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Exploring Your Italian Heritage Through Genealogical Records

The Golden Rules of Genealogy'

You must turn to genealogical records if you’re looking for clues about your Italian roots. These include birth, marriage and death records; immigration and naturalization records; military service records; and more.

While Italy has no central archive, its 107 provinces keep civil records that can help you trace your Italian roots back to the 1500s. These records are organized by province and town at the time of the event, so you’ll need to know where your ancestors lived to find them.

Birth Records

Birth registries are an essential part of Italian genealogy research. They can be a key clue in locating your Italian ancestors before they migrated to the United States and are often needed for citizenship applications.

Fortunately, there are several websites available that will help you transcribe and search these records. Some are based on Sicily and other regions, while others contain links to digitized images of parish records (like this one). Many associations of genealogists and archivists, such as the Italian genealogical society, are concerned with saving the heritage preserved in Italian parishes. These organizations are working on transcribing these records so they can be easily accessible to the public. State civil registration of births and marriages was begun in 1809 (1820 in Sicily) in southern Italy and 1866 (1871 in Veneto) in central and northern Italy. These registers are held by the Ufficio di StatoCivile (registry office) of each town hall or comune.

Marriage Records

Marriage records are a crucial genealogical resource for exploring your Italian heritage. They provide information about couples’ details, the date of the marriage, and where it took place.

In Italy, the civil authorities registered births, marriages, and deaths in 1809 (1820 in Sicily) and central and northern Italy in 1866 (1871 in Veneto). These records do not include baptism information or “promises to marry”; they contain the essential data (act, registration number) and details about the ceremony, such as the couple’s date, place, and personal details. A copy of the record is kept at the municipality where it was issued, and another is sent to the procuradellarepubblica in the provincial capital. These copies are needed for government purposes, such as the military draft. These records may be indexed by a given name or by the first letter of the given name, but they are usually alphabetized. The indexes are organized by province and by civil registration period, town, type of record, and year.

Death Records

Suppose you have been unsuccessful in finding your Italian ancestors at the local level or in tracing their history through United States records. In that case, genealogical records may be your next best option. These records can provide you with vital details of your ancestors, including the names of their parents and spouses and the places they lived. Most of the genealogically useful records found in Italy were created and kept by towns, parishes, and local governments. This includes birth and death registers, marriage records, censuses, and military conscription documents. Civil registration records were introduced in southern Italy around 1809 (1820 in Sicily). Then, starting in 1866/1871 in central and northern Italy, these records were standardized and were used as the basis for most other official records. During this period, most people were registered with their name, age, date of birth, date of death, and place of birth. The information was then arranged in chronological order.

The FamilySearch Library has microfilmed civil registration records from hundreds of Italian towns and provinces up to 1866 and many town archives up to 1910. These collections are listed in the FamilySearch Catalog, and searching for your ancestor’s town name will help you find them. Although these records were largely created during the 1800s, they can still be useful for tracing your Italian ancestors. They can be obtained by requesting a copy from the civil registry office in your ancestor’s town of origin. The registrar will reply with a certificate or extract of the record.

Immigration Records

Italians have emigrated to the United States since 1880, and interest in their ancestry continues to grow. Many Italian immigrants settled in New York but landed in other cities such as Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago.

For professional genealogists, Italians are often one of the largest groups of ancestors they encounter. Fortunately, there are numerous sources for exploring your Italian heritage. The best place to start is in FamilySearch. Look in the Records section or Catalog for your Italian ancestor’s records. However, only some digitized microfilms are available in the Records section, and some still need to be indexed. Church records can also be invaluable for finding your ancestors’ baptism, marriage and burial dates. These records were recorded systematically and uninterruptedly for over a millennium and can reveal necessary information about the family.

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