Rooted in Success
In this month’s Personality Profile, Ciao Pittsburgh chatted with Rich Venezia of Rich Roots Genealogy. Rich, who grew up in central New Jersey, currently makes his home in Pittsburgh. Rich was kind enough to respond to some of our questions about his roots, his career as a genealogist as well as his Italian heritage.
CP: First, tell us a little bit about yourself, your family, and what you do for a living.
Rich: I’m a professional genealogist and have been for the past few years. I started researching my own family when I was a teenager, but I cycled through various careers before landing at this one. I worked as an actor for a while, in PR & Marketing for a theatre, in the non-profit world, and also in study abroad before starting my business, Rich Roots Genealogy. My parents are both semi-retired, but were long-time high school teachers. My brother is also a high school teacher. I suppose I was the only one in the family who wasn’t bitten by the education bug, but I reckon I am an educator, of sorts – just in a less conventional way.
CP: What is the most rewarding aspect of your career?
Rich: I’m very lucky that I grew up knowing who my ancestors were and even what a lot of my great- and 2x-great-grandparents looked like. It wasn’t until I started doing genealogy that I realized how rare this was. I love being able to reconnect people with their lost, forgotten, or misplaced family, and to unite them with their heritage. It’s an indescribable feeling when someone tells you the work you’ve done has had an impact on their life. Learning about your ancestry can teach you a lot about yourself.
CP: Where are you from and where do you currently live?
Rich: I grew up in central New Jersey among many Italian-Americans and now live in Pittsburgh. I love it here – I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
CP: Can you tell us about your Italian heritage?
Rich: My mom’s family is from the Province of Salerno – mostly in the Cilento area, along the coast. I like to say that my Italian ancestors were immigrating for almost three generations before they came to the USA – I have nearly a dozen ancestral towns just on my mom’s side. My dad’s family is from all over the south – Salerno (Baronissi and Pellezzano), Foggia (Monte Sant’Angelo and Rodi Garganico), Potenza (Rapolla), and Avellino (Atripalda). Five of my great-grandparents were born in Italy, and a sixth was born right after her parents arrived. My only non-Italian-American grandparent, my Grandma Camperlino, learned to cook Italian food from her mother-in-law – and was always cooking Italian. I was flabbergasted as a child when I learned she wasn’t a true Italian! I identify very strongly with my Italian heritage, and am so happy to be able to help others explore theirs.
CP: What are some of your favorite Italian traditions and why?
Rich: Does eating count? I love Italian food, and more importantly, the love and camaraderie shared at dinners around a big table where everyone can just barely squeeze in. The importance of la famiglia, gli amici, of taking a moment to enjoy your caffè before starting your day – in ever-busy American life, I always try to remember these important things.
CP: What does being Italian mean to you?
Rich: To me, being Italian means being connected to a large community that welcomes you without any thought. The compassion and openness I find in both Italian-American communities and Italy continues to astound me. To me, being Italian means always leaving room for one more at the table, making enough food so everyone has leftovers, and defending to the death that it’s gravy, not sauce!
CP: What accomplishments in life are you most proud of?
Rich: I was recognized as an Italian citizen last year, and am really proud to call myself a dual citizen. It was a long process, but so very worth it in the end – for both the freedom of movement in the EU and also in homage my Italian forbearers. Also, as an avid traveler, I have traveled to 34 countries – and will be making it 35 later this year! (I’m not sure if Australia is ready… :]) In my early 20s, lived abroad for a year and then backpacked for six months, and that experience really impacted me.
CP: Who in your life has inspired you the most?
Rich: My maternal grandmother is the reason I am involved in genealogy. She was an inspiration long before then, as she bravely battled breast cancer for two years. While she ultimately lost that battle, she fought hard, she made sure that her family was well cared-for, and even left messages with her sister for all of us to hear after she had passed. She was a really special, stubborn, and strong lady. She had started working on the family tree later in life, and I took that mantle on as a way to honor her. Her work and passion inspires me to this day. If it wasn’t for her, my life would look very different. I think of her every day.
CP: What are some of your favorite hobbies?
Rich: As a former actor, I love going to the theatre, of course. I read whenever I can, and I travel far and often. I also love to eat! I am so lucky that Pittsburgh has become such a foodie town – there never seems to be an end to the new places to try. I am always working on improving my Italian, and I love researching my own family tree when I have time!
CP: What else would you like our readers to know about you that I did not ask?
Rich: I feel very lucky to have a job that has me excited to get to work every day. I encourage everyone to learn more about their ancestry – whether for health reasons, curiosity reasons, or to learn more about themselves through their ancestors’ struggles and triumphs. There are many places online when you can begin, and when you get stuck, or if you don’t have time – well, that’s what I’m here for. I specialize in 19th– and 20th-century immigrant ancestry, specifically those with roots in Italy and Ireland. I also assist clients with dual citizenship for Italy and Ireland, and I am available for lectures. Thanks so much for the opportunity, Ciao Pittsburgh! Spero che ci vediamo presto!
For more information on Rich, visit www.richroots.net.