The Genlighten Blog

Meet our providers, get the latest site news, see editors' picks, plus lots more from the Genlighten community.

Featured Provider: richroots


If you “know your family’s Italian, but don’t know whether your meat sauce should be Bolognese or Neapolitan ragù,” New Jersey provider richroots can help! His research specialties include Italian, immigrant, New Jersey, and Irish records but he’s also skilled at handling broad research projects that go beyond those areas. With over ten years experience in online and repository research, richroots can help break down brick walls or craft a family history from scratch. His Genlighten offerings include Italian dual citizenship application assistance, research at the New Jersey State Archives, record retrieval at the New York City Municipal Archives, and one-of-a-kind research projects designed to target clients’ specific needs.

How did you get started doing genealogy research?

I started doing genealogy after my maternal grandmother died. When I was helping clean out the house, I found a tree she’d been working on. I thought it’d be a great way to honor her memory to continue working on it – and I’ve been hooked ever since.

How have you developed your research skills?

A LOT of trial and error! Before I went professional, I learned as much as I could by working on my own family, and helping friends here and there. It helps that, though my ancestry is mostly Italian, my maternal grandmother (same one as above!) had a smattering of Irish, Welsh, German, English, Canadian – you name it! I learned a huge amount by just researching my own immigrant families and their movements. Once I became more serious, I joined local genealogy societies, the APG, and have attended week-long institutes, workshops, lectures, conferences… I think it’s important to always keep learning. The same way that no family history is ever “finished,” I don’t think anyone can ever know “all there is to know” about genealogy – but we can sure try!

Do you have a genealogy superpower? If so, what is it?

My genealogy superpower is – well, I was going to say Italian research, but I guess that’s obvious if you look at my last name! I guess my “untold” genealogy super power is being able to find things on mainstream genealogy sites, like Ancestry and FamilySearch, that other people have difficulty finding. Because my family’s surnames have been butchered so much throughout the years, I’ve somehow figured out ways around the search parameters using things like wildcards or other “sideways” ways to find information. For whatever reason, I can think of a dozen ways a first name or surname could be spelled (incorrectly) in seconds. I also use various search fields in different and unique ways. It’s hard to write – I can just find things! It makes me feel like a detective.

Describe a challenging research problem you’re proud of having solved.

I helped an adoptee find her birth parents. I can’t say much more about it, but I can say it was one of my most rewarding experiences as a genealogist thus far. I hope to be able to learn more about DNA in the near future to be able to assist future adoptees in finding their families.

Tell us a favorite story about one of your ancestors.

My third-great-grandfather, David Fisher, was an absolute wild one. He was married three times, had his last child at age 54, and laundered money from the state – but never went to jail! He was a tailor in Kingston (NY), NYC, and Jersey City. I have SO many documents about Mr. Fisher… but yet he’s my biggest brick wall! I am still desperately trying to figure out his place of birth. But – I love him. He’s my favorite ancestor. He seemed to make his own rules, lived all over, and once complained about his crazy neighbor for believing that his daughter was [the neighbor’s] typewriter. He’s my most interesting – and most salacious – ancestor that I’ve found yet… and I love the research challenges he present me.

What’s the most unique record source that you can access for research?

The New Jersey State Archives (discussed more below) has this glorious collection of manuscripts, including NJ Supreme Court cases from the 1700s and 1800s. One of my favorites was when “The King” sued my person of interest over calling a judge “an arse” pre-Revoulationary War. You can’t make this stuff up! The penmanship is beautiful, the documents are stunning, and, as you can see, you get great stories in the meantime! There’s another wonderful one about neighbors fighting over someone picking blackberries in their yard. Brilliant!

What’s the one must-visit repository visitors doing research in your area?

The New Jersey State Archives is a researcher’s dream come true. Not only is it easy to navigate, but the staff are absolutely glorious, each and every one. They have been so very helpful to me and pull out all the stops if you need assistance. Not to mention – there’s over 100 years of NJ vital records on microfilm, newspapers from all over the state, probate and deed files pre-1900… and there’s free parking and a delicious café across the street (Lucy’s). Honestly – what could be better?

What tools to you use to create the reports and images that you provide?

I’m a “keep it simple” kind of guy. I create my reports in Microsoft Word and use RootsMagic for my GEDCOM files. I take photos on my iPhone – I find that the quality is better than any digital camera I’ve used, handy to carry, and easy to transfer and upload files. I know there is wonderful genealogy software out there – and I am about to start using Evernote – but for the most part, I like my old reliables.

What advice would you give to someone trying to break through a brick wall?

The cliché advice – keep trying. But really – keep trying! In my years as a genealogist, I have seen some ridiculous and wonderful documents that I doubt descendants have seen – simply because of their unique location. Your people can show up in the strangest places – their letters in manuscript collections (maybe their neighbor was Civil War solider, and they wrote to him), or as part of someone’s civil war pension file, or within a BIA file at NARA, or as witnesses on their neighbor’s naturalization record… the resources in which you may be able to find your ancestor are literally never-ending, so don’t give up hope. Also, perhaps even more importantly – speak to a local genealogist, historian, or librarian. Simply their knowledge (of a different record group, or of the old forgotten cemetery in town, or an introduction to the oldest man in town – who maybe knew your ancestor or their children) may be what you need to break through that brick wall. It is not foolish to ask for help – usually, it’s more foolish not to!

What hobbies do you pursue when you’re not at the archives doing research?

What do you mean? Where else would I spend my time!? ;) Really, though – I used to be an actor, so I’m a theatre junkie. I also love to travel. I lived in Europe for a while and go back as much as I can. I love spending time with my family and my friends. Life is short, so I try to make every day count. I’m so lucky I love what I do, and that my favorite “hobby” is my job!

Anything else you’d like to share?
I truly believe we learn more about ourselves when we learn about our ancestors. After all, it’s a mix of their DNA that makes us, well, us!

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