Our Genealogist on TedX Talks!

Rich Venezia is my favorite genealogist – not just because he is handsome and witty but because he really knows his stuff.  He was researching for clients with roots in Southern Italy and popped into visit Jack and me.  He has been researching Jack’s Irish heritage so they had lots to talk about.  (I hope Jack is from a town that makes fabulous Irish Whiskey.)

While we were having a 4 hour pranzo, Rich casually mentioned he had done a Ted Talk.  WHAT!  I bellowed – did I mention we were eating at Borgo Cerquelle, my favorite agriturismo so lots of folks turned and peered at our table.  What, I said a little gentler.  Rich Roots, his firm, is in Pittsburgh and Rich did a TEDx Talk there.

I watched it and was so caught up in broadcast that I knew I had to share it.  Every generation needs to listen and learn from this –

 

Researching With Rich

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 also assists clients with dual citizenship applications. 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 richroots.net and he can be reached at rich@richroots.net. 

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Adventures in Church Archives

Paolo Collection 2 (38)

Whew, the holidays are over and those resolutions are racing around your brain.  A good number of my Italo-Americano pals have said that this year they are committed to researching their families.  I always say the same four words – call genealogist Rich Venezia!  He is cute, works hard and is Italian!  Rich and I were talking about some of our experiences doing research and decided that it was time to suggest that you go back to church – the parish churches of your ancestors.  Through the church archives in Pontelandolfo, I was able to trace my grandmother’s family back to the 1500s!!!  I had a little help from Antimo Albini (link to story)  who told me that the priests were responsible for census and wrote down incredibly interesting details about the parishioners.  My great – grandfather was a hunchback!  Who knew!  Let Rich Venezia tell you how to use the archives to find out more about your family.

richedit2Ciao a tutti!

I’ve been traveling all over these past few months, and Ms. Midge has also been quite busy herself!  Rumor has it her new hip is working just fine. I’m glad to be able to finally sit down and write for our third round of genealogy hints.

Midge asked me to write about church archives, and what a great topic it is! The records held by churches throughout Italy can trace your family back generations upon generations. The main question is access – do they still exist? Where are they held? Will the priest let you look through them?

After the Council of Trent in the 1560s, the pope required all Catholic churches to create registers of vital events in each parishioner’s life – births (baptisms), marriages, and deaths. From 1595 forward, after the papal proclamation (do it or else!), records should exist in most churches in Italy. Of course, there is the occasional fire, flood, or other act of God (see what I did there?) that would render the registers unavailable in present day.

In a lot of cases, these registers remain with the parish church of origin. Whether they are well-preserved in a church archives, stored in the priest’s attic, or tucked away in the sacristan’s garage will differ from parish to parish. Archdiocesan archives also exist, but what will be held at each of these archives will differ greatly: for instance, the archive of the Archdiocese of Sorrento-Castellammare di Stabia in Sorrento only appears to have the church supplements (allegati) for marriages that occurred in that Archdiocese. In the archives of the Archdiocese of Vallo della Lucania, however, the only surviving records for one of my main ancestral churches – San Biagio in Matonti, Laureana Cilento – can be found. (I wish I’d known that before going to the church!) It’s important to know where the records are located before you head across the pond!

If you want to research in the parish registers of your town, do as much research as you can before you go. Genealogically, work backwards to the start of the civil registration records to find as many of your ancestors as you can. Technically, have a good software program to record further generations of ancestors efficiently and accurately.

If your ancestor was from a city – or even a big small town – there will be more than one parish church. How to find which one was your ancestor’s place of worship!? Start with the Italian vital records – stato civile. Between 1815 and 1865, there were two columns in the stato civile records – one column was for civil information, the other (right-hand) column for ecclesiastical. The ecclesiastical column will list the parish church in which the baptism or marriage occurred… and voila! You have your parish church. If your ancestor was born after 1865, look for their parents, or even grandparents, in stato civile records. Many families went to the same church for generations, unless they moved to un luogo faraway.   Here is an example –

orsola-giella-nata-1856_001Orsolo Giella – from Family History Library microfilm of Archvio di Stato di Avellino (has name of parish on the right-hand side – it’s the name of the town; there was only one parish at the time of her birth)

Practically, get in touch with the local priest in advance. While you could write to the church in the mail, I’d recommend getting in touch via email (when possible) or the local parish priest by phone (try to find his cell phone number).  If you can’t find a number or address for the church, try to get in touch with Town Hall. Someone there may be able to assist you in getting in touch with the priest. Many town websites include information about the parish.

