Tracing Your Italian Ancestory

By Tom Alciere

    Few North Americans are fortunate enough to be able to visit Italy
    for genealogy research. The vast majority must rely on other means
    to conduct their research.

    The first step is to obtain a copy of your own birth certificate,
    which will give the names of your parents and, we hope, other
    information about them, such as where they were born and their ages
    at the time of this birth. By subtracting their ages from the year
    you were born, you arrive at the approximate year they were born.

    Now you obtain records on these parents. Do you know where they
    married? The vast majority of Italian immigrants were Roman
    Catholic, so it is not unlikely that they married in a Catholic

    Since churches and governments maintain parallel sets of marriage
    records, it is wise to attempt to get both. One record may have
    information which the other lacks.

    Churches transcribe information onto certificate blanks, but the
    original record in the book may contain information for which there
    is no space on the certificate. This may include such unimportant
    details as the names of the parents of the bride and groom. If you
    think you might have a use for such information, then request that
    the church furnish a photocopy of the page in the book.

    When writing to a church, it is wise to include a few dollars'
    donation. We want them to look forward to genealogy enquiries with
    eager anticipation, not regret.

    In performing the sacraments of first communion, confirmation, holy
    matrimony, and ordination, the church performing the sacrament would
    require a baptismal certificate, and would record the name of the
    church where the person was baptised, and the date. This is true in
    many but not all cases. In cases of marriage or ordination, a note
    would be made on the baptismal register of the baptismal church.

    In marrying in a Catholic church, the priest would write to the
    baptismal church and let them know. If the person is already married
    or ordained, the baptismal church will sound the alarm and the
    marriage will be prevented.

    The value of these notations cannot be underestimated. Perhaps your
    immigrant ancestor came to Boston, leaving behind a brother who,
    several years later, came to Chicago. That brother's baptismal
    record may show a marriage in the Chicago church, helping you to
    locate an entire branch of the family.

    In one case on my family tree, a widow was remarrying. Of course,
    her baptismal record showed the first marriage, and the record of
    the second marriage made note of this, along with the explanation
    that the husband died in Castelcivita, 5 May 1909. Castelcivita is a
    small town in Salerno province. I don't know if the priest verified
    the explanation, but the fact that an explanation was required at
    all attests to the diligence with which this recordkeeping was
    performed in some cases.

    After exhausting civil and church records, you should not fail to
    access the newspaper death notices. Newspapers are microfilmed, and
    the microfilms are kept at public libraries, usually in the area of
    the newspaper. If you know the date of death, check that day's paper
    and keep checking each edition for about two weeks. Death notices
    often mention the names of siblings, ("...survived by a brother,
    ....") giving their current home towns. You may want to check the
    headlines for a few days before the pers on died, in case death was
    caused by a newsworthy event.

    If you have trouble locating death records, try visiting or writing
    to the cemetery where your ancestor is buried. Their records should
    show the date of death, or at least the date of burial. Quite
    possibly they will also have the place of death on record. Perhaps
    your ancestor may have died out of State, so the home State may have
    no record of it. If possible, visit the grave itself and check the
    monument for any clues it may offer. Also, relatives may be buried
    nearby, and you can add them to your fam ily tree. In this way, you
    might locate individuals whose records were not found because of
    changes in their surname. ARCIERI may have become ARCHER, or
    SANGREGORIO may have become ST. GREGORY.  Widows may have remarried,
    and changed their names.

    Three more organizations you should contact are the Family History
    Center in your area, the National Archives and Record
    Administration, and the POINT network.

    Family History Centers are operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of
    Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and are often located in Mormon
    meetinghouses. Look them up in the telephone directory and ask for
    more information. Among the many valuable sources of information the
    Mormons have are microfilms of Italian birth records, (except your
    ancestral hometown and mine,) the Social Security Death Index, and
    the Ancestral File.

    Ancestral File is a computerized file of family trees that have been
    submitted by various genealogists. Information on living persons is
    kept confidential under the church's privacy rules. However, if you
    should find a branch of your family tree on Ancestral File, you can
    easily obtain the name and address of the submitter.

    Ancestral File differs from the International Genealogical Index in
    that IGI contains names submitted for temple work, i.e. Mormon
    religious ordinances performed on behalf of a deceased person. The
    Mormons do not obtain names for temple work from Ancestral File
    submissions. This is important because members of your family might
    object to such temple work.

    The National Archives has regional depositories which you can visit.
    The records you will want are U.S. Census records and naturalization
    papers. Census records are valuable sources of family members'
    names. Many people may be omitted, and ages are often wrong, but the
    information in the census may lead you to solid records on family
    members. Naturalization papers may show your immigrant ancestor's
    birthplace and birthdate.

    POINT is a network of genealogists pursuing Italian roots. If two
    distant individuals trace their family tree back to the same small
    town in Italy and are researching the same unusual surname there,
    chances are pretty good that they are related. That is the purpose
    of the POINT annual directory. If somebody has submitted your
    surnames from your ancestral town, you will find this in the
    alphabetical listing, which also gives you the submitter number.
    Check the numerical listing of submitter numbers a nd y ou will get
    the name and address of the submitter. If you should join POINT
    ("Pursuing Our Italian Names Together," PO Box 2977, Palos Verdes CA
    90274.) and receive its directories annually, please remember to
    donate any expired directory to a nearby genealogy library, Family
    History Center, or the genealogy section of your public library.
    This will allow other researchers to learn about POINT and possibly
    even find cousins of theirs on the spot. This author is POINT
    member number 1506.

Back to Joe's Italian Genealogy Page
This Page Updated:21 May 1995