Finding John Costello

Finding John Costello: The Timeline of John’s Life, Part One

Finding John Costello, timeline

Timelines are an essential part of good genealogical research.  My timeline for John’s life is a bit thin.  The proven facts all occur after his marriage.  That fact alone causes me to question the veracity of his pre-marriage life story.  But I have to start somewhere so here goes.

This is a timeline of John’s life.  Some items have been proven, others have not.  Italicized items are, so far, unproven:

  • John Costello – he also used Jack and Juan as his first name.
  • Born:  14 February 1893, Barcelona, Spain
  • Parents:  Vincenzo Costello/Castilla/Castillo and Amelia Pallina
  • Immigration to US:  1915 or Winter 1914
  • Marriage:  1 January 1919, Spokane, Washington, to Mary Brown Young
  • Residence:  1920 – Spokane, WA, 1930 – Mead, WA, 1940 – Mead, WA
  • Death:  30 May 1966, Spokane, Washington
  • Burial:  Holy Cross Cemetery in Spokane, Washington


For Part One, we are going to focus on each of those unproven items in greater detail.


His Name

John Costello.  That is the name I have always heard when he was referred to by family members.  That is until March of 2018 when Aunt Barbara referred to him as Jack.  I asked her about that and she said that everyone called him Jack.

In records for his life, this is how we find his name:

  • 1 January 1919 Marriage Record:  John Costello
  • 20 January 1920 US Federal Census:  John Costello
  • 25 April 1930 US Federal Census:  John Costello
  • 9 April 1940 US Federal Census:  John Costello
  • 23 December 1940 Alien File, on pages 1-3 (typed twice, signed once):  John Costello
  • 23 December 1940 Alien File, on page 4, signed:  Juan Costello
  • 25 April 1942 Selective Service Card:  John Costello
  • 25 April 1942 WWII Draft Registration Card:  Jack Costello
  • January 1965 Vacation Photo labeled on the back:  John Costello
  • 1 June 1966 Obituary from the Spokesman-Review:  John Costello
  • Original 1966 Death Notice from an unknown newspaper:  John Costello
  • 1966 Headstone:  John Costello

Out of twelve records, ten consistently use John Costello.  Jack and Juan were each used only once that I have found.  Of course, Juan is John and Jack is a nickname for John.  Despite this fairly consistent use of the name John Costello, I am beginning to question if that, or any reasonable variation, was actually his name at birth.  I have no DNA matches with the name Costello except for John’s descendants.  I can’t find any immigration or travel records using John Costello, or the reasonable variants, for the expected time frame.  Grandpa Costello… did you make up your name out of thin air?


Birth Date and Place

14 February 1893 in Barcelona, Spain.  This is the birth information that has been consistently shared amongst family members.  How do the records line up?

  • 1 January 1919 Marriage Record:  Age 27, birthplace “Barsolina, Spain”
  • 20 January 1920 US Federal Census:  Age 27, birthplace – Spain
  • 25 April 1930 US Federal Census:  Age 37, birthplace – Spain
  • 9 April 1940 US Federal Census:  Age 47, birthplace – Spain
  • 23 December 1940 Alien File, page 3:  birthdate February 14 1893, birthplace “Barcilona, Spain”
  • 25 April 1942 WWII Draft Registration Card:  birthdate – Feb. 14, 1893, birthplace “Barcellona, Spain”
  • 1 June 1966 Obituary from the Spokesman-Review:  Age 73
  • 1966 Headstone:  birthdate – 14 February 1893

That right there is pretty much the definition of consistent for genealogy records.  I know you could nit-pick and say that at the time of his marriage his age should be 25 (nearly 26), but aside from that, these records all match what Grandpa Costello claimed – birthdate of 14 February 1893 and birthplace of Barcelona, Spain.  That, of course, does not prove he was actually born on that date in that place, but it at least proves that even if it’s not correct, he either believed it was, or kept giving the same made up date and place.


Parents Names

Vincenzo Costello/Castilla/Castillo and Amelia Pallina.  These are the names I have always been told by family.

My Mom says their names are in her baby book, as given to my Grandma by Grandpa Costello, she says it reads “Vincenzo Castillo and Amelia Pallina”.  Clearly, I need to see that with my own two eyeballs.