As you can imagine, to do this, you’ll want to have advanced Italian language skills or a bi-lingual pal – both for the set-up of the meeting and the actual research process, too. (Most records are in Latin, but if you can’t communicate with the priest enough to let you in the door…) If you don’t have a relative or pal, I’d recommend hiring a local translator or guide. (Midge note – I know a few bi-lingual Pontelandolfese if you need someone.) This can also make it much easier when doing the research, as they can help you communicate with the priest and other town officials who you may come across during your local research. Perhaps you have cousins still living in your town? See if they can provide some assistance for you.

Note from Midge – We were lucky in Pontelandolfo that the church archive had been digitized by a parishioner!  It pays to nose around town – local bars are great places to uncover who is who – and ask if there is a local person who has taken on this task.  When I started my research, my Italian was basic Berlitz vacation guide at best.  Everyone was helpful and even sent around for someone to help me who spoke English.

I don’t recommend just showing up at the door of church and expecting to have good results. Especially in small southern towns, priests may work at two or more churches – which means it’s very likely your day in town will be their day in another town.

A very select number of parish records have been filmed by the Mormon Church, so it’s always worth a peek at familysearch.org to see if your town’s records have been filmed. (I see this mainly in Sicily and northern Italy.)

Note from Midge – I went to the link and discovered that they have records from Pontelandolfo!  I also found out that in East Brunswick, NJ Family Search had a Family History Center and I could have the microfiche sent there!  Thanks Rich!!!

Registri dello stato civile di Pontelandolfo (Benevento), 1809-1860

Format:  Manuscript/Manuscript on Film
Language: Italian
Publication: Salt Lake City, Utah : Filmati dalla Genealogical Society of Utah, 1989
Physical: in 11 bobine di microfilm ; 16 mm.

Getting access to these records isn’t always easy, but as you can imagine, the benefits can be very rewarding. Who doesn’t want their family tree traced back to 1595?!

For further information, you may want to look at the following article from ItalianGenealogy.com. (I am not associated with them in any way – I just think it’s a great and detailed article.)

I hope to see you in Italy!  Happy hunting!

Grazie Rich!  Ci vediamo!

Seeing Pontelandolfo for the First Time – Again

It is almost time for us to leave the one place where I can feel my grandmother in every corner – and I am depressed.  This is not an unusual state – every year as I start to close up the house in Pontelandolfo and make arrangements to be picked up at JFK in New York, I get depressed.  Pontelandolfo, village of my grandparents, aunts and uncles resonates to my very soul.

86950-PH-GFB1-034

Maria Rosaria Solla and Francesco Guerrera – Happy Owners of 221 South Branch Road

Why do we leave?  That question smacks my soul at the Mini Market, Marcelleria, Pasticceria, Farmacia – as I tell folks we are about to depart yet again, everyone asks the same question.  Why not just stay here?   Because Flagtown – the village where my Pontelandofese family settled, where my dad was il Sindaco, mayor, and where we even have a street named after my family  – resonates with me too.  The pull in both directions is so very strong that at times I feel my heart being ripped apart. Giusippina Guerrera – my dad’s first cousin – reminded me that 20 years ago I was the first one from America to return and search for those left behind.  She constantly tells me that blood attracts blood – like a magnet finding its way to those who are part of who we are.   Sitting outside of Kaleb’s bar looking out over the Piazza, thinking about Giusippina, my family and friends in the USA and my trips to Italy over the past 40 years made me really think about the first time I saw Pontelandolfo. Saw it, left it quickly, but felt the incredible pull to return.

