Sunday, November 24, 2013

Civil Records of Northwestern Italy

The civil records available for this area of Italy through FamilySearch can be random and unpredictable.  They certainly are not currently as abundant as those from southern Italy and Sicily.

Some of this has to do with the inconsistency of how civil registration was kept in this area and access to records in the initial microfilming process.

I wanted to highlight a record set for this area, found within FamilySearch's catalog.

Estratti dei nati, notificazioni, e morti per varie regioni nel nord-ovest di Italia (Extracts of birth records, marriage banns, and death records for various regions in northwestern Italy)

The towns included are:

Imperia province - Borghetta di Arroschia, Dolceacqua, Camporosso, Isolabona, Pontedassio,Triora, San Remo, Ventimiglia

Cuneo province - Demonte, Roccavione, Limone Piemonte

Torino province - Lanzo Torinese

Novara province - Briga Novarise

Bergamo province - Carona

The records are in Italian and French and can be found on microfilm 1,075,768, Item 3.  A future post will discuss a few records from this record set.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Italian Immigration to Philadelphia

A good source to understand this topic is the journal article "Aspects of Italian Immigration to Philadelphia" by Joan Younger Dickinson.  It was published in The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 90, No. 4, October 1966, pp. 445-465.

You can purchase it from JSTOR at

Can we find useful genealogical information in a journal article like this?  Here are a few subjects covered in this article that I think would be helpful for those researching Italians from this city.

1.  The names and opening years of the first Italian parishes in the city.  Helpful to determine which parish your ancestor might have attended.

2.  Where in the city and surrounding areas they congregated.

3.  Immigration waves and provinces of origin.

4.  Information on fraternal and other organizations whose goal it was to help Italians get established.

5.  A frank discussion on the padroni system.

6.  Information on living conditions.

7.  Occupational percentages.

8.  Citations pointing to other valuable sources of information.

These are but a few of the valuable subjects in this article and I encourage you to purchase and read it, even if your ancestors settled in a different part of the country.  Some of the information is universally useful, such as that on the immigration waves.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Online Database of Available Ecclesiastical Records - La Memoria Dei Sacramenti

An exciting new initiative is making Italian ecclesiastical records more easily available and found.  The website is called La Memoria dei Sacramenti and is an interdiocese initiative to preserve these records and record where the original records can be found. 

This is not a digitization project but rather a portal through which to find what records are available for a particular parish, gain permission to research the records on-site, or through which to order extracts, certified copies, or digital images of the documents.  Additionally, each one of the registers will be indexed by name and you can perform a search of the database for your ancestor's records.

The website also provides a means of searching for parishes and civil jurisdictions (pre-1901) by the name of a particular town which may help you narrow down what parishes may need to be searched.

Still in the beginning stages, there is much work to do.  Currently, five regions have records within their database:
  • Liguria (currently only the province of Genova)
  • Sicilia (currently only the province of Enna)
  • Toscana (currently the provinces of Arezzo, Firenze, Grosseto, Livorno, Pisa, and Siena)
  • Sardegna (currently only the province of Cagliari)
  • Veneto (currently only the province of Vicenza)
Happy searching!!!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Annotations in the Margins of Italian Civil Birth Records

We often see annotations in the margins of civil birth records.  These annotations record the child's death and/or marriage.  Did you ever wonder how or if the second original set of these records were annotated?  This second set is held in the Tribunale or District Court for 70 years, then transferred to the Archivio di Stato of the applicable province.

The records of Santeramo in Colle, found on FamilySearch, provides a unique glimpse into the process.  Within their records they have a set of records they titled "Annotazioni di Morti 1866-1900" or Annotations of Death for the years 1866-1900.  These records show the document that the town civil record's office sent to the Tribunale.  From this record you can get not only the person's death date but often their birth date and/or the year and record number of the birth record.  The image below shows the request for annotation of death for a person born in Santeramo in Colle who died in the town of Acquaviva Delle Fonti.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Order Sons of Italy Death Benefit Enrollment Cards

The image below shows how much information about an ancestor can be derived from this resource:

The deceased was Lauranna [?] Teresa Cerminara who was a member of the Figli della Liberti Lodge.  She was the daughter of the deceased Antonino Cerminara and was forty-nine years old at her death on 18 October 1977.  She was part of the family of Giuseppe Cerminara (likely her husband), age fifty.

