This is a guest post by Mary M. Tedesco
The catalyst for my pursuit of genealogy as a profession was the influence of my Italian immigrant grandparents. Because they have always been so wonderful and kind to me, I wanted to learn more about them. I wanted to know why being with them made me feel so special and warm, made me feel so Italian
. The manner of their influence was something that came from another place and time. It was something that came from where
they came from'their ancestral towns in Italy.
I've had the opportunity to perform onsite research in my grandfather's hometown of San Pietro a Maida, Calabria. To see where he was born, where he used to play as a boy, and to walk literally in his footsteps inspired me to want others to have the same experience. I want my fellow Italian-Americans to embrace our shared heritage through Italian genealogical research. I encourage all Italian-Americans to visit their ancestral towns in Italy.
Every Italian-American family has a unique origin ? an Italian ancestral town (or towns) that is the source of family culture, howsoever Americanized. The dialects, customs, gestures, sensibilities and recipes are regional influences that are encoded in us from an early age. We accept them as natural and, often, as a source of pride, especially the recipes. So finding the family's ancestral town is the first step toward a deeper understanding of who and what we are. Genealogical research provides a gateway to that understanding by taking us to the homes of past generations in Italy'our personal integral piece of Italian history. It is my hope that this guest blog will be a jumping off point for those wishing to pursue onsite genealogical research in Italy. Buona fortuna!
1. Verify Your Family's Ancestral Town or Towns in Italy.
Before booking your plane ticket to Italy, it is first necessary verify your family's ancestral town or towns. (Please see Getting Started With Italian Genealogy'
for some tips about beginning your Italian research and locating your town of origin in Italy.) Sometimes the awareness of an ancestral town is part of a family's oral history and the center of family stories. In other families, knowledge of ancestral towns was not passed down through the generations. But in those cases, proven genealogical research techniques can provide the means for finding out family origins.
The ancestral towns of our parents, grandparents, great grandparents, etc. can sometimes be found on passenger manifests; naturalization records; vital records (birth, marriage, and death records) of the immigrant, the spouse of the immigrant or even the children of the immigrant; military records; obituaries; newspaper articles; and other sources. (Many of these resources can be found right here on Ancestry.com!) It should be noted that the process of finding an ancestral town can take a researcher anywhere from a few hours to a few months or years. But whatever the case, it's important to have a plan and to never give up. The eventual result will be worth the effort.
Once you have initially identified your ancestral town in Italy, it is recommend that you confirm this information by obtaining a birth record (or baptismal record) or marriage record for your ancestor (at minimum) either directly from the town or a scan or photocopy of the record from Family History Library microfilm, if available. It is always best to obtain a vital record or church record for your ancestor to confirm your Italian ancestral town prior to pursuing any onsite research in Italy. Here are few sources where you may find vital records for your Italian ancestors:
Once you have exhausted the genealogical resources accessible from your home country and all resources available online or on microfilm, it is time to prepare for your genealogical research trip and to buy your ticket to Italy!
2. Create a Set of Research Goals.
One of the keys to a successful onsite research trip in Italy is careful preparation. Before departing for Italy create a set of research goals for your trip. What are the questions about your Italian ancestors that you would love to know' For example: What was my great great grandmother's name'? or Did my family own land'? or What were the occupations of the men in my family before they immigrated'? Be creative, be curious. These research goals will help give focus to your research.
3. Formulate a Research Plan.
After creating a list of research goals, the next step is to create a research plan that give you a roadmap for accomplishing these goals. A sound research plan will include where the records are located (i.e. the name of the repository), how the records are accessed, the address and hours of the repository and, if possible, a contact person at the repository. (For more ideas about creating a genealogical research plan and doing effective research, check out Five Steps to Doing Genealogy Research Like A Pro.
4. Call Ahead!
After you have established your research goals and have put a research plan in place, the next step is to contact (via telephone, email, snail mail, etc.) the archives, offices and churches you'd like to visit while you're in Italy. In some cases, an appointment may be necessary to conduct research. Always be polite when communicating with a repository representative or individual archivist. In some locations, researchers will not be allowed to access records. Regardless of the situation, it is important to be professional, thankful, and gracious.
Best Places for Genealogical Research in Italy.
There is no single centralized repository in Italy that contains all the records genealogists will need to research their family histories. So it is necessary to tackle Italian genealogical research on at the local level. This requires a trip to your ancestral town to conduct research in the place where your ancestors lived. Here are some of best places to visit on an Italian research trip:
- Italian Municipal Offices: Ufficio dello Stato Civile & Ufficio Anagrafe ? Civil Registration Office and Demographics Office are at the town level in Italy.
These offices typically contain birth, marriage, and death records as well as demographics data abut your Italian ancestors. The years civil records begin at various places in Italy does vary (directly tied to the history of Italy), so do some research on your specific location to find out what's available.
- La Chiesa & L'Archivio Diocesano ? The Parish Church and Diocesan Archive typically contain the Church records for you Italian ancestors.
Many Catholic Churches in Italy hold records back to the 1500s or 1600s. On occasion, Church registers go back further. The Diocesan Archives sometimes contain copies of all the records of parishes contained in the Diocese. It is often necessary to make an appointment with the parish priest in your ancestral town to access the records.
- Archivi di Stato ? Provincial Archives in Italy
Your first point of contact here should be the Archivio di Stato
in your ancestral province. The Italian Archival System has an Online Card Catalogue. Check to see if the Civil Registration, Military records, or other record types you need are at the Archive. http://www.archivi-sias.it/
- Biblioteca ? Library
Local, regional, and national libraries in Italy often have excellent resources for exploring the local history and culture of the area. It is so important to put our ancestors in the historical context in which they lived. Researching local history in Italy is a great way to do this.
Expect the Unexpected.
No matter how carefully you prepare your research goals or how thoroughly you arrange your research itinerary, inevitably something unexpected will happen'a critical appointment with the priest in charge of church records is rescheduled at the last minute; the archivist takes a sick day; or records access is unilaterally denied. No matter what happens, remember to maintain a positive outlook and to make the most of your research time in Italy. Be prepared for the both the joys and challenges of Italian culture. Each town and city in Italy is unique, and thus research must be adaptable. The idiosyncratic contacts, priests, archivists, librarians, and others will make your experience in your ancestral town all the more special!
The special differences from one Italian town to the next give each Italian-American family its unique Italian heritage, familiar only to fellow Italian-Americans from the same ancestral town. But we all share the uniqueness in our Italian hearts. I wish you buona fortuna
(good fortune) with your Italian genealogical research experience!
This is a guest post written by Mary M. Tedesco, a professional genealogist, speaker, and author. She is a genealogist on the PBS TV series "Genealogy Roadshow" (season 2) as well as the Founder of ORIGINS ITALY, a firm specializing in Italian and Italian-American genealogical and family history research. Mary holds a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics from Boston University and a Certificate in Genealogical Research from Boston University's Center for Professional Education. In addition to her Italian ancestry (Calabria, Trentino-Alto Adige, and Tuscany) on her father's side, she also has deep American roots (German, Irish, Danish & English) on her mother's side and is proud member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Mary is a member of a number of local and national genealogical societies and serves on the Board of Directors of the Massachusetts Genealogical Council. She can be contacted @ www.originsitaly.com.