52 Ancestors: My Great-Grandmother, Maria Bunt Bianchi (1865 – 1944) – A Real Survivor

Posted by: Eileen A. Souza

Undated photo of my great-grandmother, Maria Bunt Bianchi

Undated photo of my great-grandmother, Maria Bunt Bianchi

 

The suggested theme for this week is “strong woman.” What a great theme to kick off “Women’s History Month” throughout March 2018. What makes a woman strong? Is it her physical strength, her perseverance, her intelligence, her sense of humor, or her will?

As soon as I saw the theme, the name of my great-grandmother jumped to mind. Even though I never met her, I have always thought of her as a very tough, strong-willed woman to have handled all that life threw at her.

Maria Bunt (var. Bond, Bont, Bant, Bion, Bonn, Bundt, Pond) was born on 8 December 1865 in Bohemia, which in 1865 was part of the Austrian Empire. Her birth date was provided by her death certificate. Shortly after her birth, in June 1866, the Seven Weeks War broke out between Austria and Prussia, with most of the battles occurring on Bohemian soil. Austria lost but kept control of Bohemia. Maria grew up in turmoil amid the conflicts between Germany, France, Austria and Italy as they carved up Europe.

It is estimated that she entered marriage with Bonaventura Bianchi between 1880 and 1882. I don’t know how they met. In the 1900 US census, Bonaventura was enumerated as having been born in Austria but, in later censuses, Italy. Nor do I know when or where they wed. Their first son, Peter was born on 21 June 1882 in Prussia, (later Austria then Germany). Maria was 17.

According to a marriage record from St. Peter’s RC church in Mount Carmel, Northumberland County, PA, Teresa [Christina Teresa] was born in Luxembourg on 27 November 1883. According to his death certificate, Henry Richard Bianchi was born 7 March 1885 in Germany and according to his Civil Registration, Joseph Biancki [Bianchi] was born 9 December 1887 in Dudelingen (in English Dudelange), Luxembourg.

Sometime during November of 1888, the family immigrated to the United States, departing from Antwerp, Belgium on the SS Noordland and arriving in New York on 1 December 1888. Remember that little Joseph was only eleven months old during this voyage. He would celebrate his first birthday eight days after they arrived at Castle Garden. The ship’s manifest listed their current residence as Dudelingen. The family was housed on different decks. Bonaventura was in 3 H, Maria was on Aft U while all the children, aged infant through 6, were on Aft V. Caring for the children must have been very demanding.

Further research unfolded another hardship for Maria–she was four months pregnant. Five months after they arrived in New York, on 20 May 1889, Maria gave birth to Violet Josephine in New York. I do not know if they were still in Castle Garden or just chose to remain in New York City until the baby was born. Talk about hardships—crossing the Atlantic steerage while pregnant and nursing an infant.

After the new birth, the family traveled to Hazelton, Luzerne County, PA. They remained there several years. Attilio (aka Leon) was born 17 April 1891 in Hazelton. They were still in Hazleton when Mary was born 5 July 1892 but they were in Mount Carmel by 16 January 1894 for the birth of my grandmother, Anna Bianchi. Anna was followed by Lucy, who was born 26 February 1897 and by Charles, who was born 23 December 1898.

The child Joseph does not appear in the 1900 US census with the family so it is presumed he may have died prior to this date. This is supported by the 1900 census, which states that Maria had eleven children of which nine were still living. There was another unknown child who also died prior to this census. After the census, Helen was born on 28 October 1900, Margaret was born on 2 January 1902 and Mildred was born on 14 May 1904.

Then in 1906, her husband, Bonaventura died at the age of 51 on 25 December 1906 of coal Miner’s Asthma (more popularly known as Black Lung), leaving Maria a widow with eleven children to support by working in a grocery store and later as a janitress in the public school. She had to support herself and family through the Great Depression. She never remarried. In the 1940 US census, Mary still has one of her grand-daughters at home and she is still working at the age of 74.

In 1908, her daughter Mary Bianchi had a son possibly out of wedlock since Mary did not marry John Pieri until 1914. Victor F. Bianchi was born on 19 October 1908 and raised by Maria Bunt Bianchi. Maria’s youngest child, her daughter Mildred died of diphtheria on 11 December 1909.

In the 1910 US census, Maria owned their home, having received it through the probate of her husband. In the 1920 US census, she was a renter. A sheriff’s sale was held 24 May 1913 and title to her home passed to Emanuel Tasin.

Maria died on 1 April 1944 at the age of 77. She was buried with her husband in St. Peter’s cemetery in Mount Carmel on 5 April 1944.  Nearby are her sons, Peter, Henry, Leon, Charles, and her daughters, Mary, Helen, Theresa, Mildred, and Anna.

Maria’s obituary indicates she was a native of Bohemia and lived in the area [Mount Carmel] for more than half a century. She was survived by 8 children, 43 grandchildren (11 in the armed forces) and 15 great-grandchildren. Her death certificate listed her father as Lawrence Bunt of Bohemia, which is the only clue I have to a possible parent. No mother was mentioned.

 

The 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge, initiated by Amy Johnson Crow, is a series of weekly prompts to get you to think about an ancestor and share something about them. The guesswork of “who should I write about” is taken care of. This week’s theme is Strong Woman.

 

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