There is only one record I have, so far, that includes names for John’s parents – his marriage record to Mary Brown Young on 1 January 1919.  On that record, his father’s name is listed as something I can’t quite decipher for the first name and Costello for the last name.  His mother is clearly listed as Amelia Pallina.

Here is the crop of his father’s name as listed on John & Mary’s marriage record:

COSTELLO, John & Mary Brown Young, 1919 Marriage Record, crop

And here is the full record for context:

COSTELLO, John & Mary Brown Young, 1919 Marriage Record

Any thoughts on what that says?

Clearly, this one record, and my Mom’s baby book, that I haven’t seen for myself, are not nearly enough to establish for certain what Grandpa Costello’s parents’ names were.  But it’s all I’ve got so far.


Immigration Date

I have not yet found any immigration or travel records for Grandpa Costello.  The possible dates of immigration are found as follows:

  • 20 January 1920 US Federal Census:  “Year of Immigration to the United States – 1915” and “Naturalized or Alien – Al
  • 25 April 1930 US Federal Census:  “Year of Immigration to the United States – 1914” and “Naturalized or Alien – Al
  • 9 April 1940 US Federal Census:  “Citizenship of the foreign born – Al
  • 23 December 1940 Alien File, page 3:  “I last arrived in the United States at Philadelphia, Pa. on Winter 1914” and “I first arrived in the United States on Unknown Unknown 1914“.

Grandpa Costello was quite consistent in his claims of when he came on later records.  Now if I could only find a record from his actual immigration, that would be a big help!

There are three different family stories about when and why he came to America.  The first comes from my Grandma’s notes and is the one I have always heard:

“John said he was Spanish.  He was thought to have entered this country through Boston when he was 21 years old.  Because he could not speak, read or write English, they changed his name to John Costello from Juan Castilla.  He had 3 sisters and lived on a farm outside of Barcelona, Spain and was the only son.”

The second is what my Mom always says, that John immigrated when he was 14.  When I was younger I would often hear that he left Spain during the revolution.  I think it is more likely that he left at the start of WWI.  One great-aunt always mentions Franco when this topic comes up but Franco wasn’t in power until 1938, well after John & Mary had married in Spokane, Washington.

One fact that is consistently shared in both version one and version two is that John’s family threw him a going away party and his uncles on his mother’s side each gave him a ring.  One has a ruby, one has a diamond (with a very large flaw that is visible to the naked eye).  The ruby ring was given to Uncle Dan and the diamond ring was given to Vince, my grandfather.  I’ve seen, held, and photographed the ruby ring.  My Mom and her siblings remember the diamond ring and remember the flaw.  I believe it is now gone, stolen from Vince.

The third was brand new to me when I visited John’s son Vince, my grandfather, last Spring:

Vince told me that he was always told a different story by his Dad than any of the versions I had previously heard.  He told me that his Dad said he ran away from home when he was about 8 or 9.  He ended up in England, likely London.  He got picked up by the police for causing trouble but because he had a ticket to America in his pocket, they let him go and told him to get on that boat.

Vince has no motivation to lie, but this story seems deeply flawed to me.  How often does a kid run away, from Spain, somehow end up in London, and just happen to have a ticket to America already purchased when he gets picked up by the police?  Hmmm.  If this story is even partly true, where did the rings come from?  Did John steal them?  From family?  Or someone else?  If so, would he really have worn them all his life and then given them to his two sons as a symbol of their family history?

Why do there always seem to be conflicting stories surrounding our biggest mysteries?!!

Despite Grandpa Costello being fairly consistent in the details of his pre-marriage life, I have not found a single shred of evidence to corroborate his tale.



Grandpa Costello, what is your story?!



Next up in the Finding John Costello series, the proven details of his life and a list of records I need to try to find from his post-marriage life that might offer new information.







15 thoughts on “Finding John Costello: The Timeline of John’s Life, Part One”

  1. Oh, my—what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive! Either John was a very good liar who mostly kept his “facts” straight, or there is truth—at least some truth—to his stories. I assume you have tried to search in Spanish records in Barcelona under those names? If they were practicing Catholics, there should be church records, I would think (though I’ve never had any reason to do research in Spain).

    Have you tried to search for a passenger manifest?

    As for deciphering the name—it looks like Nein?? And then above it definitely looks like Gin. But I have no clue what that means! Your grandfather was presumably named Vincent for John’s father Vincenzo—if that was really his name. It’s also interesting that it says he was born in Italy and that only his mother was born in Barcelona.

