Written by Suzanne Russo Adams and Joel Cole
If you are struggling with Italian genealogy research, take heart! Many record collections from Italy have now been microfilmed, digitized, and published online for free, so you have a good chance of finding information about your Italian ancestors.
In Italy, most records are created locally, so it is important to first find where your ancestors lived. The best resources for discovering your Italian heritage are Italian civil records and Italian Catholic parish records from your ancestors’ home town. Learn more about these vital records and how to find them online.
Italian Civil Records
FamilySearch.org and the Italian government have gone to great lengths to digitize, preserve, and make accessible millions of Italian birth, marriage, and death records. Using an ancestor’s name and place of origin to search these collections can help you find much more information about your Italian ancestors.
How to Find Italian Civil Records Online
- FamilySearch Italy Research Page. This Italy research page has a list of all the indexed Italian collections available on FamilySearch.org, a list of image-only Italian collections, and a list of major Italian collections in the FamilySearch catalog. The records available on this page will largely be from Italian courthouses, municipalities, and state archives.
- FamilySearch Catalog. The FamilySearch catalog has some Italian civil record collections that you might not find on the Italy research page. You can search by a location in Italy to see what area collections are available.
- Portale Antenati (English, Italian). This family history website is sponsored by the Italian government to give access to Italian civil records digitized at the State Archives.
The History behind Italian Civil Records
Civil record-taking in Italy has a long history. Currently, records from the following periods (and others) are being made available.
Napoleonic Civil Registration
(Stato Civile Napoleonico—SCN, 1806–1815)
Napoleon introduced civil record keeping in Italy as early as 1806 in some areas, and this record keeping was strongly enforced until he was taken out of power in 1815. Thus, the Napoleonic records, as a general rule, are from the time period 1806–1815.
Civil Registration During the Restoration
(Stato Civile d’ella Restaurazione—SCR, 1815–1865)
This period is sometimes also called “Stato Civile Borbonico” (at least in southern Italy) because the Bourbon king Ferdinando I of the Kingdom of Naples dictated changes to Napoleon’s civil records and how they should be kept. Although Napoleonic-style civil registration had been introduced to Southern Italy and the Kingdom of Naples in 1809, the Bourbons reintroduced it in 1816. This style of record keeping was not adopted in Sicily until 1820.
Italian Civil Registration
(Stato Civile Italiano—SCI, 1866–present)
In 1866, Italian civil records began to be kept more uniformly throughout Italy. In this year, the Stato Civile Italiano (or the records of the Italian government) officially began.
The records of Italy before 1866 were generally in handwritten form because printed forms were not always provided. Around 1875, printed forms were prevalent, and many of the names of jurisdictions in Italy began to change. The province of Rome did not begin keeping records until 1871.
Italian Catholic Parish Records
Catholic parish records from Italy are harder to find online, but the parish records often extend much farther back than Italian civil records.
Ever since the Council of Trento decided in 1565 that parish priests should keep a record of the baptisms, marriages, and deaths of all their parishioners, faithful clergy have been keeping these records. In every city, town, village or hamlet in Italy that has a parish, the Catholic Church has kept a record of the births, deaths, and marriages of almost every Italian since at least the early 1600s. Since most early Italian families did not often move to other places, you can often find four centuries of Italian genealogy and family history in one parish.
As mentioned, limited Italian Catholic parish records are available online. You can find some of these records by searching the FamilySearch catalog, but more records may be available at some family history centers, since not all have been digitized yet. Learn more about finding Italian church records on the FamilySearch wiki.
Other Useful Resources for Italian Records Research
- “Italy Genealogy” on the FamilySearch wiki.
- “Finding Records of Your Italian Ancestors, Part A” (pdf). A guide on how to start your research in Italy.
- CISEI-International Center for Studies on Italian Emigration (English, Italian, Portuguese, and German). This website provides the only online database available for emigrants who left from the Genova harbor in Italy.
- Ancestry.com. Although FamilySearch has the largest online collection of Italian records, Ancestry.com has some unique Italian collections. (If you have a FamilySearch account through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, learn more about how to access your free Ancestry account.)
Want to learn more about your Italian roots? Visit “Your Italian Heritage” on the FamilySearch blog.
An overview of your Italian heritage and genealogy research
A history of Italian immigrants and immigration records
Common Italian last names and their origins and meanings
Italian heritage and dual citizenship laws
How to find and use Italian genealogy records