Friday, February 08, 2008

Genealogue Challenge #117

A video-game company is searching for descendants of Mario Contasino—a taxi driver who collided with Winston Churchill in 1931, and almost changed the course of history.

Codemasters, the UK’s leading independent videogame publisher, is turning detective in order to recognise a descendent of the man who inspired the events depicted in alternate World War II action game Turning Point.

The game supposes that the automobile accident in which a car hit a young Winston Churchill in New York on December 13th 1931 proved fatal – and that without his inspirational speeches to galvanise the Allies, the course of the Second World War took a very different route, with the Axis Powers even invading America. [Link]
They've set up a blog to document the search.

Can you turn up any new information on Mario?

Update: Doogles McQuig has made a discovery!


The surname Contasino doesn't yield anything. This may be way off, but in 1930 there is a Mario CONTI, age 22, taxi chauffeur, living with his parents Frank & Carmella in Queens.


Biographical data in "Churchill and America." Mario Contasino was a mechanic and truck driver, had been driving 8 years, mother had died, supporting father and 2 sisters.
Similar surnames in NY Southern District naturalizations:


Iordanus Brunus

A Dec. NY Times article states that Mario lived at 300 Yonkers Avenue, and had two sisters in Brooklyn. His father was originally from Potenza, and had immigrated "nearly half a century ago." It has been frustratingly difficult to find the address in the 1930 census.

Contarino had seemed like a possible surname, but it looks to be exclusively Sicilian in origin, which would contradict the NY Times story.


Searching Ellis Island records for immigrants from Potenza shows the name Contrastano/Contristano was prevalent.

Drew Smith

There is a Mario Contarino in the SSDI, born 24 July 1903, died August 1972, with last residence in Brooklyn. That's only a single letter off.


There were also a couple of Cantasanos from Potenza who came through Ellis Island.


I looked at all sorts of variations for Contasino in the telephone directory for Potenza and came up with:
Cantisano - 2
Cantisani - 4
Contristano - 12

Although Contristano is a real name in Potenza, the other two names are closer to Contasino and are also real.

Also look in the IGI for the names and Potenza pops up.

Is Mario a nickname or does it have a nickname?


Where's Mario?

See this map for an outline of an area close to where we hope Mario's place could be found. The lines represent Ward 5, ED 36 for Westchester Co in 1930, with the northern boundary being Yonkers Ave, and the eastern boundary being the railroad tracks. The plot point on the NE corner is google's estimation of where 300 Yonkers Avenue would be.

The 1930 census for this ED lists the families on the south side of Yonkers Ave. They run up to house number 210 and then stop, which I presume is at the railroad tracks.

In 1920, this stretch of Yonkers Ave is also in Ward 5, but is enumeration district 232.

It's important to note that in 1920 the eastern boundary of the district is not the railroad tracks, but rather the ward boundary, which I assume was farther east, past the tracks.

Here are the Yonkers Ave street numbers and families in the 1920 census:

182 - edwin jacobson
186 - john benson
186 - Margaret Cough
186 - martha tice
clause b
188 - William F Mayer
192 - Walter Bauer
210 - joseph Thomas
210 -Albert Light
310 - August Lieber
310 - George Downey
310 - Henry Schork
350 - Harry Stauff

IN the 1930, only the Tice family and the Bauer family (Bauer is mis-indexed) appear in the same dwellings as 1920.

My suspicion is that the census takers never got to the homes east of the tracks, what with Mario's home tucked in behind the billboards as the newspaper articles described. On the other hand, I can't identify which ward and ed is on the other side of the tracks, so perhaps he did get counted. But the lack of a matching name in the index is suggestive.

Also, the second NYT article in December of 1931 indicated Mario's mother was deceased and that he lived at the Yonkers address with his father.


One other item ... I think the Westchester Library has Yonkers city directories from the time period. Perhaps someone can slip in there for a peek, or drop a line asking them for a lookup.


I just sent a request in to


Anyone tried calling the Cantisani family that lives (or once lived) in Yonkers a few block off of Yonkers Avenue?


Vito Gaetano Cantasano and Nicholas Vincenzo Cantasano were not brothers. However, Nicholas and Domenico (Dominick) could have been brothers. Vito was the brother of my mother-in-law's grandfather, Angelo. She believes that Dominic was a cousin, but has no recollection of Nicholas. The father of Angelo and Vito was Giuseppe Cantasano of Craco. Siblings of Angelo and Vito were Charles, Angela and Isabel.

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