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Tracing your Family History in Italy


Many people who emigrated to Australia from Italy or were born here to Italian parents are wishing to record their family history. This involves collecting verbal and written information from relatives and friends. Ultimately the search for written and official data about ancestors must be pursued in Italy.

To do this involves making contact with various authorities in Italy. The following is a quick summary of how to go about this task.

Writing Letters

Unless you plan to go to Italy and visit each authority in person, you will need to write letters. A letter written in Italian is much more likely to get a response than if it is in English. So if you can't write in Italian, ask someone to write or translate the letter for you. Co.As.It. Italian Heritage has a number of sample standard letters which may be of help to you.

Births, Marriages and Deaths

The papers which your family have in their possession, such as birth and marriage certificates, their passports and other documents of identity will provide valuable information about their origins. However, these will inevitably only take you so far back into the past and only for some of the ancestors you are tracing. Beyond that you will need to obtain certificates from the Stato Civile.

Civil registration started for the whole country in 1869. The system was not centralised so you need to know where your ancestors were born, married or died. In some parts of Italy, a form of registration came into force much earlier: Florence, 1808-1866 for all Tuscany; Naples, 1806-70 for Naples and Sicily; from 1803-1815 in parts of northern Italy; in Abruzzo, Campania, Puglia, Basilicata and Calabria from 1820; in Trentino (South Tirol) from the sixteenth century, but there are gaps. You must check with the nearest archive for more information.

The following records will be available in the Ufficio di Stato Civile in the city, town, village or commune where the event took place. Be sure that you ask for a full certificate, otherwise you will get extracts. You need at least the names of parents, both as a check and to allow you to trace further back . If you cannot trace the location of a place or the local office does not reply, write to L'Istituto Centrale di Statistica, Via Cesare Balbo 16, 00100 Rome).

Birth Records: These contain name, date and place of birth, names of parents with mother's maiden name, and father's occupation. From 1900, there may be marginal entries about eventual marriage (date, place and name) and date and place of birth.

Marriages: Marriage records may include name and age of bride and groom; marriage date and place; marital status; place of birth of each; names of parents and maiden name of mother; names of witnesses; occupation and addresses of all concerned (bride and groom, their parents and witnesses); and date of consent of parents or guardians.

Deaths: Records may contain name, occupation and address of the deceased and date and place of death, date and place of birth, names of parents and addresses if they are still alive, name of the spouse of the deceased.

Certificato dello Stato di Famiglia

The Ufficio Anagrafe keeps information on the names, relationships, birth dates, and birthplaces of all living family members at the time it was put on record. This record is unique to Italy and is an attempt by authorities to have a complete record of local families. There are many gaps but a check is sometimes worthwhile.

Emigration Records

These are kept by the Stato Civile and also in the Ministero dell'Interno, Rome. They go back to 1869 and are not for inspection. Details are provided in some cases where the relationship is proven and the reason for the research given.

Conscription Records

These include name, birth date, town of residence, and whether the draftee served, was refused, was exempted, died, or emigrated before the call-up age of eighteen. State archives can supply records from 1870-1920. After that to the present, the records are kept by the Distretto Militare and their addresses can be obtained by the local embassy or consulate.

Notarial Records

Dating back as far as 1340 to the present day, these cover an endless list of items, but the main ones are marriage contracts and settlements, dowries, contracts of sale and purchase of land or houses, wills, lawsuits, inheritance, and property inventory and division. Records older than 100 years are kept in the state archives and those more recent than that are in the notarial offices or in the local notarial archives.

Passports

These were issued by the various state governments between 1800 and 1869 and then their issue was assumed by the local police headquarters (Questura). The state archives holds passport records up to the period ending 1930. After that, they are in the Questura.

Wills

These go as far back as the 1300s and are either in the state archives, the local notarial offices or in the local registry office (Ufficio del Registro). If you have any problem tracing a notarial archive, contact the head office (Ispettore Generale, Archivio Notarile, Via Flamminia 160, Rome).

University Records

The registers of students at universities can be traced either in the state archives or at the universities themselves. This can be a rewarding avenue of research as the universities of Italy date back to 1267.

Genealogical Collections

These are often about noble or leading members of the clergy and can be found in published form in state and municipal archives and in universities. These can be a rich source of information about local history.

Census Data

A national census has been held every ten years from 1861 to 1931, then in 1936, and again every ten years from 1951 to 1991. Not all the data is open to publish search. Write to: Direzione Generale dei Servizi Tecnici, Istituto Centrale di Statistica, Via Cesare Balbo 16, Rome.

Tax Assessments

There are a variety of tax records: taxes on land, taxes on houses, taxes on land sales, taxes on heads, special taxes and imposts. Records of taxes paid to national and state governments are in the state archives and payments of municipal taxes are in the town and village offices. It is hard to find anything as older payments are not indexed. Pursue this line of enquiry as a last resort.

Church Registers

Parish registers in the Catholic Church were started from 1545 but very few exist prior to the beginning of the seventeenth century. Registers included baptisms, marriages and deaths (burials) and were kept by parish priests often as the only records of these events until civil registration began in 1869. Many parishes have been abolished or merged with others, in which case the records have been transferred to the Diocesan Curia (office of the Bishop of the Diocese) or to the Archivo Vescovile della Diocesi.

Church registers may also have other records such as the land records of the parish, confirmations, church donations, payments for masses for the dead, payments for bell-tolling and payments for the purchase or rental of burial vaults.

The data to be found in the church registers are as follows:

Baptismal Records: Date and place of birth and/or baptism; sex; name of father; maiden name of mother; often, names and addresses of godparents, their fathers' names, and their relationship to the child; names of proxies standing in for godparents if they were absent.

Marriage Records: Name and address of the bride and groom; age and place of birth; names of the fathers of the bride and the groom; names (and maiden names) of the mothers of the bride and the groom; names of other parishes where the banns were also published (since the marriage usually takes place in the commune of the bride, this will usually tell you the place of origin of the groom); marital status; and letters of consent of parents or guardian.

You will need to write several times before you get a reply only to find that you are referred to another office. Persistence and patience will be rewarded however when the moment arrives when you open an envelope from Italy which contains the document you sought, satisfying your immediate quest and opening up a new search further back in time.

It may be possible for you to shorten the whole process by asking a relative or friend in Italy to make the enquiries on your behalf, either in person or by local mail. You may also wish to write to the central genealogical society in Italy for information and assistance, enclosing two international reply paid envelopes: Instituto di Genealogica et Araldica, via Antonio Cerasi, 5a, 00100 Rome.

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