Jean: Rich, you were a Gena and Jean Cruise sponsor in 2015 and we appreciated your involvement. On 19 June 2015, just before the cruise, we featured your business on our blog where we learned that your services are unique in the genealogy world. Since that time, you have been traveling quite a bit and doing a lot of projects of which many may not be aware. Can you tell us a little about what’s been happening in the genealogy life of Rich Venezia?
Rich: Absolutely! It has been a busy year for me – and I am lucky to be able to say so! I worked full-time on Season 3 of Genealogy Roadshow for the latter half of 2015. I was able to attend GenStock in Michigan, the New York State Family History Conference in Syracuse, as well as the North Hills Genealogists’ conference right here in Pittsburgh. I also took courses at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania Research) and the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (Dr. Tom Jones’ Advanced Genealogical Methods). While in Salt Lake, I was able to do research at the Family History Library (swoon), and I also hopped over to Los Angeles for a weekend to attend the final Genealogy Roadshow taping. From February to April, I took a two-month trip to Europe – a mix of work (mostly) and a little play. I researched in Dublin and Belfast, and then spent a month in Florence in a language intensive, continuing my quest to become bilingual in Italian. I spent a week in the south of Italy doing on-site research for both clients and myself, took a quick vacation in Barcelona, and headed back to Ireland for some research and to see friends. I had three lectures in New Jersey on a mini “lecture tour” in May, and then spent some time in Pittsburgh before heading back to Michigan for GenStock and Springfield, Illinois, for the FGS conference in late August. But anyone that knows me knows I can’t stay still for long – these boots are made for walking, and as such, I may find myself in Salt Lake City or Europe again before long.
Jean: In your last blog for us, you discussed a lot about Italy and your Italian research tools. However, according to the information you have provided, you also have an expertise in Irish research. Do you approach this in a different way than when you are researching other regions? And can you tell us what some of your steps are (without giving away trade secrets, of course)?
Rich: The research methodology is the same, but the record sets are quite different. Most with an interest in Irish research know that a fire during the Irish Civil War destroyed nearly 1000 years of records. Not all was lost, but it’s a common misconception. As with any immigrant research, one needs to start in the US before jumping across the pond. Most Irish immigrants arrived before the age of Italian immigrants, and as such, their records specifying exact place of origin in Ireland are a bit trickier to come by. For conducting any Irish research, one needs to know at least the civil parish of origin, and better, the townland, if possible (think of civil parish as the town and the townland as the street). Knowing that Bridget Kelly was from County Clare – well, I’d reckon that needle in the haystack will be found first. So – the tools to finding place of origin are the same (naturalization records, ship manifests, wills, deeds, draft registration cards, family bibles, etc.), but often a whole host need to be searched for early Irish immigrants prior to learning a more exact place of origin. One great resource for early Irish immigrants in the NYC area is the New York Emigrant Savings Bank, 1850-1883 collection on Ancestry.com. This collection has helped me crack a number of cases. For research on-site in Ireland, there are a number of places to conduct research – the General Register Office for vital records from 1864 onwards, the Registry of Deeds if ancestors ever owned land, the Valuation Office if ancestors were in Ireland past Griffith’s Valuation, as well as local parishes and county history centres. There is a treasure trove of records still available in Ireland – they just may not all be found under the first rainbow.
Jean: You have done some research for television (we saw your name on last season’s Genealogy Roadshow credits). Can you tell us a little about that experience and what makes doing research for TV genealogy stories different from research for a client?
Rich: Well – I could tell you… but then I’d have to – well, you know. While I’m not allowed to disclose too much about my research experience, I can tell you the main difference is the fast-paced nature of television. For clients, a project can take a few or many months, waiting for records that have been sent away for, a subcontractor on-site and/or my own trip to a faraway archive, etc. This usually isn’t a problem for the client, because, as I like to say, “The dead stay dead – or at least we hope they do.” For TV, on the other hand, deadlines are strict and things change quickly – a potential cast member may have moved, or may not want to appear on TV after all, for example, and whole host of other reasons which can cause quick changes. As such, the work needs to be fast, precise, and easily digestible, and the research team needs to be on their feet, ready for these changes. Again, the methodologies are the same, but the process is quicker, the stakes are higher, and – well, the end result winds up on TV as opposed to in a client’s living room. Working for TV makes me a better researcher because it makes me strive for accuracy in a much more condensed timeframe, as well as think outside the box.
Jean: I love what you tell people about “read the whole record.” Can you share a story or experience from one of your research quests that was the result of “reading the whole record”?
Rich: I am happy for my previous mistakes to be others’ gains! One example I can remember vividly is, when starting to do Italian research, I was a little stuck on one family line. The son, Antonio, had married a woman from a different comune, but I couldn’t find Antonio’s siblings or his father’s death record in his original comune. After having searched a number of years in comune 1 for Antono’s siblings’ birth records and the father’s death record, I went back and re-read Antonio’s marriage record. It said he was also residente in the wife’s comune! Ding ding ding! It turns out the family had moved from comune 1 shortly after this son’s birth… and where did I find the siblings’ birth records and the father’s death record? Comune 2. Sometimes there’s also a third or fourth comune – only mentioned once, on one document – but that one mention is the key to unlock the rest of the family. I read every record five times over – and then again – to ascertain I’ve gleaned as much as I possibly can from that record. It’s vital to the success of the research.
Jean: Is there anything else you would like to add about your business, your experiences, or your future plans? Any words of wisdom to make our roots (or the search for them) richer?
Rich: I am very lucky to wake up every day and work at a job that I love. I get such joy helping others find their roots – and by proxy, a little piece of themselves. I consider myself very fortunate, and I’m very excited for what the future has to offer. A few exciting projects are in early stages… hopefully by the time your cruise rolls around next year, I can give a few more details if they work out. For now, I’ll leave you with a sentiment I’ve been brewing on as the world around us becomes more chaotic: The more we learn about our family history, not only do we learn more about ourselves, but we learn more about our world – past and present. I think family history stands to teach us a lot about compassion, groundedness, and understanding – but only if we let it.
Jean: Thanks, again, for being part of this project. Safe travels and best wishes in your roots pursuits.
Rich: Thanks to you both for the opportunity! Best of luck with the cruise. And “roots pursuits” – have you trademarked that yet? If you didn’t, you should… :)
--Jean Wilcox Hibben