Sunday, April 22, 2012

Understanding Your Itaiian Ancestors - Part I

There comes a time, when researching your Italian ancestors, where you  realize you will need to seek educational sources in order to more fully understand the lives that your ancestors left behind and why they left.  Family history is more than a bunch of names and dates on a chart.  Digging into historical books and scholarly offerings can really help you to understand their lives.

One scholar that stands out in researching Italians is David I. Kertzer.  He has written several books on a multitude of subjects and written many articles for different scholarly journals.  Use WorldCat to find some of the articles and order them through your local library.

One article I read years ago was published in 1985 in the journal Social Science History.  Written by David I. Kertzer and Dennis P. Hogan, the article is titled "On the Move: Migration in an Italian Community, 1865-1921".  There are a  several interesting parts of this article that furthered my understanding of the Italian culture.  The quote below is taken from this article.

Within the agricultural peasant class, one often sees families moving between a home in a larger city and a farmhouse in the country.  Sometimes there are citizenship (cittadinanza) records that are available by microfilm but these do not usually contain non-permanent moves.  How then does one research these moves?

"The possibility of obtaining a longitudinal view of migration behavior over the life course of individuals in nineteenth-centry Italy is afforded by the population register....a population register system was only mandated nationally with the emergence of the Post-Unification government in the 1860's ...Each commune was to undetake a census of its population and, on the basis of that census, it was to follow all changes in its population brought about by immigration, emigration, internal population movement [emphasis added], births, marriages, and deaths."

Here then we see that using the population registers would perhaps be the most direct way to track such migrations.  These types of registers were called Stato di Famiglia in some places and their survival rate is not high.  Some civil record's officals know what you are talking about when you ask for them and some don't.  Several civil record's offices in Italy that I visited last summer said that the old population registers [pre-1900] were destroyed with the onset of regular country-wide censuses.  One office, after telling me they were destroyed, remembered that they had been stowed in a back cabinet and pulled out a six-inch high stack of loose register pages for me to go through.  While the information was crossed out as they transferred the information to the 1900 census, I was still able to glean valuable information from these Stato di Famiglia records for my client.

More information will follow in future posts...