Sunday, November 9, 2014

Evaluating an Italian Death Record for Genealogical Clues

Below is a translated abstraction of a typical Italian death record.

“On 2 September 1847 at 2:00 p.m., there appeared in the Isnello town hall Rosario Conoscenti, age seventy, a peasant farmer, and resident of Isnello as well as Giovanni Paci, age sixty, a peasant farmer, and resident ‘here’.

They declared that today at noon Angela di Domenico died in her home. Angela was single, one month old, born in Isnello, a peasant farmer, and resident ‘here’. Her parents were the married couple Maestro Salvatore [di Domenico], a peasant farmer and resident of Isnello, as well as Rosolia d’Alù/d’Alò [?], a resident ‘here.’ Neither declarant was literate.”[1]

In many areas of Italy, the declarants on a civil death record were often unemployed neighbors of the deceased. Since declarants received a small fee, the deceased's family often chose an unemployed neighbor for this duty. In this way, they could help the person without it seeming like charity. Because of this practice, it is difficult to say whether the declarants really knew the family well or were just unemployed. These particular declarants were also illiterate so they could not verify that the information they gave was recorded correctly. The declarant's literacy is important to note because in genealogical research one must weight the strength of evidence, correlate it with other sources for the same fact, and come to a genealogical conclusion.

The record shows that the deceased was a one month old child, which intimates a July or August 1847 birthdate. She was single, a fact that was not really necessary to record since she was a baby. However, it was standard to include the marital status of the deceased within a the record. If the record was for a married adult, then the spouse's name would be given. 

They stated the deceased's age and place of birth, all key information useful in tracking down her birth record. Additionally, they note that she was a peasant farmer. The occupation of the father is automatically inserted in the death record of a child. Occupations can intimate the social class of the family.

The father is given the title Maestro, often indicative of someone who is the master of a trade. It's not  usually seen when talking about a farmer, the occupation given for this ancestor. I would evaluate other records for Salvatore Di Domenico to see what titles he was given and when. It might also be wise to look at several records surrounding this one to see if all men were given this title. I have seen some civil officials give any male this title, no matter their social class or occupation.

The parents were noted to be a married couple. Therefore, a researcher should focus research for their marriage record prior to that year.

The translation of the mother's surname is uncertain and should be indicated as such within the translation. After checking current Italian white pages for distribution of these surname variants, one sees that both spellings are still found in Sicily, none are in the town of Isnello, but d’Alù is found closer to this locality.

As you can see, there is also more to a record then what is obvious at first glance. As genealogists we should approach any document with an analytical mindset, looking for clues that could help us extend the lineage of the ancestor at hand.

[1] Isnello, Palermo Province, Italy, “Registro di Atti di Nascita [Register of Acts of Birth], 1847”: record 41, death record of Angela di Domenico; Family History Library microfilm #1,618,345.