Alexandra Rose Niedt, my incredible niece, called one day and said, “You’re buying Richie and I dinner – where shall we meet.” Hmm, that sounded mysterious. Alex and Rich had gone to a Performing Arts High School together. Last I heard he was studying theater in – well I don’t remember but some UK place or another. Jack and I met Alex and Rich Venezia for dinner. As Rich chatted about what he was up to, I caught the mischievous gleam in my niece’s eyes. Rich Venezia is an ancestor detective! Give him the clues and he will track down that wayward great, great uncle Vito. Immediately I was hooked! I wanted to hear all the stories, learn how he did what he does and the whole maghilla!
Eye Candy and Smart – A Killer Combination!
I whipped out my iPhone and went right to his website – http://www.richroots.net/. Yes, I know I would give the mal’occhio to anyone who pulled a phone out at dinner but.. Here’s the lead in on the site;
Ever heard about that eccentric great-uncle who may or may not have spent his last years in jail? Know your family’s Italian, but don’t know whether your meat sauce should be Bolognese or Neapolitan ragù? Rich Roots Genealogy provides genealogical services to help you find your rich roots.
The reporter in me beat up the writer in me and won. This is the interview that we shared over caffè and a sfogliatelle. Yes, the tape was rolling –
M: Cute boy – I mean Rich, how did you get started in genealogy?
R: I was really close to my grandma – my mom’s mom. My other grandma died when I was 7. When I was 13, Grandma Edna passed away. Cleaning her house we discovered the family tree she’d been working on. I was in a strange place, having lost three grandparents before the end of my first teenage year, and I thought taking up the mantle to work on the family tree would be a great way to honor both my late maternal grandmother and my father’s parents. So, from the time I started working on the “Comprehensive Camperlino Clan,” I was hooked!
M: So genealogy is a passion?
Once I started playing detective, I knew it was a role I wanted to keep on playing. I began getting more serious about genealogy as a profession, and two years ago officially started Rich Roots Genealogy.
M: Sounds like Grandma Edna was a catalyst for your business. Tell me more about her. R: Edna Marie Foulkes was her name. She was my only non-Italian grandparent! She was so very proud of her Irish heritage, but she was also Welsh, English, Prussian, and (recently learned) Canadian. She was kind and funny and she loved spoiling her grandchildren. I remember she had this silly fake flower pot that would play “In the Mood” when you pressed a button, and the flowers would dance. Every time I visited, we’d dance together. I remember she was silly and had a joie de vivre. I like to think I gained some of my spontaneity and passion for life from her.
M: Let’s talk about the Italian side for a second – isn’t the rest of your family Italian?
R: Yes, ma’am! My last name is Venezia, after all! Five of my eight great-grandparents were born in Italy, and the sixth was born in Pennsylvania only a few years after her parents immigrated. They were all born in different towns, and a lot of their families had actually moved a lot before the big move, so I am up to over a dozen ancestral hometowns… and counting!
M: How much of your research, specifically into Italian records, can you really do from the USA?
R: A whole lot, actually. The Mormon church has spent decades microfilming (and recently digitizing) records from hundreds of Italian comuni at archives all over Italy. Some of these records are online on their website, others are online on the Italian National Archives’ site, and many others are available on microfilm at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. I’ve been very fortunate that a lot of towns I’ve been researching in lately (not my own, naturally) have been available online.
M: I know you love to travel – what about your research in Italy? What records are available there?
R: The possibilities are endless, really. Mainly, the Archivio di Stato of the province will have the vital (stato civile) records of nearly every town in that province, as well as catasti (censuses), military records, notarial records (where one can find such amazing things as a marriage contract, land records, etc.), and all sorts of other interesting (and little-used) records. In the town itself, a visit to the church is a genealogical treasure trove. Churches in Italy were supposed to keep track of baptisms, marriages, and burials of all parishioners from 1595 onward… some started decades earlier! I am on a quest to learn about the origins of my surname (my roots are all south of Naples from what I know), so it’s on my short list to head to Atripalda and see how far Venezia goes back there.
M: How often does your work get you to Italy?
R: I try to come to Europe at least once a year, if not more. It’s in my five-year plan to be able to offer client research in Italy, too. And now that I have a place to stay not far from Naples…
M: Any pal of Alex’s can stay with us – and give genealogical advice. What’s one bit of genealogical advice you’d give to a beginner?
R: Never give up – because you never know where your answers may lie! Genealogy is such a multi-faceted thing. Records we’d never even think to look into may often fill in the lives of our ancestors. As well, records we may have in our home (or our close relatives may have) that we may have forgotten about could lead to some brilliant findings. Remember that dusty old shoebox in the closet, above the Christmas decorations? Time to dust if off! I firmly believe that learning about our past leads us to learning about ourselves… our ancestors’ stories are just waiting to be found. They give us – well, certainly me, at least – pride, purpose, and peace.
M: Rich, you know that I feel exactly the same way – I hope that more young people become interested in learning about their heritage as a pathway to finding out more about themselves. Grazie mille, Rich!
Little Commercial For Our Pal –
Since Rich began accepting clients as a professional genealogist, he has helped many others find their roots in Italy, Ireland, Lithuania, Scotland, St. Kitts, Sint Eustatius, France, Germany, The Netherlands, and of course in the USA. He is a member of local and national genealogical organizations, and has attended a number of conferences and institutes to continue his education as a professional. He recently received his Online Certificate in Genealogical Research from The Boston University for Professional Education, and is excited to be running unopposed for Vice President of the North Hills Genealogists in Pittsburgh.