Twenty-one, knowing everything there was to know in the world – but being far from worldly, I was blessed to have my Aunt Catherine offer to take my younger cousins Bobby, Maryellen and I to Italy for the first time.  Thank God, it was 1971 and I’m glad I was able to score happy pills. We landed in Milano and the first thing I discovered was that no one could understand Aunt Cat’s Italian. Never having heard anyone in my family speak Italian, but knowing that Aunt Cat spent her formative years in Italy, I just figured we’d be OK.  I didn’t realize that she spoke the ancient dialect she grew up with in Pontelandolfo.  Actually, Northern Italians were rude and said things like “we don’t speak Spanish here.”  The official checking passports at the airport said it first.  Aunt Cat’s face dropped and she refused to speak again – until we reached Campania.  Luckily, I had taken a year of Italian at Montclair State, carried a Berlitz phrase book and could get us to the car rental agency and put gas in the car.  Bobby and I drove the car – when we got back we told everyone it was a Ferrari – but I haven’t a clue what it was.  That trip was like a rapid fire slide show –  100 towns in 100 minutes.  Zip there went the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Zap, I think that was the Amalfi Coast – shit – the curves – how did we get here. Wham – Grosetto and a film crew shooting a spaghetti western.

ponte-2-rose-house2.jpg

After the whirl wind but frustrating tour, we got to Pontelandolfo late one morning.  The village looked like a movie set – it was pristine.  We discovered that the powers that be -I think the Communist party was in power then – rehabbed the city to promote tourism.  (Boy, did I hear that line over and over again in the next 30 years.)

On the stone city walls were funeral announcements. A number of them said Guerrera.  That was kind of freaky – realizing that people with my last name really did live and die in this place so far away from Flagtown.  I wondered if my nonna or nonno knew them – had played with them as children – gone to their weddings.

Aunt Cat started acted skittish the moment we got to Piazza Roma and looked at Pontelandolfo’s iconic tower. I didn’t understand why.  (When I was older and wiser I figured it out – she was having flashbacks to being the crippled kid that the local priest kept insisting should be institutionalized.  Here is an earlier blog – Nonna Comes to America.)

As we wandered the tiny medieval streets, Aunt Cat told us tales about coming to the village for market day.  She tried to point out where they lived on a little hill outside the village center.  It had to be a long walk for a little girl with polio.  Coming from modern New Jersey, it was hard to imagine her walking to a communal fountain for water or helping her mom wash clothes in the communal laundry trough. Her grandfather, my bis-nonno Liberantonio Solla, played the concertina in the piazza, for weddings, parties – and often drank his fee away.  After aimlessly wandering and not really talking to anyone – we sure as hell weren’t invisible but must have had a don’t talk to me wall up – we realized we were starving.

Great roasting over an open fire smells spilled onto the piazza.  We followed our noses. There was a beaded doorway and a smiling face beckoning us closer.  No one understood the sign but we figured out it was a tiny osteria – local restaurant.  The three of us went in and ate what ever the owner was serving that day and listened to more of Aunt Cat’s stories.  I don’t remember what we ate but I do remember it triggered a visceral response and my heart got bigger and bigger in my chest.

Leaving the three of them sitting in the sun and digesting lunch, I whipped out the Berlitz, wandered the narrow alleys and tried to introduce myself to older people I met to see if anyone remembered my grandmother or grandfather. One older gent with a gleam in his eye remembered Maria Rosaria Solla!  He took me to meet a woman he said was a relative.  She promptly wanted us to come back for cena later and meet everyone.

Paolo Collection (33)

I raced back and told Aunt Cat.  She was horrified.  “Absolutely not! They know we’re  from America and want our money.” Bobby and Maryellen were bored and wanted to go back to civilization.  Being 21 and ornery I stomped off. Not knowing where I was going, I ended walking up a cobblestoned hill to get as far away from my chicken shit family as I could.  I found myself on  the steps of the church where my Grandmother was married, my aunts and uncles were baptized.  High on a hill, I looked out over the alley, popped a happy pill and while tears streamed down my eyes, I vowed to come back.

As long as there is a wind in my sail, I will return.

Ci vediamo.

Genealogy Hints – Naturalization of your Ancestors

richedit2Our resident genealogist, the charming and smart Rich Venezia of Rich Roots Genealogyhas returned with more helpful hints on discovering our individual stories.  Many of you of Italian descent, have e-mailed me about obtaining Italian Citizenship.  Rich is the expert .  Here he talks about the first and most important step – naturalization of your ancestors.

Dear Readers of Nonna’s Mulberry Tree,

This month, we’ll be tackling a question I am asked all the time: How do I know if I qualify for dual citizenship?