These records are available via

Birth Records in Trentino, Italy

There is a new website where a database of the birth records of Trentino, Italy are being posted.  It is still under construction but the project is exciting and will be very useful to those with ancestors from this town. 

Between 1815-1923, the parishes of this town kept the birth registers.  These records are what is being used for this project.  Versions of this webpage are available in Italian, English, Portuguese, Spanish, and others.

I've included a link to the project below!

Nati in Trentino - 1815-1923

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Act of Birth on a Sea Voyage

While working in the region of Calabria, I found a new civil document I had never seen before, an Act of Birth on a Sea Voyage.  There isn't much to the pre-printed portion of the document as they left a very large section in the middle open to write in the specifics of the birth.

Malvito, the town where this record was found, is quite some distance from the sea.  Therefore, why this type of record was necessary is interesting.  Perhaps that is a question for those who have studied the history of this town or region.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Inheritance by Marianne Perry

There is a new historical romance novel set in southern Italy in the region of Calabria.  The author, Marianne Perry, is a genealogist and writer and was kind enough to provide a few words about her book and the impetus behind it.

"Discovering my ancestors’ stories matters to me and my paternal grandmother, Caterina Spagnuolo Andreoli Perri, was my genealogical research starting point.
Mystery shrouded my grandmother’s early life. She was born in Calabria, southern Italy and immigrated to Canada as a young unmarried woman in 1913. Why had her parents not emigrated with her? What was her family history? What had life been like in Calabria? Why had she left? I began seeking answers to these questions and the compelling facts I unearthed inspired me to write The Inheritance.
The Inheritance is a historical romance set in Calabria from 1897 to 1913; the years my grandmother lived in the region. The land was subject to earthquakes, superstition clashed with religion and a rigid class system ruled the people. The Inheritance tells the story of an atypical woman rejecting social norms, a priest seeking redemption and a family disintegrating from conflicting loyalties.
The Inheritance is not a recount of my grandmother’s early life but genealogical research did help me craft an authentic tale that explores many of the issues she may have indeed confronted. For this reason, I named the heroine, Caterina, in her honor."
I am looking forward to reading this novel, copies of which can be purchased on her website or through several other means.  See her website for full details.  Let's support this artistic creation by one of our own.

The Microfilmed Records are Damaged - What do I do?

The image above is an example of a damaged record from the town of Malvito in the Cosenza province.  Precious little is visible.  I can see it is a transcribed birth record, meaning that the original had been damaged before and they had to reconstruct the documents. 
If you feel you have the correct document, your first step would be to pull what information is visible from the document.  This child was named Filomena [unknown surname], was born in May of 1864, and her birth occurred "today."  Filomena married in Malvito in 1904, knowledge of which is due to the marriage notation, written sideways in the margin, which is partially visible.  I know from what microfilm I was using that the birth occurred in the town of Malvito.  
The Italian civil records that you will find on microfilm were microfilmed at the Archivio di Stato [provincial archives] and is the copy that originally was held in the Tribunale [district court].  A second copy of these documents were made and are kept in the town's Stato Civile [civil record's] office. 


Most times these offices won't give you a photocopy of the document, but rather will provide an extract or certified copy.  However, if you tell them the other copy is damaged (or you go to their office or send someone on-site) they are more apt to make exceptions.  

Monday, April 29, 2013

Double Surnames - Tracking the Changes

Double surnames for Italian ancestors can be an evolving thing.  They are often seen on just some of a families' records and not others.  One family I worked on in Sicily had four variations of their surname: Alberti, Aliberti, Pompa, and Alberti Pompa.

