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.

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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!

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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.

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.