While there are lots of rules and regulations – it is the Italian government, after all! The most important question you have to answer is the naturalization question.  Just when did your ancestor become an American Citizen?  If your Italian ascendant (say, your grandfather), naturalized prior to the birth of their child/your American-born ascendant (say, your father) – well, then the Italian bloodline was not passed through, and you’d be ineligible. However, if the Italian ascendant never naturalized, or naturalized after the birth of your American-born ascendant – well, we may be in business!

What?  You don’t get it?  Simple – we’ll use Midge as an example.  Her Grandfather, Francisco Guerrera became a naturalized American Citizen after Midge’s dad, Giovanni Francisco Guerrera, was born.  Even though her dad never understood that he was an Italian citizen until Midge started researching – he was!  The Italians don’t care where you are born if at the time of your birth your parents – or parent  – is an Italian citizen, then you are too!!!  Midge’s story.

So, the first step to citizenship – start looking into your parent’s or grandparent’s (great grandparent’s, etc.) naturalization. Here are some places you can survey –

The best place to start is by searching census records. These are accessible in various places online – notably Ancestry.com (check if your library has a subscription). Censuses starting in 1900 have a citizenship status column, and censuses until 1940 are available. (1950 becomes available in 2023.) If your grandfather immigrated in 1913, you should be able to find him on the 1920 census. Usually, one of four things are listed in the citizenship column:

NA = Naturalized

PA = First papers submitted (usually, a declaration of intent [to become a citizen])

AL = Alien (i.e., unnaturalized)

NR or blank = No record; it’s possible immigrant provided the info or know

Biagio Camperlino - 1920 census - Ancestry.com

Thanks to Ancestry.com – we see the PA and AL on the right.

So – if you find Grandpa in 1920, and he is listed as AL, and then you find him again in 1930, and he listed as NA – you can surmise that he probably became a citizen between 1920 and 1930. (Now – let’s just hope your father was born in 1919!)

The thing about censuses is that they can be very inaccurate, so it is unwise to take this information as completely factual without corroborating with further research. I have seen people go from being listed as “NA” in one census to “AL” in the next census, or people list “PA” for 30 years running! Do use the censuses as a guide, but just a guide! You’ll want to corroborate your information, especially for something as important and complex as obtaining dual citizenship.

World War I draft registration - FamilySearch

World War I Draft Registration from FamilySearch noted he was an alien.

If your male Italian ancestor was here in 1917 and/or 1918, and was “of fighting age” – that is, born between about 1873 and 1900, he should be included in the World War I draft registration card database. Note that all eligible men had to register – these cards don’t just exist for men who served in WWI. These registration cards can be found on websites like Ancestry.com or Fold3, as well as for free on FamilySearch. Most of these cards have a question relating to citizenship status – whether the registrant is a natural-born citizen, a naturalized citizen, an alien, or having declared intention. If your ancestor’s citizenship status matches that on the 1920 census (remember there were 2 or 3 years in between), you are one step closer to the truth.

Now that you have a timeframe in which your ancestor may have naturalized, what do you do next? The age-old answer: It depends. Naturalization records are held at different repositories, and each state and county may hold their records at different places. In New Jersey, most county clerks hold the naturalization records for their county (for instance, Middlesex County and Hudson County records can be found in those counties.). By calling the Office of the County Clerk, you can determine if they hold these records. However, in Monmouth County, for instance, their records are held at their County Archives – which has a searchable database online!  It is worth the phone call to see if you can do the research from the comforts of home!

Michelle Tucker Chubenko of Jersey Roots Genealogy is a colleague and friend of mine. She wrote a blog post that might be helpful on finding records in the NJ district courts.

In Pennsylvania, records are *generally* held at the Prothonotary’s Office, but this differs from county to county.

This is Midge, I had never in my life heard the word “prothonotary.”  What the hell is that?  According to the source for all – Wikipedia: The word prothonotary is recorded in English since 1447, as “principal clerk of a court,” from L.L. prothonotarius (c. 400), from Greek protonotarios “first scribe.”  Who knew?!  

If you are having trouble finding the records, keep in mind that some state archives, local or regional libraries, or genealogical societies may also hold these naturalization records. The New Jersey State Archives, for instance, holds a vast collection of naturalization records – for some counties, into the 1940s and 1950s! (Union or Sussex County ancestors, anyone?)

Another complication is that the naturalization laws changed in 1906 – and a lot of Local Courts lost their ability to naturalize citizens.  Now the search gets a little sticky!  Just what court naturalized our ancestor??

