Italy Workshop

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Syllabus for workshop presented by Ruth Lapioli Merriman, Manager International Research Consultation, at FamilySearchs Family History Library, presented at the NGS 2010 Conference.

Researching your Italian heritage can be an emotional experience. We learn who we really are when we know where we came from and when we come to know our ancestors. Family history is not just names and datesthere are stories to discover. This workshop will give you the tools you need to know which records to search, what to look for in the records, and how to discover the secrets these records hold.

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History has played a big part in record keeping in Italy. The events that had the most profound effect were:

  • 1545-1563, The Council of Trent: The institution of parish registers by the Catholic Church.
  • 1796, Napoleons conquest: The institution of national civil registration by 1805-1809.
  • 1815, Napoleons defeat: Civil registration ceases in the north, continues in the south.
  • 1861, Unification of Italy and creation of the Kingdom of Italy: Civil registration reinstituted nationally by 1866.
  • WWI and WW2: Destruction of some archives and churches.


Research in Italy requires that you know the town where your ancestors were born. Records, both civil and church, are kept on a local level, and rarely can you do research with less information. So, where did Grandpa come from? 1.

1. Determine where your ancestors lived in Italy[edit | edit source]

Check records at home.

  • Letters from the old countrylook for postmarks and return addresses.
  • Passports, U.S. and Italian, usually give a birthplace.
  • Legal documents.
  • Alien registration cards.
  • Military discharge papers.

Check immigration records.

Check U.S. Records.

Check Websites that narrow surname distribution.

2. When you know the locality
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Find information about your ancestors birth in civil registration records or church baptism records.

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As mentioned earlier, in order to find records about your family, you need to know the names of the town (and possibly the parish) and province in which they lived.

Place levels

  • Places are usually listed from smallest to largest (Corleone [town], Palermo [province], Italy); regions are not usually listed in a catalog or genealogical record.
  • Each town usually had its own parish, although larger cities had several.
  • A town (Comune) had outlying boundaries that encompassed smaller villages (Frazioni). Usually events were recorded in the Comune or in the parish.

To determine the province, town, or parish:

  • See the Italian gazetteer Nuovo Dizionario Dei Comuni E Frazioni Di Comune (FHL film 795276).
  • To find a very small village, check the back section of the gazetteer for Frazioni to get the name of the Comune with which it is affiliated.

UNDERSTANDING RECORDS[edit | edit source]

Although a myriad of records have been compiled over the centuries, there are two basic Italian record types that will provide valuable information about your ancestors.

Civil registration--Italian[edit | edit source]

Birth records provide information that:

  1. These numbers in this level of indentation should be like this: 1) 2) etc. Verify birthplace and birth date of ancestor
  2. Find names, ages, and occupations of ancestors parents (including maiden name of mother).
  3. Establish a time and place of a familys residence.

Marriage records will help you:

  1. Find couples marriage date and place, places of birth, ages, and occupations.
  2. Find couples parents names and occupations.
  3. Find witnesses, who may be family members.
  4. Find dates of marriage banns.
  5. Identify a list of supplemental documentation.

Death records will give you the:

  1. Ancestors death date.
  2. Name, age, birthplace, profession of deceased ancestor.
  3. Name of deceaseds parents.
  4. Name of deceaseds spouse.

Military records (draft and matriculation) identify:

  1. Ancestors birth date and place.
  2. Ancestors parents names, including mothers maiden name.

Church records--Latin[edit | edit source]

Baptism records provide:

  1. Ancestors baptism date.
  2. Ancestors birth date (optional).
  3. Names of ancestors parents (occasional maiden name of mother).
  4. Godparents names, who could be family members.

Marriage records include:

  1. Ancestors marriage date.
  2. Names of ancestors parents.
  3. Dates of marriage banns.
  4. Dowry records (occasionally).

Death or burial records will identify the:

  1. Ancestors death and burial date.
  2. Name of ancestors spouse.
  3. Ancestors age or approximate age.
  4. Names of ancestors parents (occasionally).


Reading the various records of Italy requires a basic knowledge of key Italian genealogical terms and a familiarity with the handwriting and printed text?. Difficulty in reading a record may not be the result of poor penmanship, but the use of a different style of handwriting. Church records in Italy were (and many still are) kept in Latin, while civil records were kept mostly in Italian (occasionally in French or German). Since handwriting varies from person to person, the handwriting in your records may differ from the example here and those used in the supplementary exercises for this workshop.

Common problems in interpreting Italian handwriting[edit | edit source]

  • Double s is often elongated and confused with lower case f.
  • Many uppercase letters resemble each other, such as the E,G and C; the R and B; the I and J; and also the F, T, and S.
  • Many lower case letters resemble one another, depending on the record keepers handwriting style.
  • Ink blots, fading ink, and damaged documents.

Tips to remember[edit | edit source]

  • If a word is hyphenated, the last letter on a line is underlined once or twice.
  • If a name is illegible, check a different record for names that look similar.
  • Indexes may be written more neatlylook for hard-to-read names there.
  • When a letter cannot be identified, check for the same letter in another part of the document.
  • A rectangle drawn around a word indicates that it was written in error. The correct word is usually written in the margin or nearby.