Maria Messina Greco delivered over 12,000 babies during her career as a midwife. She graduated from the University of Palermo, Italy, where she attained a degree in midwifery. She came to Tampa in 1906 as one of the first university-trained midwives in the area. She delivered babies throughout Tampa until retiring in the late 1930s.
Maria was meticulous and recorded the birth of every child she received in small notebooks. These records exist today because of her devotion to proper record-keeping. This is the story of one dedicated and remarkable woman and how her records were found.
I found the records of Tampa midwife Maria Messina Greco 3 or 4 years ago. I was a member of an Internet Genealogy email list at Rootsweb.com where the topic was limited to Hillsborough County genealogy. One day, a lady named Marisol sent an email asking for genealogy help in Tampa. I'm an avid genealogist and could not resist. Marisol lived in Havana, but her grandparents lived in Tampa, and her mother, Candida, was born here in 1906, long before births were required to be registered with the state. She gave birth to two sons in Tampa but later moved to Cuba, where Marisol was born.
Marisol was seeking reputable proof that her mother was born in the United States–the goal was to obtain a copy of her birth certificate. Although my efforts to help Marisol proved unsuccessful, my search for her mother's birth record resulted in an amazing find. Since Marisol had mentioned that a midwife delivered Candida, I used FamilySearch.org, the genealogical website of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints, to search for midwife records from Tampa. I was doubtful any existed and was truly amazed to find two microfilm rolls of Tampa midwife records from 1908 to 1939. Unfortunately, Candida was born in 1906, and I could not find an entry for her.
Fascinated with my discovery, I continued looking through the years of entries, finding names here and there that I recognized. I even found some distant relatives of mine. When I scrolled back to the beginning of the first reel, I saw a missed page. The first frame was a 1992 letter from the LDS Church thanking Mr. Salvatore Greco for sending the records of Maria Messina Greco for filming and an acknowledgment that the books were returned to him. The letter referred to Maria as Salvatore's cousin and was sent to Mr. Greco at an address not far from where I live.
On an early Ybor City census, I found Maria M. Greco; her occupation was "midwife," and her husband was also named Salvatore Greco.
I informed Marisol that I had found midwife records of Maria Messina Greco but could not find the birth of Candida. She was amazed when she heard the midwife's name because she remembered it as the same midwife who delivered her two older brothers in Tampa in the 1930s. Marisol scanned their birth certificates and emailed the image to me. After seeing her signature, there was no doubt that Maria wrote the midwife records I had found.
I sent Mr. Greco a letter thanking him for what he had done with the records and what a treasure it was to be able to view the films. I soon received an email from his wife, Adele, inviting me to a phone call.
During our conversation, Adele explained her husband's relation to Maria. Adele's husband, Salvatore, was a first cousin of Salvatore Greco, married to Maria Messina. The two Salvatore Greco cousins had a 24-year age difference; their fathers were brothers many years apart. (The younger Salvatore's father was Vincenzo Greco, a well-known chemist and pharmacist from Sicily.)
Adele said she had found the midwife books in their closet. Her husband told her about his cousin's wife, Maria Messina Greco–a midwife and a truly remarkable woman. When Maria Messina Greco's husband (the elder Salvatore's cousin) became ill and could not shave himself, his younger cousin Salvatore would go to his home every day to shave him. When Maria's husband passed away, Salvatore cared for her. Adele said she still had the books and would love to meet and give them to me. I was overwhelmed.
My short visit with Salvatore and Adele Greco had a profound effect on me– Salvatore, with his cheerful smile and keen but quiet interest, and Adele, with her kindness, generosity, and love of not only sharing their colorful family histories but of history in general. At our visit, Salvatore was 94 years old, and Adele said that her husband had fond memories of Maria. She showed me a wool cap that Maria had knitted for him.
Adele retrieved the box from the closet that had been unopened since its return from the LDS Church. I felt like Indiana Jones discovering the Ark of the Covenant as we opened it. Inside were small notepads, grouped in rubber bands with post-it notes placed on them by the LDS church, indicating the book's year. Maria's original labeling can be seen above the post-it note.
There were about 62 palm-sized notepads dated from June 1908 to 1939. Some were in perfect shape, and some were crumbling due to the different brands of pads Maria used. Maria Messina Greco wrote all entries in Italian. There was hardly a day that Maria did not deliver a baby, and she frequently delivered as many as four.
One surprise was the large, very old 3-ring binder in the box. At some point in time, somebody (maybe even Maria herself) sought to translate the records to English and type them, placing the pages in this binder. The typewritten documents were from January 1908 through 1912. In it, Maria logged the following: 1908- 209 births, 1909- 243 births, 1910- 267 births, and 1911- 328 births. The pages are very fragile and thin and typed on both sides.
I began to transcribe the records myself with the intent of putting them on a web page. The tediousness of the task soon overtook me, and I set the project on the back burner. I did post a couple of years of the information and received requests for lookups, many of which were successful.