The intent with double surnames was to differentiate between several families in a town that had the same surname, yet were not related in any way.  Most times the base surname will be found last, but it can also be reversed.

In the town of Marano di Napoli, I found five families with the same base surname.  In working with double surnames, this seems like an unusually high number for a single town.

Carandente Giarrusso
Carandente Escole
Carandente Perreca [SP?]
Carandente Sieco [SP?]

Be careful as you work with the records of these ancestors.  Track the changes carefully to make sure you don't climb the wrong family tree!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

FamilySearch Adds New Italian Records!

On their blog, FamilySearch announced today that thousands of new document images have been added to their collection.  They aren't indexed but they are available to page through!

Italy, Benevento, Benevento, Civil Registration (Comune), 1861-1929031,541Added images to an existing collection.
Italy, Catania, Diocesi di Caltagirone, Catholic Church Records, 1502-19420554,541Added images to an existing collection.
Italy, Napoli, Barano d’Ischia, Parocchia de San Sebastiano Martire, Catholic Church Records, 1671-192903,182Added images to an existing collection.
Italy, Napoli, Panza, Parocchia di San Leonardo Abate, Catholic Church Records, 1670-192902,127Added images to an existing collection.

Friday, February 8, 2013

I Have the Estratto [Extracted Record]. I Don't Need the Original!

Oh, how wrong genealogists are when they say this.  I had a case recently which demonstrates why, if the records are available, one should always research for a image copy of the original record.

An extract of the birth record of Michelino Nania was ordered from the civil record's office in Catanzaro.  It provided the following information.

Name:  Michelino Nania

Record Number: 9 in Part II of the 1889 birth registers

Born: 16 January 1889 in Catanzaro

Parents: Carlo Nania and Grazia Di Barbieri

Annotations:  There were no annotations in the margin of the original record.

However, his original birth record told a different story.  The search for Michelino Nania’s original birth record took a fascinating turn.  Michelino was actually born out-of-wedlock and initially abandoned by his natural parents.  At the time of his birth and abandonment, the civil official gave him the name Michelino Macretta.  Later on, both parents recognized him and he would have then taken his father’s surname.  However, the original birth record is not usually altered except for noting these changes in the margin or by attaching additional paperwork. 

It is interesting that the civil official in Catanzaro actually noted that there were no annotations on the original record.  Perhaps there were none on his copy.  However, the copy in the provincial archives, which was microfilmed, did indeed have annotations, as well as an attached Act of Amendment.  Two copies of these documents/registers are made.  One copy stays in the town hall and the other goes to the District Court [Tribunale] for seventy years, at which time they are transferred to the provincial archives [Archivio di Stato] for preservation.
I have abstracted and translated the genealogically pertinent portions below.  (Used with permission)

Birth Record of Michelino Macretta (later Nania)

[Act] Number 9

Michelino Macretta

            On 16 January 1889 at 9:06 a.m., in the town hall of Catanzaro, there appeared Severina Ingrami, age forty, the “aunt/caretaker of abandoned children”, and a resident of Catanzaro.  She declared that the male child she was presenting was found on the “ruota”[1] at 6 Nazionale Street, near the hospital, at 4:00 a.m. that same day.  The child was “recently born, wrapped in cloth, and without signs on the body.”[2]  The parents of the child are declared to be unknown and he was then given the name Michelino Macretta by the civil record’s official. 
            Witnesses to the presentation of the child were: Sebastiano Trioso [?], age sixty-eight, and a cobbler as well as Giuseppe Ranieri, age seventy-five, and a cobbler.  Both of the witnesses resided in Catanzaro.  Neither the declarant, Saverina Ingrami, nor the witnesses were literate.
            There are two annotations in the margin of his birth record.  The first notation reads: “On 8 March 1891, before the notary Giuseppe Scalfari, this male child of Grazia Barbieri, daughter of the living Giuseppe Barbieri, was hereby recognized as her natural-born child. The record number of the notarial act may be 6/5 96 [it isn’t clear].” 
            The second annotation reads: “By act of the notary Gerardo Giordano, son of Fosseto [?], dated the first of February [illegible year], this male child of Carlo Nania, son of the deceased Raffaele Nania, was hereby recognized to be his natural-born child.  The number of the notarial act is likely 13/3808.
            The second page is the civil act of annotation[3], prepared by the civil record’s office on a generic amendment form, with the approval of the district court [Tribunale] indicated.  The act number is 189.  By act dated 20 March 1891 by the notary Giuseppe Scalfari a male child is hereby recognized by Grazia Barbieri, daughter of Giuseppe Barbieri, who is from the town of Fossato.  This annotation was transcribed onto the birth act of Michelino Macretta in the register for the year 1889, number “S.P” [Secondo Parte – Second Part].  The District Court approved said annotation on 31 March “91” [1891].

