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Italian Genealogy 101

Researching Your Italian Ancestors

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When researching your Italian ancestors, it is important to understand their history, culture and language in order to uncover the records they may have left behind. Understanding when and why your Italian ancestor left Italy, as well as their preferred foods, clothing styles and dialects, may help to shed light on their town of origin, a necessary starting point for researching Italian roots.

Where Did They Come From?
Typically, families in Italy traditionally remained in the same geographic area. The unique geography of the country left many communities isolated from neighboring towns, restricting mobility and discouraging migration. This can be a boon for Italian genealogists, but also makes it necessary to begin your Italian research with a place of origin. Clues to the origin of your Italian ancestors may be found in your own home, or those of other family members. Talk to your relatives to see if they know the town, province or region in Italy the family originally came from. Ask them if they have any documents from the family, including wills, naturalization records, passenger lists, birth records, marriage records, etc. Any of these may help you to pinpoint your family's town of origin in Italy.

Place Them on the Map
Before delving head-first into Italian records, you should first identify your ancestor's town or village on both historical and modern gazetteers, maps and atlases in order to determine the civil, court, ecclesiastical and/or military jurisdictions which applied to your ancestors. Knowing these jurisdictions can better help you determine where the records will be found. Some of the best sources include:

  • Nuovo Dizionario dei comuni e frazioni di comuni - This gazetteer of communities and hamlets in Italy provides important information on military and court jurisdictions. It is available on microfilm from the Family History Library, or through your local Family History Center.

  • Annuario delle Diocesi d’Italia - This church directory gives an alphabetical listing of towns and names of Catholic parishes in each town, as well as the diocese to which the town belongs, making it a valuable resource for determining Catholic ecclesiastical jurisdictions.

Take the Plunge
Once you have located the exact place of origin in Italy and studied the history, language and culture of the area, it's time to search in the actual records. Most Italian research can be performed through your local Family History Center, utilizing the vast microfilmed records of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. The library's catalog includes more than 28,000 rolls of microfilmed original documents from Italy, including many of the Italian civil registration records, some church records, and various other records. Choose "Place Search" in the Family History Library Catalog, and type in your ancestor's city, town or village to learn what records are available.

You will probably reach a point in your research, however, when you will also need to write to or visit Italy in person to research in original documents located in the parishes and archives of Italy. Civil records dating from the pre-unification of Italy, as well as most other records seventy-five years or older, are generally kept in the provincial/state archive, usually located in the major city of each province. Since many Italians are not fluent in English, letters to Italy are best written in Italian. Include as many details as you can and include a small donation or International Reply Coupons for the best chance at a helpful reply.

Next Page > Research in Italian Records

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