Each entry contained the following written in Italian: The child's first name and middle name (if any) and the surname, followed by di (of) and the father's first name. Anni (year), the father's age, and the father's origin (town and nationality in the original notepads, nationality only in the typewritten binder); then the mother's first name, maiden surname, anni, mother's age, and mother's origin. Most Italian parents come from Santo Stefano or Alessandria, Sicily. After the parental information, the child's birth date, giorno (day) and ore (hour) of birth, and the address where they were born. And finally, a notation of how many children the mother had given birth to and how many were living at the time.
Many of the entries show Maria's fee written in red. Most deliveries were $15 to $20. (The lower rates were often accompanied by a notation such as C. Cubano (Circulo Cubano) or B. Publico (Bien Publico Clinic) probably indicates membership in these medical benefit programs.
Listed below are two examples of her handwritten entries in the small notepads:
Louis Russo 27 Nov 1927
Luigi Russo di Giacomino anni 22 Tampa
Maria Alfano anni 18 Tampa
Giorno 27 November ore 7 a
4 Avenue #2213
figli 1 vivo
Translation: Luigi Russo, born and son of Giacomino Russo, age 22, of Tampa, and mother Maria Alfano Russo, age 18, of Tampa. Born on 27 November (1927) at 7 in the morning. The home is at 2213 4th Avenue. One living meaning he was the first-born.
Santo Trafficante, Jr. 15 Nov 1915
Di Santo anni 27 Cianciana
Maria Giusseppa Cacciatore anni 26 S. Stefano
Giorno 15 November 22 3a
19th Street N. figli 3 vivi
Translation: Santo Trafficante, Jr., born and son of Santo Trafficante, age 27, of Cianciana, Sicily, and mother, Maria Giusseppa Cacciatore, age 26, of Santo Stefano, Sicily. Born on 15 November 1915 at 3 in the morning. The home is on North 19th Street. Three are living, meaning he is their third child.
As far as we know, these are the only known midwife records that exist on births in Tampa. Maria was cautious with her entries, ensuring dates and spelling were correct. In some of her later entries, she also included the profession of the father and mother.
Some of the books are more legible than others. Since Maria mostly wrote in pencil, some of the entries are not clear since time has unfortunately faded the lead markings. It helps if you can read Italian since that is how she primarily wrote her notes.
Sadly, one of Tampa's most dedicated midwives died in 1958 at 78. She had been despondent since the death of her husband Salvatore one year earlier. However, her legacy remains and is recorded in these small notebooks that will remain a part of history.
Maria's notebooks are priceless and will soon be donated to the University of South Florida Special Collections Library for preservation. The records are in the process of being digitized and then will be cataloged. When completed, they will be available to the public.
Midwives were very common during the late 19th Century and early to mid-20th Century. They were primarily found in ethnic communities both in the North and South. By the late 1920s and 1930s, immigration restrictions limited the arrival of new midwives. In addition, there was resistance by physicians, and birth rates decreased, especially in the North. However, in the South, midwives continued until state officials began applying new regulations that reduced the number of midwives practicing.
In 1931, the Florida legislature passed a law that controlled midwifery licensing. It required that midwives in Florida be licensed and at least 21, be able to read the Manual for Midwives, and fill out birth certificates. They also had to possess a diploma from a school for midwives and had to have worked under the supervision of a physician for at least fifteen cases of labor.
Another well-known Tampa midwife was Giuseppina Triolo Valenti. Just like Greco, Valenti held a degree in midwifery from the University of Palermo before immigrating to America in 1920. Established in Ybor City, she was responsible for the safe delivery of hundreds of babies until her retirement in 1946. Known locally as Donna Pepina, Valenti prided herself in never losing a baby or mother.
CIGAR CITY MAGAZINE- MAY/JUNE 2007
Art & Photography Contributors: Hillsborough County Public Library, Tampa Bay History Center, The Florida State Archives, The Tampa Tribune/Tampa Bay Times, University of South Florida Department of Special Collections, Ybor City Museum Society, private collections and/or writer.
MARILYN L. FIGUEREDO
Marilyn was Cigar City Magazine's co-owner and managing editor until her passing in 2007. Marilyn was born in 1948 in Tampa, where she lived her entire life and, more specifically, her early childhood in Ybor City. After a successful 30-year career at Delta Air Lines, Marilyn embarked on what became her true passion: reinvigorating the colorful, multicultural history of Ybor City through the lives and personal stories of the families and individuals who made up the uniqueness of this Tampa quarter. She did this primarily through Cigar City Magazine, serving on various committees and organizations, and attending cultural events throughout Tampa. Her work alongside her niece Lisa Figueredo, founder and Publisher, was instrumental in producing Cigar City Magazine.
Marilyn's legacy will live forever throughout the pages of Tampa's first historical magazine–CigarCityMagazine
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