I've continued my genealogical research, setting to work this week on my mother's family. Almost immediately, I uncovered some information that surprised me and "floored" my mother.
First, some background.
My mother and her siblings always believed that their father was one of three siblings, which was a smaller family by the standards of Sicily during her father's childhood. Her father was the eldest, with sisters Rosaria and Maria who were, respectively, 9 and 11 years younger than he.
My mother never met either of her paternal aunts. Rosaria, nicknamed Zaza, died at age 20 during the influenza pandemic of 1918. Rosaria and Rosaria's mother--my mom's paternal grandmother--died of the flu within days of one another. The other aunt, Maria, died years later in Italy. Maria had 11 children, some of whom I know because one immigrated permanently during the 1960s and a couple of others have visited the US.
So what floored my mother? Turns out my grandfather had not two, but six sisters. There were four Marias and two Rosarias. One of those children, Maria #1, died at age 11 months, two years before my grandfather was born, so perhaps it isn't surprising that he never mentioned her. But otherwise, during the first 11 years of his life, my grandfather had five more sisters, three of whom died when he was between the ages of 3 and 10. One died during her second year of life, another during her third year and when my grandfather was age 10, his 5-year-old sister, Maria #3, died.
My mother is certain that neither her father nor her mother ever said a word about any deceased siblings. She feels sure that her mother would have known about the siblings who died because her parents were from the same community and the families were heavily intermarried.
Of course, infant and childhood mortality rates were much higher at the end of the 19th century, so deceased siblings weren't a rare thing. My paternal grandfather had two elder siblings who died in infancy, before he was born, but my family has always known about them. I've even known their names for years. Two other grandparents came from very large families. For those two families, I've found no record of siblings who died during childhood. Doesn't mean it didn't happen, but I haven't turned up anything.
With respect to my discovery about my maternal grandfather, I'm most curious about the psychological effects these deaths may have had on the man, the husband and father that my grandfather came to be. An extension of that speculation would encompass intergenerational effects that might reach down to my sibs and to me. That's far more than I would speculate on publicly, but some aspects of my maternal family dynamics potentially make more sense than they ever have before.