If a US District Court existed in the city or county where your ancestor lived, it’s extremely likely they would have naturalized through this court. In Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, for instance, after 1906, all naturalizations occurred in the US District Court of Western Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh. In New York City, many immigrants would have been naturalized at the US District Court of New York (Southern District) if they were Manhattanites or from the Bronx. Queens, Kings, and Staten Island residents likely naturalized through the US District Court of New York (Eastern District). In New Jersey, there were District Courts in Newark, Camden, and Trenton. The records of the US District Courts are generally held by their regional branch of the National Archives (NARA) – NY and NJ at NARA New York, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia at NARA Philadelphia, Ohio at NARA Chicago, etc.

Citizenship Frank

My nonno was naturalized in a Local Court.

The good news is that a lot of these records can be searched online (at least up to the 1930s or 1940s). Italian Genealogical Group has indexed the records of the NJ and NY District Courts. The Pennsylvania District Courts’ records are on Ancestry.com up till 1930. FamilySearch also has a large amount of naturalization records available online for free – both District Court and Local Court records. You can also order a search with NARA for a nominal fee – National Archives.

If you have lots of time to wait and not a lot of time to do the research – this may be the option for you. It requires a little less detective work but a long waiting period .  Just pay the fee and order an index search from US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS). They hold all naturalization records from 1906 onward. A search can be ordered here: US Citizenship and Immigration Services. The current waiting period to receive the results of the index search is anywhere from 6-8 months.  That doesn’t seem so bad.  However, then factor in another 6-8 months to receive the record if one has been found using the index search. I generally find it a little easier to verify naturalization by other means. However, you should be able to use the results of the index search to determine your eligibility. A date of naturalization is usually listed on the index search, so you can determine whether this was before or after the birth of your American-born ancestor.

A USCIS index search would also come in handy if you believe your ancestor never naturalized. There will likely be an AR-2 (alien registration form) for them if they were alive in 1940. (Midge here -Why is it that alien makes me think of ET Phone Home?)  Even if the USCIS search is negative – no naturalization for grandpa – you may subsequently request a letter certifying the non-existence of a naturalization.  If this were the case for your ancestor, the Italian Consulate would require such a letter for your dual citizenship appointment.

The bottom line is – no matter how you find your ancestor’s naturalization record, the date that they were granted citizenship to America is key. It must be after the date of their child, your American-born ascendant. The concept of dual citizenship jure sanguinis, through bloodline, only works if the bloodline is unbroken – and until 1992, Italian nationals could hold only one citizenship.

In boca al lupo. May your search be swift and uncomplicated, and may you be eligible for a beautiful red passport!

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 also assists clients with dual citizenship applications. 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 richroots.net and he can be reached at rich@richroots.net. He adores Midge and her blog, and is so thrilled to be visiting with her regularly. A presto!

Alanna’s Amalfi Roots

Alanna Jamieson stayed with Jack and I for a week or so.  Her journey toward new beginnings for herself had her thinking about her heritage.  Being a heritage junkie, I was delighted to help out and we enlisted Jack as our noble driver during the worst time of the year to drive the Amalfi coast.  We headed from the hills of Pontelandolfo to the the Commune of Amalfi Coastiera. If you didn’t read this – READ IT NOW! Amalfi Coast – Road of HELL!

Here is Alanna’s story:

Searching for Cavaliere

By Alanna Jamieson

I am very close to both sides of my family. However, for me, that family had extended only to my cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents who all live in the U.S., within New Jersey and Connecticut. I had always proudly identified my heritage as “100% American”, involving a diverse mix of U.K., French, German, Slovakian, and Italian nationalities. On my mother’s side, I am the third generation born in the U.S., and on dad’s side, I am in fact eligible for the Daughters of the (American) Revolution historical society.

The past four months of my life have involved several major transitions, which have found me cutting ties, widening my eyes, and (as cliché as it may sound) exploring Europe with only a carry-on suitcase and a 24-hour plan at any given time. When Midge and Jack invited me to visit them in Pontelandolfo, the decision was a no-brainer. I immediately jumped at the opportunity to spend some time in a beautiful, small Italian town with warm people and wonderful food. I also knew that Midge had spent years and countless hours researching her Italian family’s history, learning their language, and absorbing their culture. Sure enough, when I arrived in Italy, Midge enthusiastically offered to help me see what roots of my own Italian ancestors we could uncover, in nearby Amalfi.

