From the Roman Empire to the Renaissance to the modern day, Italy has influenced cultures globally with its great achievements. With such a rich history behind them, Italians around the world today are deeply proud of their Italian roots. With anywhere from 60–140 million people with Italian heritage worldwide, Italians are among the most populous ethnic groups in the world. It’s possible that you too have Italian ancestry.
A history of Italian immigrants and immigration records
Common Italian last names and their origins and meanings
Italy Records Research
FamilySearch’s free archives make it easy for you to find your Italian ancestors’ names. FamilySearch has the largest collection of Italian genealogical records (images and indexes) in the world, and its collections continue to grow by millions yearly. FamilySearch’s work with archives throughout Italy has digitally preserved more than 150 million images of historical genealogical records to make them freely accessible online. These records currently contain more than 500 million names—and it’s likely your ancestors might be among them.
As digital images are created and indexed, these records become available in multiple locations on the FamilySearch website, so start with FamilySearch’s Italy Research Page when looking for Italian records. Here you can easily find information about all of the Italy collections and learning aids on one helpful reference page. Be sure to explore the indexed historical records, image-only historical records, and catalog material to discover the extensive inventory of vast Italian genealogical records available to you on FamilySearch.
Do you know when Italy first started recording censuses, military drafts, and civil registrations? Several types of Italian records may help you find your ancestors, and each one has a historical beginning. For example, finding an Italian birth record or death record for an ancestor may help answer a lot of questions regarding your Italian family history, and you can find those types of records in Italy starting in the 1500s. Check out the time line on “When Did Italian Historical Records Begin?” to find hints about what record collections you can use to search for your ancestors. The best records to start with might be civil registration and church records, since they are accessible from the early 1800s to the 1940s.
Italian Culture and Emigration
Around 50 million people with Italian heritage live in Italy today, and up to 140 million people worldwide can claim Italian heritage.1 It doesn’t matter if you live in Europe, South Africa, or even Australia, if you say “pasta” instead of “spaghetti,” listen to Andrea Bocelli and Enrico Caruso frequently, or your friends joke that if they tied your hands it would make you speechless, you probably are among the many Italians whose family traditions are alive and strong. Even if you’re not as sure about your Italian ancestry, you’re in good company wherever you may be! There are people with Italian heritage just about anywhere you might go.
Why is Italian culture and the worldwide Italian population so widespread? Italy has had a few major emigration waves, the largest of which occurred in the 19th and 20th centuries. If your family was among these early emigrants, they likely moved to new home countries for better work and living conditions or to escape political pressures during times of upheaval. This time line shows some of the major factors that prompted and slowed this mass migration.
Whatever their reason for moving to and from Italy, Italian immigrants throughout history have brought rich cultural traditions of Italian food, fashion, music, and a zest for life to many countries and have left genealogical footprints for their descendants to trace:
- Ask your relatives for stories about your Italian ancestors and see what you can learn.
- Use the free FamilySearch Family Tree to record and share what you are learning, including photos, documents, and memories.
- Bookmark the FamilySearch Italy page to search for your ancestors in Italy records, learn key Italian words, learn how to read Italian handwriting, and more!
- Return often because FamilySearch is actively adding Italian historical records throughout the year.
- “Italians,” Wikipedia, last modified August 4, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italians.
- Trafford R. Cole. Italian Genealogical Records: How to Use Italian Civil, Ecclesiastical, and Other Records in Family History Research (Salt Lake City: Ancestry Incorporated, 1995).