying to find the stories so I can share them with my cousins. BTW, Italian women keep their maiden name for life, so they almost always appear on ship manifests under their maiden name. Often the children’s real last name is scrawled in there somewhere.

    Also worth mentioning, one of my grandfathers took his grudge to the grave…. My brother, the eldest son, was not named after him! In fact, my mother’s side of the family never ever followed that tradition, and no one still alive can tell me why.

  10. So glad you are also doing the 52 ancestors challenge – what I wouldn’t give for a bunch of photos of my husband’s Italian relatives!Thanks for visiting my recent post about Custode Iacobucci
    I was glad to read your reference to the Italian convention of naming sons after the father’s father – I had heard that when my mother remarried an Italian man who was disappointed that his sons had not followed that practice, but surprisingly, some of my husband’s Italian cousins had not heard of it.

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