Genealogy Hint 1 – Start with your Family!

Dear Readers,

richedit2I’ve got GREAT news!  Genealogist Rich Venezia has volunteered to share his knowledge with us.  OK that is a lie, I asked him.  There is now a tab at the top of the blog that says “Genealogy”.  If you open that tab – in the future – any information we get from Rich will be posted there.  There will be easy links to articles.


Genealogy Hint 1 by Rich Venezia

Buon giorno a tutti!  I couldn’t say no to Midge (how could I?) and am happy to share my passion for genealogy with all of you. Here is the first installment of Researching with Rich.

My first, and arguably most important, research tip – whether you are a novice or experienced researcher – is to interview your family members! Whip out your steno pad! Does anyone even use those anymore? Grab your tape recorder (or your phone), and get cracking! It’s really best to start with your older relatives – they’ll have one or two or three generations more knowledge than others. Moreover, you never know how much longer 95-year-old Aunt Tillie will be around. If you haven’t already gathered DNA from your relatives, when you interview them is a great time to start! But that’s another blog post entirely…

A number of key reasons to interview your elderly relatives –

  • Their stories, memories, and knowledge perish with them, unless they have taken the time to write or record them, or they have been written or recorded by someone else. Here’s looking at you, dear genealogist.
  • They may have personally known some of the people who you are researching or need to research. Now, you can have a first-hand account of your great-great-grandfather, who up till this point, only existed for you in census records and a few old photos. Nothing beats that.
  • Even if their information is wrong, it’s often half-true. My great-grandmother always said she was from Naples. Was she from Naples? No – but she was from a village less than an hour outside of Naples. No, of course it wasn’t in the province of Napoli… you can’t win ‘em all! At least this gives you a place to start.
We still have the original!
We still have the original!
  • They may know who is the keeper of the stuff or they may be so themselves. The old photos, passports, identity documents, and certificates of naturalization – these all-important documents were likely passed down to one child or another. Perhaps your relative can help you pin down who has the documents you want. Borrow it and scan it so you can digitize your history for the rest of your family. And remember to return the items that you borrow!
  • Elders may be able to tell you tales that hadn’t previously been told to younger generations… Just the other day, I told a story about my great-great-grandmother’s arrival in the US to my father. It was told to me by my great-grand-aunt (who turned 100 this week!) and he had never heard it before. Apparently great-great-grandmother was pregnant with my great-grand-aunt (another one), and faced some issues when entering because of this… she threatened to throw herself in the river if they deported her. Needless to say, she stayed out of the water!

Professional Hint – don’t forget to bring the sfogliatelle or pizzelles.

The following tale is the reason I implore you to ask where the old documents may be hidden or stored away. My parents and I were cleaning out the garage last summer, and Dad pulls out a box and tells me he’d been meaning to give it to me. Inside was my great-grandfather and great-grandmother’s original certificates of naturalization (1923 and 1944), original certificate of marriage (1919), my great-grandmother’s Italian certificate of birth (obtained in 1966), and information on my great-grandfather’s burial (1940). I’d been the de facto family historian for eleven years at this point – and a professional genealogist for a year. I knew all this information already – but it would have been helpful to have it handed to me years ago! The documents would have saved me a lot of time. In Dad’s defense, I never asked – so I never received. Ask where the stuff is – and you may well be rewarded.

And while you’re bugging them about the memorabilia – and especially if they get cranky since you’ve already asked 5 times – tell them why you want the stuff and the subjects of said stuff. Everyone in the family will benefit from your research!

Great Grandma G

Inquire about their recollections of specific ancestors. Bring out an old photo you found and ask if they remember that person, or show them an obituary or a document that may trigger some memories. Organize your questions – this is an interview but it should be fun! And a tip – you can use the same set of questions for different relatives… but make sure to keep who’s who straight! Some folks videotape the interviews – this is also a terrific way to share the stories.

Some examples of questions you may wish to ask your relatives (or a few to start with):

  • Where are your grandparents buried?
  • Did your Grandma and Grandpa ever say where they were born?
  • Do you have a little book with everyone’s birthday and anniversary?
  • Do you remember what your Grandpa and Grandma were like?
  • What church/synagogue did you go to as a child?
  • What was the special dish your family cooked for holidays?
  • At whose house did your family celebrate big events? Who was there?
  • Am I your favorite niece/nephew? – JUST KIDDING!

Family history is all about that – family. You never know what will turn up – and that’s part of the beauty of it.

Rich Venezia is a professional genealogist based in Pittsburgh, PA. He specializes in Italian, Irish, and immigrant ancestry, and NJ/NYC and Pittsburgh-area research. He has worked on two genealogy TV shows (including PBS’ “Genealogy Roadshow”) and is available for client research and speaking engagements. His website can be found at and he can be reached at He adores Midge and her blog, and is so thrilled to be dropping in. A presto!

3 thoughts on “Genealogy Hint 1 – Start with your Family!

  1. As anyone who reads these great tips can see Rich is great at this stuff. I found him very helpful and thorough. If you want to get a kick start on your own genealogical research, definitely contact him.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. One of my cousins got the genealogy bug and traced our earliest U.S. relative to pre-Revolutionary War. He dug oysters for a living. Of course learning about when the family changed the spelling of their name helped him tremendously. I don’t think he’s figured out why the family originally came or from where exactly.

    Liked by 1 person

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