This foreword is what led us to that winding road on the Amalfi Coast – some call it terrifying, some call it exciting, and excited is exactly how I felt! When we arrived in Amalfi, we easily found the Municipio (town hall), and inside we were greeted by a cheerful and bright-eyed woman named Angela Petrillo.

IMG_3415

Cavalieri Found on a Road Sign

We stated our purpose: I was interested in learning more about my Italian family, the Cavalieres. Upon hearing this, Angela smiled; Cavaliere is evidently a very common name in Amalfi, so our task would be to determine which Cavalieres in the Municipio records were my direct relatives. Luckily for me, my Cavaliere grandparents from Connecticut had created a detailed family tree and had even visited the Amalfi Municipio themselves.

After Angela and Midge exchanged a few more words in Italian, I nervously presented Angela with my family tree information, not sure what to expect and feeling grateful that Midge was there to translate and guide me. Angela expertly scanned the details and then whisked away out of the room to retrieve the records we sought. As we waited for her to return, I also felt relieved that Midge had taught me the proper way to say ‘Cavaliere’. My family pronounces it ‘caah-vuh-leer’, whereas in Amalfi it would be pronounced ‘caah-vuh-lee-air-ayy’ (spoken quickly). I might not speak Italian, but at least I could say my own family’s name as it would have been pronounced before its anglification adjustment on Ellis Island!

IMG_3422

Angela Petrillo and Alanna Peered Through Ancient Records

A minute later Angela reappeared with several old records books that dated back to the early 1800s. As she flipped through the book, I noted how yellowed the pages were and how frayed the edges had become, and I realized where I was standing, in both time and place. My family members had stood in this very building, holding these same books, listening to the waves wash against the sand on the beach outside the window. Like me, these people had hopes and dreams and joys and sorrows. They had cherished their past and looked forward to new opportunities, just as I am doing now in my own life. As these thoughts swirled in my mind, Angela stopped turning the book’s pages and pointed to a point halfway down it, showing us the name “Francisco Cavaliere”, my great-grandfather. The record showed the full details of his birth. At the bottom of the page were signatures of names we didn’t recognize. Angela explained that this was because Francisco’s father couldn’t write, not even to sign his own name on his son’s birth record.


We spent the next 20 minutes looking through the records, uncovering additional names, dates, and details. One member of my family, we discovered, was a midwife. Many of them were farm laborers who worked on others’ properties in exchange for perhaps currency, housing, or goods. The whole process was fascinating, sometimes even more so when we hit a dead end with a particular individual; for example, we discovered that Francisco’s mother was not born in Amalfi. Angela told us that her maiden name suggested that she hailed from one of two neighboring towns, so we would have to visit those villages in order to continue researching her history.

As the conversation with Angela drew to a close, we thanked her profusely for her time, and I looked once more at Francisco’s birth record. Thirteen years after that document was signed, in 1911,”Frank” (as he came to be called) would travel to America with his family. As I realized this, I felt a sense of comfort and encouragement. If the Cavalieres and many others were brave enough to face 3,000 miles of ocean and a strange new country where they didn’t know the language, surely I can face the unknowns that lay before me.

As we left the Municipio to start our journey home, I looked up at the Amalfi cliffs that meet the Mediterranean Sea. Today, the hillside is filled with homes, and the coastal road was packed with vendors, cars and tourists. As I stood there, it was easy to imagine the view 100 years prior, with 75% of the clutter gone, as it looked when my farmer ancestors lived there. They had adapted to the terrain, and then to a new life in America. With a vow to myself to keep their sense of perseverance and adventure close at heart, we started the long drive home, tired but happy.

Thank you Alanna Jamieson for sharing your search.

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.

Midge

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 richroots.net and he can be reached at richvenezia@gmail.com. He adores Midge and her blog, and is so thrilled to be dropping in. A presto!