    1. Oh interesting!! I have always looked at the portion you are calling “Gin” as beginning with a z. I hadn’t considered a capital G before.

      Yes, I have looked through the parish records for Barcelona. I’ve paged through about 7 years worth. Nothing even remotely close to Vincenzo Castillo & Amelia Pallina and definitely no John Costello with that birth info. The images are available on FamilySearch, they just aren’t indexed yet.

      It’s been a while since I did an exhaustive search for his immigration record. I can’t recall if I searched Steve Morse or not. (I wasn’t so great at the whole research log thing back then…) I’ll pop over and give it a look. Thanks for the idea Amy!

      And lastly, I agree – things get very, very tangled when we try to deceive. What was he trying to hide? Whatever it was, he effectively hid everything because of it. Big sigh!

      (In happier news, I have made an amazing DNA discovery in regards to him but I’m still working it through. Can’t wait to share!)

        1. It is pretty good! (Now if I can just find the time to fit that in… Time has been a huge problem for me this year.) And, thank you for the Spanish records suggestion – it was a good one for sure!

  2. I have a mystery very similar to yours. GGGrandfather b. Prince Edward Island 1804. Not a shred of evidence although he was consistent in every census. No sign of him at all until he married in yarmouth in 1835. Where was he for 31 years? No one knows. No parents. No siblings.

    1. Darn it!! Have you had any luck with DNA testing? I am starting to. Nothing major yet, but even the minor stuff feels so major after all these years of searching. Good luck to you, Toni!!

  3. I think the father’s last name in the marriage record is Castillo. The first name is really a mystery! Do any Castillos show up in your DNA matches?

    1. No! No surnames even kind of close. Except for his actual descendants. All of the matches that belong to him (thankfully I have tested enough people that I can easily sort it down to matches to him and his wife and his wife is Scottish) are Eastern European Jewish. Every single one of them. I’m seriously wondering if he pulled his name out of the air.

  4. I couldn’t resist going to FamilySearch and checking the Barcelona area. This was before I saw your comment where you are “seriously wondering if he pulled his name out of the air.” But if he didn’t and he was from Barcelona perhaps the birth record is to be found in the area surrounding the city – since one of the stories mentioned a farm outside of Barcelona.

    1. Yes! The FamilySearch collection for Spain has grown a lot since I first started. Back then it was all on microfilm and the expert at the FHL basically told me, “Ummm… until you know the parish, there is no chance you will find him.” I have done some selective searching of their digitized collection in the catalog. So far, no luck. If the stories are true/close-ish, one bummer is that he apparently only had sisters so it makes it a bit trickier to pick up the family in those records after he left. But I keep checking what they have on FamilySearch and one of these days – I’m going to find him! I need to brush up on my Spanish/Catalan and help index records from Spain. 😉

      1. Amberly, FamilySearch is really quirky these days even though I have a fiber optic internet connection. I checked Barcelona and found that for the entire Province of Barcelona there are indexes for births under Barcelona > Barcelona. I searched for John’s Feb 14 birth date in all five years in this collection: Índice de nacimientos 1891-1895. I found a peculiarity which may help you. The index for each year is in order of date of registration (not alphebetical) for each letter of the alphabetic. I jumped in and checked only around Feb 14 of each year for C. Results were negative. However, if you look at the end of each letter you will find that there were births which were not registered at the time of birth. Similar to our delayed birth records, they added births registered at much later dates. I found this interesting as John may have had to request a birth record for naturalization which may have resulted in the recording of a delayed birth record. There was only so much room in the index register after each letter that sometimes there are annotations at the bottom of the last page of the letter: continuation see end of letter “H”. Result was negative. Although the results were negative I wanted to share this with you as it may be helpful in your future searches.

          1. Thank you, Cathy!! Once I finish my upcoming presentation on Indirect Evidence I’ll have to compare what you’ve shared with my research notes. ❤️❤️❤️

        1. Thank you, Cathy! When I spent some time in there about a year ago, I noticed some of the quirks. But I’m wondering if I was searching the exact same record set you did. I’ll have to pull out my notes and check! It’s possible there are some new collections since I last looked. Honestly, I have started to feel like I’m not going to find him in Spain based on the information he used in the US. There is absolutely no correlation between what he told everyone and his DNA results. Hmmm…

          Thank you again for checking, that was so kind of you!! I wish you had found something. 😉

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