[1] A stone wheel built within a wall that rotates the child inside a building or walled enclosure.  The mother would then ring a bell placed outside so that the arrival of the infant could be announced.  These wheels were meant to encourage anonymous abandonment and to discourage infanticide.

[2] Sometimes a piece of jewelry, a torn picture of the Madonna, a lock of the mother’s hair, etc. was left with the child so that, if the mother ever wished to reclaim him, it would help in the identification of which child was hers.  They took pains to described exactly what was left and how the child was dressed within the document.  Michelino’s mother did not leave anything, likely indicative of the fact that she did not anticipate being able to reclaim him.

[3] This document is quite rare to find still attached to the original record.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Il Comparatico - Godparenthood

Godparents played a vital role in the Italian family.  One thing that is not usually found in social studies is the fact that normally there were two sets of godparents for a child.  The first set was for birth/baptism, the second for confirmation.  Therefore, any one child could have up to four other adults to turn to if they lost their parents  This is often why you will see an orphaned child absorbed into a related family.  Either the head of household or the wife was likely the child's godparent, perhaps both of them.

Civil records show that not all children were given two godparents at birth.  However, there were nearly always two for baptism, a testament to this custom's importance.  Poorer families often chose a wealthy member of society, even if not a relative, in the hopes that the child would be provided for were they to die before the child reached its majority. 

When a couple was engaged they decided on who would be the witnesses to their marriage.  This decision had double meaning because the witnesses automatically became the godparents to their first child.  Some superstitions spoke of the child inheriting certains traits, physical appearance or personality, from their godparents. 

In general, a brother of the man and a sister of the woman were usually chosen for the baptismal godparent roles.  In studying the records of many families, I have found this lasted for the first two or three children, then they began to spread out the responsibility.  Godparents were afforded respect and acted in parental roles with the child even while the parents were still living.

Immigrating Italians brought these traditions with them.  You can still see this practice in some form within Italian American families today.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Working with Damaged Records

The death record below is a good example of an Italian record where ink bleed-through and blotting made the translation of the document more difficult.  Unfortunately, this is all too common.

I have abstracted all legible and/or genealogically pertinent information in the record below.  Anything in square brackets are my insertions.  See if you can follow my translation.  It is only through practice with multiple records that the translation process will become easier.

Death Record of Teresa d'Annista

The record was number 103 on page 53 of the 1826 of birth register  of Polizzi [Generosa, Italy].  Teresa's death was reported to the Polizzi town hall on 16 September 1826 at 3:00 p.m.  Reporting her death was Mariano Virga, age forty, a peasant farmer, who resides in the [? quarter of] San Giovanni as well as Domenico Barrano, age thirty, a peasant farmer, who resides in the quarter of Santa Maria Maggiore [near the Mother Church].

They hereby declared that on the 16th day of September of the current year Teresa d'Annista died in her home at the age of three months and ten days.  Teresa was born in Polizzi, was a servant, and resided in the quarter of Sant'Orsola.  She was the daughter of the deceased Bartolomeo [d'Annista] and Angela Indova___ [?] , a married couple who resided in the same [in the quarter of Sant'Orsola.  Note that this child was given the same occupation her father held before his death.]  Neither of the witnesses were literate.