Today I am very pleased to introduce yet another in our series of exclusive genealogy and family history interviews for you, the readers and fans, of Onward To Our Past®.
Today I am very pleased to introduce for our interview today our Italian Master, Peter Farina! I enjoy the work Peter does in Italian genealogy and his knowledge of Italy and the science and art of genealogy. So sit back, read, and enjoy! Here we go!
Onward To Our Past: Special guest of Onward To Our Past, please sign-in with your name, title and the name of your business:
Peter Farina, Founder and President, of italyMONDO! LLC
Onward To Our Past: Thanks for being with us, Peter! I know it is a busy season for your right now, so let’s get right to our interview. What is the mission of your firm, and how long have you been doing this?
Peter: I founded the company in 2006. But genealogy, Italy and all things Italian have been my passion (obsession?) since I can remember. Like so many others, I was once in search of my own Italian roots. This quest culminated in finding my long-lost family, completing my family tree, walking in my ancestors’ footsteps, and acquiring Italian citizenship – and the experience simply changed my life.
That said, our mission is to help people exactly like me discover more about their Italian roots by researching family trees on-site in Italy, finding cousins still living there, designing and conducting custom Heritage tours, and helping clients attain dual Italian-American citizenship.
As a result italyMONDO! is very much a “by us, for us” company, and I think it’s our raw passion — combined with our unmatched expertise and quality of work — that has made italyMONDO! the company it is today.
Onward To Our Past: I can personally attest to your passion and your unsurpassed quality, Peter. What made you focus on Italy?
Peter: In life, I think people should do what makes them happy and go about it with a burning passion. In business, I believe that people should do a few things and be great at them – not diluting their service or product with too many offerings or options, thus spreading themselves too thin.
If there is something I’m great at more than anything else I can think of, it’s genealogy. And if there is something I love more than anything else in the world, it’s Italy. So, I honestly couldn’t think of focusing on anything other that that!
Onward To Our Past: So I have to ask, Peter, do you still undertake some of your own personal genealogy when you have the time?
Peter: Unfortunately, I do not! I like to joke that I’ve become like the tailor who wears ratty clothes or the accountant who files his own taxes late. Working 80+ hours every week on other people’s family histories, I simply don’t have time for my own. It doesn’t bother me, though, as anyone who’s been on a Heritage Tour with me or has seen me researching knows how exciting it all is to me, and how personal I take my projects. I really do treat each Family Tree as if it were my own, and with all the excitement and emotion that come as a result (I’ve actually cried on two different Heritage Tours), I’ll gladly put my own family tree on hold.
Onward To Our Past: Peter, you know that I have Italian roots thanks to my wife, so I know Italy is awesome, but what is your favorite thing about Italy?
Peter: The food! (I started the company at 191 lbs., and am doing this interview at 215!)
Onward To Our Past: Do you have a favorite place?
Peter: The Region of Molise. It’s a relatively undiscovered region, but is an absolute gem. Starting in the fall of 2012 we have major plans for expansion there as well, which is exciting as the more work we have in Molise the more time I get to spend there.
Onward To Our Past: How did you become so incredibly knowledgeable about Italy and Italian genealogy?
Peter: Well, I always had a gift for researching — and this is without a doubt my calling — but you can be a genius and still not become knowledgeable about a subject. To be knowledgeable, it takes passion. I live and breathe genealogy and Italy, so I honestly just can’t help but to learn more. It’s like sustenance for me; no Italy or genealogy, and I’d start to wither away!
Onward To Our Past: Peter, is it true you even have what some folks have said is the Internet’s best guide to Italian wines within your website?
Peter: That is true! But I can’t take the credit. Instead, my hat goes off to our blogger and resident oenophile Eleonora Baldwin of www.aglioolioepeperoncino.com. I’ve already talked a lot about passion here, and Eleonora’s passion is vino italiano.
