Italy Gathering Information to Locate Place of Origin

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Gathering Information

Italy Genealogy Research Using the Wiki – Video Series

Finding the Town of Birth

In order to research your family in Italy, it is essential that you have identified the place where they came from. You must know the city, town, or parish that they came from. A few records are indexed, but many records will require going directly to photocopied local records, which are only available by town name. it will be difficult to identify the place of origin by going directly to Italy sources. Therefore, you will need to search in United States (or other country of arrival) sources first.

What You Need to Know to Begin Research in Italy

It is essential that you know:
1. The given and surname of your ancestor: for example, Henry M Borgmann. Parents' names are extremely helpful.
2. The exact place name, for example: Capezzano, Prato, Italy.
3. The exact year of a birth or death in Italy, or at least estimated dates.

Name

Before you can embark in meaningful research, you need to be clear about the name of your ancestor. Many names have been Americanized or have been recorded according to sound. Following the paper trail of your ancestor may give you clues. Search ship lists, naturalization records, church records, civil records or any record where your ancestor had to sign his name.

Place Name

Another very important piece of evidence to find the correct origin of an ancestor is the place name. Again, you may run into problems here because many ancestors gave a place name as a point of reference. Also, a given place name may be spelled according the recorder’s understanding. Sometimes it helps to know what language your ancestor spoke and something about topographical features of the homeland.

Time Frame

It is also most helpful to know the time frame when you search for a Italian ancestor. Particularly when reading unindexed records, which can be time-consuming, knowing an exact or narrow time period to search is vital. Also, in a town there may be many children born with the same time, even the same year. Knowing an exact date can help prove which child is your ancestor.

Search Home Sources

Thoroughly go over all home sources available to you, including family history papers, copies of records, pictures, old letters (i.e. with an old address), family bibles, journals/diaries, copies of vital record certificates and church records, memorabilia etc. Interview extended family and close relatives as well as former neighbors--all of which may prove very helpful in gathering as much knowledge about an ancestor as possible.

Emigration Questions to Ask Relatives

Find the oldest living relatives that you can and ask them:

  1. What do you know about our first ancestor to come from Italy? (open-ended)
  2. Have you ever heard mention of towns in Italy where the family lived?
  3. Do you have contact with any relatives in Italy?
  4. . Do you have contact with other branches of the family in the U.S.?
  5. . When _____________ came from Italy, did he travel with other family members?
  6. . Do you know when _________________ arrived and which port city?
  7. Did _______________ever become a citizen?
  8. Did_________________fight in World War I or II?
  9. When they first came, were there already family members here who they joined?
  10. Did_______________ever mention their parents in Italy?
  11. Were they Catholic?
  12. Do you have any old letters or postcards from Italy family?
  13. Do you have any pictures of family members in Italy?

Search Genealogies Compiled by Others


Records to Search in the Country of Arrival

Census Records

  • Search census records, available for the United States, Canada, England, and other countries. Censuses are often taken every ten years.
  • Try to locate your ancestor in every census during which he or she was alive. This information provides a good framework for further research.
  • The 1850-1880 U.S. federal censuses sometimes list an Italian state or province as birth place.
  • The censuses for 1900 to 1930 ask for the year of immigration and whether or not the person was naturalized. This information can help you find naturalization records or a passenger list.
  • Censuses can be accessed online. Links to both free and subscription websites are found at United States Census Online Genealogy Records.
  • State census records vary in availability and the type of information they contain, but they are always useful as another source to document an ancestor in a specific locality. See U.S. Online Genealogy Records by State for links to online state censuses.

Vital Records

Vital records, or civil birth, marriage, and death records document important events in an ancestor’s life. Many states have posted statewide indexes on the Internet. Understand that any birth, marriage, or death certificate gives information about other people besides the primary person it is about

  • 1. It is important to remember that a birth certificate for a child might tell it's parents' birthplaces.
  • 2. Marriage certificates might name birth dates and places of the bride and groom. They might also give the names and birth places of the parents of the bride and groom.
  • 3. Death certificates are very important. Birth and marriage certificates might not have kept by a state during the earlier years of your ancestor's life. There is a greater chance that your ancestor died after detailed record-keeping began. Death certificates frequently state birth date and place. They also state the names of parents and their birth places.

There are wiki articles giving details on how to find vital records of each state.

  • You can select the state of interest and the record (birth, marriage, or death) from this list:

How-To Articles.

Cemetery Records

Websites such as FindAGrave and Billion Graves are making it easier to get information from headstones, which frequently give birth dates, and occasionally give birth places. Each state has additional collections of cemetery records. See U.S. Online Genealogy Records by State for links to other online cemetery records. Every state also has a Cemetery topic page you can search, for example, California Cemeteries, Washington Cemeteries. etc.

Obituaries

Obituaries are an excellent source of biographical information about immigrants. In addition to names and death dates, you can learn about surviving family members, church affiliations, spouses, parents, occupations, burial places, and hometowns in the old country. Even if a place of origin is not given, an obituary may provide additional research clues, such as the date or ship of immigration or traveling companions. Much of this information cannot be found in other sources. For many immigrants, an obituary is the only “biographical sketch” ever written about them. See U.S. Online Genealogy Records by State for links to online obituary collections. If the town of death is known, Google newspapers in that town and contact them to see if they kept archives of their obituaries.

Social Security

Military Records

Draft records for World War I and II ask for birth place, which can be listed as just Italy or in greater detail.

Passenger Arrival Lists

Passenger lists, especially in the 20th century, may list birth place, last residence in mother country, and name and residence of a close relative in the mother country. Study the records of fellow passengers, as frequently relatives and neighbors traveled together. United States Immigration Online Genealogy Records is a comprehensive list of passenger arrival databases that you can search right now from your computer. There are many, many databases. The following search strategy will make your search more efficient.

Suggested Search Strategy

  1. Check the partner website indexes, as these cover many, many databases at once. The FamilySearch Historical Records databases is free to search with a free registered account. The other websites are subscription-based but can be searched for free at a Family History Center near you. Try to search each partner site because their search engines can often bring up slightly different results.
  2. If it is difficult for you to get access to the subscription databases, next try Additional Nationwide Collections Not Included in Partner Sites. These websites have a lot of overlap with the subscription websites.
  3. Search a nationality, religious, or political group collection that applies to your ancestor.
  4. Search the state collection for the first state where your ancestor lived.
  5. Read Tracing Immigrant Origins to learn about many other records that substitute for immigration records.

Naturalization Records

  • Naturalization records may also list an ancestor’s birth place.
  • Prior to 1906 any U.S. court could naturalize foreigners. Many pre-1900 records only list “Italy” as the country of citizenship; however, there are notable exceptions, so these records should be checked routinely.
  • The process involved two sets of papers: a declaration of intention to become a U.S. citizen, and a petition filed some time later.
  • Beginning in 1906, naturalization records became more detailed, as the responsibility shifted to the Federal government.
  • More information about naturalization records, along with helpful links, is found at Beginning Research in United States Naturalization Records and United States Naturalization Online Genealogy Records.

Passport Applications