My name is Jennifer (Rizzo) Petrino and I would like to share with you a little bit about myself. I was born in Poughkeepsie, New York but grew up in sunny Florida. I went to Miami Southridge Senior High School and had lots of fun as a cheerleader. That is where I met my husband, David, who was our school’s mascot! After graduating high school, I worked full-time for a veterinarian and went to college part-time. Following Hurricane Andrew, which devastated Miami, I became the manager of a brand new veterinary office run by Dr. Tom Anderson (he is the best!).
Just before Christmas 1998, my Aunt took me to a place in North Miami Beach called Laurenzo’s Italian SuperMarket. Our family has shopped there for years for pastries for special occasions and for the ingredients for our Christmas and New Year’s Eve feasts. However, I had never been there. But this fateful year, I went with my Aunt Joan and it would set in motion an incredible course of events that would eventually take me all the way to Sicily and land me a spot in a small documentary type film for the newly built Ellis Island Immigration History Museum. (Read all about Our Italy and Sicily Trip).
While in Laurenzo’s, I was overwhelmed with the smells, the people, the Italian language being spoken by everyone, the food, and I was amazed at everything Italian in one place! You see, my family moved to Florida when I was about 5 years old, and we left all of our relatives in New York. So I had never really experienced the big Italian family that many people are familiar with. No one had ever spoken Italian around me (except for a few choice words!) 🙂 and although my grandmother always cooked Italian foods, it wasn’t until I was standing in Laurenzo’s completely overwhelmed by my surroundings that I suddenly FELT Italian! I left there feeling like I wanted to know more about my heritage, but it would be a few months before I had the time to start investigating.
On January 1st, 1999, David and I moved to Pensacola, Florida, the westernmost part of the Florida Panhandle. I no longer needed to work full time, and after getting our home in order, I found myself fooling around on the internet in my spare time. I somehow stumbled upon several websites pertaining to genealogy, and as they say, the rest is history.
My grandmother was a wealth of information. We talked every Thursday on the phone and I would share with her details of anything I had found during the week while she taught me, over the phone, how to make different Italian meals. This is a time I will treasure always, because my grandma passed away about a year after I started researching. About 8 months after starting, I was able to contact some relatives in Italy and then I was lucky enough to have my family’s story chosen for the documentary type film for the Ellis Island Museum. I now do research for others and usually have about 25 clients at any given time.
The information I have found about my family has given me the most important gift I can give to my children-a heritage and history they can be proud of! David and I welcomed our first child, a girl we named after our grandmothers in 2002. I can’t wait to teach her Italian, to teach her all the yummy recipes I learned from my grandmother and mother, to teach her about her family and why it is important to never forget your roots-they make you who you are! Welcome Francesca!
I can’t tell you in words what this research and finding out about my heritage has done for me and every part of my life. I can only suggest that you try to experience it yourself! I hope that my website gives you some ideas for your research or helps you locate some family members that you may have never known existed.
I am Sicilian-American by all four sets of grandparents! To see more information on all of these family names, CLICK HERE
Misilmeri, Palermo Province, Sicily, Italy–Surnames from this side of my family are: Schimmenti, Aiena, Priola, Cerniglia, Borgese, Lo Franco, Correnti, Franzo, Ferraro, Balletta, Merendino, Mangiapane, Lo Bocchiaro, Bruno, Traina/Troina, di Spezio, Corso, Ippolito, and Carlino.
Sciacca, Agrigento Province, Sicily, Italy–Surnames on this side of the family are Gulino, Bucalo, Chiarelloand Craparo.
Ventimiglia di Sicilia, Palermo Province, Sicily–My paternal grandmother’s side of the family is from Ventimiglia di Sicilia. These names are Saso, Sparacio, Cirrincione and Cassata.
Bagheria, Palermo Province, Sicily–This branch of my family has been sporadically researched by another family member, although no where near the extent that I have researched the other branches. Here you can view a small BELVEDERE family tree. I also have the surname RIZZO as one of my main branches of my family tree. I have not input all of their information into my database, so no tree is currently available.