I’ve unfortunately had to put the blog on hold due to an enormous influx of business, but I’m hoping that with the hiring of a few great additions to The italyMONDO! Family and the launching of the new www.italymondo.com, we’ll be able to get back in the groove of things soon and once again blog about Italian wine (and everything else Italian!).
Onward To Our Past: Peter, you mentioned dual citizenship. Is there much demand for Italy/USA dual citizenship?
Peter: Oh, yes. Many consulates in the United States are booking their appointments a year in advance (and some, like Miami and Philadelphia, are booking almost two years in advance). In South America they’re booking appointments three years or more in advance, as the government offices simply can’t handle demand.
It’s should come as no surprise, though. When people start researching Italian Citizenship jure sanguinis (the process of acquiring it “By Right of Blood”), people begin to think that it sounds too good to be true. The only thing is, though, it’s all true! The process is extremely unique and offers an enormous amount of benefits with basically no downside.
Onward To Our Past: Peter, you also mentioned your Heritage Tours. How do you conduct your trips to Italy?
Peter: Basically, each town is unique, and each family’s history is unique (not to mention the client’s preferences, desires and budget), so every single trip is complete bespoke. We design our Heritage Tours and Excursions — whether it’s just a day-trip or a full two weeks — on-site while we research our client’s family history, right down to finding your family still living in that little hilltop village and collaborating with them, the local priest, the mayor, etc. to create an absolutely life-changing, once-in-a-lifetime experience. It’s more work, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Onward To Our Past: Since I know from experience life on the road can be very different, I have to ask … Have you had any especially funny experiences on the road with your work?
Peter: Well, to tell this story, I should preface that in small towns and particularly in Southern Italy the sopranome (nickname) of a family is far more important than the surname itself. (Example: in a town where the patron saint is Antonio and 20% of the last names in town are “Albanese,” you might have to sift through seven living Antonio Albaneses to find the right cousin. How do you find him? The sopranome.)
The sopranome is honestly more like a second surname and not a nickname, though. Even some banks ask for your sopranome to distinguish the accounts of various clients with the same name. In any case, back in 2007 I was researching in a little mountain tow in Abruzzo where literally half the town had the last name Marinelli. To top it all off, the town’s patrons saint was Saint John the Baptist (San Giovanni), so practically every male was named Giovanni Marinelli!
As luck would have it, one set of living cousins were the children of a certain deceased Giovanni Marinelli, and after two days of researching in the communal archives I had more than enough information I’d usually need to find the living cousins of my clients. I was happy since they were coming to meet these cousins during a Heritage Tour in a few months.
But in going to a nearby bar to chat with the locals – a great genealogical research tip, by the way – no one could place this specific Giovanni Marinelli. So I headed back to the archives for more research. The next day I returned to the same bar with more complete information and after explaining it once again an old lady in the back yelled out in Italian, “Now I understand… he’s talking about Giovanni Caccafossa!”
Everyone cracked up laughing, as although it was in fact the right Giovanni (I quickly found and met his kids, who were ecstatic to learn that their American cousins were searching for them), you can’t help but chuckle at the family’s sopranome, “Caccafossa.”
Why? Giovanni Caccafossa literally means “John Sh&% in a Ditch!” (One can only imagine how this ancestor acquired that nickname for the family!)
Onward To Our Past: Peter, I know I have taken lots of your time today, so let’s finish up with a bit on how you prefer to have folks approach you for questions and quotes?
Don’t worry about the blanks, either. That’s what we’re here for! We actually provide an hour of free research to everyone who submits a Family Chart Form as part of our no-obligation consultation, and many clients are amazed at what they discover even before commissioning a project.
In the end, I’m here to help – so whether it’s by phone or email or by the Family Chart Form, I’m more than happy to hear from people who are interested in learning more about their Italian heritage and roots.
Onward To Our Past: Peter, this has been great! I know I speak for our readers and fans when I say you have given us a great look at what you do and why you love Italy and genealogy. Thank you so much and I look forward to having you continue as our Italian Master for Onward To Our Past! Thanks again!