On-Site Italian Research
Jewish Italian Research
Records of births, marriages, and deaths are kept in Italy by both the civil authorities (stato civile in each town) and the churches (parishes in each town). Depending on the time frame and location, duplicates of those records may be stored in the Provincial Archives or the Diocese Archives (as appropriate). Other major record sources include military and census (Provincial Archives).
In addition, some of these records have been made available to the public on microfilm through the LDS Church (Mormons) in their Family History Library in Salt Lake City and their network of Family History Centers throughout the world.
All these possible record sources, together with the variety of repositories housing these records, is great news for researchers! I generally advise my clients to start their research in the microfilmed records because of easy access. After that, correspondence or on-site research to the appropriate repository or repositories (depending on time frame and location) can produce even more information.
Civil documentation of births, marriages, and deaths on standardized forms began in most of Italy in 1809 as part of the Napoleanic government at that time. This system was implemented in Sicily in 1820-21. Privacy acts in Italy make it difficult to obtain civil records more recent than 1910, but that time frame allows many Americans to start their research with their immigrant ancestor.
The civil birth record states the name of the person reporting the birth (sometimes a midwife, sometimes the father of the child). The age, occupation, and residence of that person is recorded. Then the mother of the child (with maiden name, occupation, residence, sometimes age). Then the father of the child with his age, occupation, and residence. Then the exact date and hour and location of the birth. Sometimes the father of the father or mother is stated as well. The right column of the document states the date and location of the baptism of the child. Witnesses are also named and described.
The civil marriage record states the full name of the bride and groom, their ages and towns of birth and residence, the names of their parents (including the maiden names of the mothers), sometimes with ages and occupations and residences. Witnesses are also named and described.
The civil death record states the location and date of death, the name of the deceased (maiden name if female), the age and town of birth of the deceased, as well as town of residence and occupation. This record also lists the parents of the deceased (maiden name of mother) and their residences (or if deceased). Witnesses are also named and described.
The churches recorded baptisms, marriages, and deaths from their first appearance in each community (or 1543, whichever came later) and continue their record keeping to the present day. They contain much the same information was described above, with the exception of occupations and ages. Again, more recent records are more difficult to obtain.
Archived military records (usually for those born in or before 1912) are in the provincial archives of their birth town.
More recent military records (for those born after 1912) are in the military tribunal offices for their birth town. The military districts cover a much larger area than the town.
Since the records (civil and church) are organized by town (or parish), it is necessary to learn which town was the birthplace (or marriage place) of your immigrant ancestor. For some Americans, the importance of blending into America kept them from sharing stories of the old country with their children and grandchildren. The search for those families needs to start with the US census, naturalization, and passenger arrival records in order to discover the town of origin.
Passenger lists show town of birth and/or last residence. Be sure to check Canadian border crossings (St. Albans) if your folks settled in any of the northern tier states.
Passports started in general use in Italy about 1900 (years vary by province) . While these records are usually in the questura office for each province, some provinces have stored their older records in their provincial archives. The documents show date and location of birth and residence as well as a physical description (photos on more recent records).
The importance of the passport records increased with the disappearance of the departing passenger lists. Those lists were sent from the Italian ports (Genova, Naples, Palermo, etc.) to Roma in 1994 and disappeared, although my colleagues have been seeking them for several years. We hope to discovere their current location soon.
My latest book on CD is titled Sicily - A Reference for Researchers and is now available. With a file for each town (plus many other files), it relates the history of Sicily as reflected in the photos, records and festivals of its towns. It contains over 2500 text and photo files and can be ordered at CD order.