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.