From Bridgeport, Connecticut back to Castelfranco in Miscano

 A few weeks ago, I got a call from Nicola – one of the directors of Centro Mediterraneo Pintadera that world class language school in Alghero, Sardinia – she asked if she could give my phone number to a current student at the school.  He too was searching for his family and they were from a village not far from me.  Of course I said yes! I love the community of people who are as passionate as I am about finding their heritage. Kevin Monks and I played phone tags for a day and finally connected.  We met for coffee in Benevento and swapped family stories.  Kevin now lives in Cremorne, Tasmania – Australia!  Talk about a long trek to find your roots.
This is Kevin’s Story:
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Italian Mom and aunts in Connecticut (early 1950s)
My name is Kevin, son of an English father and US born Italian mother. My childhood memories of my Italy-born grandfather are as snapshots….just a few really, oh and one scent.
Walking up a dark hallway toward the kitchen light in Bridgeport, Connecticut. I must have escaped my bed to visit the happy sounds coming from the kitchen where adults were talking and laughing late into the night. “Pops” Gabriele stood with a smile on his face as the little boy entered into the light.
The scent that I remember is my grandfather’s pasta e fagoli soup wafting through the house. I’ve identified that precise scent only 1-2 times, both time  while visiting Italy.
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Antonio Tito Gabriele (nonno)
My mother didn’t really tell us much about Pops Gabriel (dropped the ‘e’ after immigrated to US). All she said was that he immigrated to US. (Ellis Island, then Bridgeport) when he was nine years old. His US Italian wife (Mary Ann Vertucci) died when my mother was 16 years old. Pops was born in a town called Castelfranco but she didn’t know where it was and never looked into it.
Both of my parents are gone now, but I wanted to look deeper into those few facts left to me. Starting at the usual places,/ I discovered my Nonno’s fathers name (bis nonno) and my great-great grandfathers name ( bis bis nonno). Along with the names came the point of origin – Castelfranco in Miscano.
I wanted to go see this place. Why did they leave? Adventure, poverty, famine, war? Who were they…what did they do? Well, I booked the tickets and set out from Tasmania to visit this place.
Setting out from Benevento, Campania I boarded the only once-a-day 12 seat autobus to go to my destination. The route left the flat rural farmland and snaked upwards through hilltop villages and finally stopped in the little town of Castelfranco in Miscano.
Midge had given me the best places to look, who to enquire of…so I set out for the Municipio…not a long walk (100m….double that and I would be out of town). It was an old style building with a serious looking clerk who looked at me as if I’d beamed down. “Sono Australiano…Italiano nonno”. She had that look of “great, another balmy touristico seeking truth and identity”. Well, another clerk helped with my very limited Italiano and calmly took action when the elder clerk’s expression became dark and aggravated. All good…I thanked them for a photocopy of the records they found. Bis bis nonno was a shepherd….and bis nonno was a labourer, one of seven brothers.  They gave me their email address to formally request an in-depth search. I don’t know where they were going to look…maybe out the back door and raid the church records.
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Donato (bis nonno – born 1877) Fedele and Maria Gabriele 
I popped into the chiesa to see if I could corner a padre on the matter…nobody home. Midge said to check out the al bar/ cafe in town. While grabbing an espresso I went through my basic spiel again and Lo and Behold she said someone from her family was currently in Bridgeport CT visiting family. “What? That’s my birthplace. As it turns out, almost all from Castelfranco went to Bridgeport CT. Midge, at my post trip aperitivi debrief in Benevento said it happened a lot. One goes out, writes a letter back, and the others follow the bread crumbs.
Well, I walked around the small village, snapped a few photos and headed back to the town centre. Approaching the Al Bar, I over heard the distinct accent of an Australian (am I surprised? Aussies are everywhere you least expect them). They were hanging around to see if I showed up…word had gotten around the village.  The two sisters in the bar had passed the word…relatives. Had a good chat and I learned more about Castelfranco as their nonna, a charming elderly woman, sat with us. She was born there and had lived in Melbourne for 26 years. Once her Italian husband had died she returned to Castelfranco. The Australian families had driven up to pick her up for a huge family reunion to be held in New Jersey. They were leaving to go at that moment down to Napoli to fly out to the U.S. That was a rich experience.
I wasn’t  prepared for the physical emotional effect when I first approached the little town. There must be something connecting our brain with our heart as we get close to our roots, heritage and Land-Place. It was worth the effort. I encourage anyone to take the journey! Do it while you can relay your findings and stories to loved ones still with you!

Cute Guy Finds Your Lost Ancestors!

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! richedit2

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.
Rich is based in Pittsburgh. His website is www.richroots.net.