Tips for Italian genealogy reserach

How to learn the name of the ancestral town

There are many sources for the name of the ancestral town. Sometimes a Catholic church sacramental register provides the name, where the form says, ex loco, but often the space is blank. Some churches recorded it, while others did not. Draft registration cards asked for it, and many of these are available at no cost on Family Search, a free website operated by the Mormon Church. Some ship manifests had the name of the home town in Italy for each passenger.

A valuable tip is: Remember that your immigrant ancestor’s siblings most likely came from the same town. If the siblings are revealed in an obituary or death notice, you can check for their records. If your immigrant ancestor had a niece who generated a marriage record, whether a church record or a civil record, naming her parents and their birthplaces, you may have the answer.

The value of marriage processetti and pubblicazioni

A marriage processo is a package of documents that establish that a marriage is lawful. The processetti typically include copies of the birth records of the groom and bride, or their baptismal records, if they were born before civil birth records were made. They also include copies of the death record of any prior spouse, to document that the previous marriage ended. Since they need to document that the fathers (and sometimes the mothers) are present and consenting, if living, many processetti have copies death records of the deceased parents. If the father was deceased, the consent of the paternal grandfather was required, unless he was also deceased, so many processetti have these death records as well.

Sometimes the processo contains the death record of the wrong person, somebody with a similar name. Often you can tell by the names of the parents and spouse of the father, that the correct paternal grandfather’s record was selected.

The records in a processo are copies of other records, which may be available on line as well, and the copy in the processo provides the information that makes it easy to find the original. When documenting your line, cite both sources.

There are gaps in the records for some comuni, and if your ancestor was born during a year where the birth record is not on line, the copy in a marriage processo provides a suitable substitute. When citing the source, be sure you mention you used a copy in a processo.

Pubblicazzioni are announcements that the two persons are about to get married. These invite any objection to be made before the wedding starts. I found a pubblicazione of an ancestor’s out-of-town wedding. It announced to the people of Potenza (PZ) that Angelo Sangregorio of Potenza (PZ) was about to marry Maria Casaletto of Tolve (PZ). This revealed where the bride was from, allowing me to find the marriage record in the Tolve records, and I traced her line back two more generations. Since the publicazzioni (or notificazioni) are not indexed, browsing is required.

Beware of wrong emigrant birth dates.

Same as many Italians crossed the Atlantic unable to read and write, others had only a vague memory of their dates of birth, so the date they gave for their draft or social security card may be the same day and month but the wrong year.

How to zig-zag across the 1809 start date

In many comuni, the records begin with 1809, but these contain references to persons living long before then. It is possible your ancestors’ church records may be available in FamilySearch as well.

Go to FamilySearch, log in (you need a free account) and then click the SEARCH menu, then RECORDS. Find SEARCH BY PLACE and click on the world map. This takes you to a larger world map. Click the land mass that contains continental Europe. (The shortcut is here.) Scroll down to CATALOG MATERIAL and click SEE ALL CATALOG MATERIAL. This brings up onl those entries that cover all of Italy, not those that are for a specific place. Under REFINE YOUR SEARCH, replace "Italy" with the full place, backwards, such as "Italy, Salerno, Castelcivita" for the comune of Castelcivita. Consider yourself very fortunate if your ancestral church records are available.

Suppose a person died in 1809, and the death record says she was 80 years old, giving the names of her husband and parents. Most records for persons that old are less complete, but you have just found a record saying she was born about 1729, and giving her parents' names. They may have been born in 1699. Their marriage record and her baptismal record may be available in the church records. The death record connects the generations, and anybody else descended from the parents named on that death record are connected to your family tree.

While a majority of church records are unavailable on line, the marriage processetti often contain transcriptions of church records for births and deaths happening before 1809. These may be written summaries in Italian or verbatim transcriptions of the Latin. Remember, though, that the wrong record may have been selected by the priest. It may be the record of a different person with a similar name.

The church records going back into the 16th century would be much more valuable if the marriage records contained the names of the parents of the groom and bride, but few do, if any. There is nothing connecting the generations.

Add your records to Family Tree

One of the rewarding things in genealogy is discovering “new” cousins, by connecting your lines with those of other researchers. With a free FamilySearch account, you can add information as you acquire it. You may find that the ancestor you are entering is already in Family Tree, but be careful because it could be a different person with a similar name. Even the names of husband and wife are not enough because there are couples with the same names. Before changing anything in Family Tree, make certain that you are dealing with the same person, that the parents and dates match. This cannot be emphasized enough. You can upload your GEDCOM file as a genealogy, but Family Tree requires individual entry, which helps because you are likely to catch errors as you enter names and dates. Merging two persons is a complicated process and beginners should avoid it unless you are being supervised by a more experienced user. One option is to message the other submitter and ask first. Do not merge your Giovanni Russo with another Giovanni Russo if they were born in different towns, to different parents or on different dates.

If you add your GEDCOM file as a genealogy, other users cannot change your incorrect information. Then again, they cannot change your correct information and replace it with wrong information. One drawback to Family Tree is that another user can replace your correct information with wrong information or merge two persons who are distinct.

Organize all the records of the comune.

If your goal is to document the descendants of your ancestors, you may find yourself doing a lot of browsing, over the same records multiple times. You may help yourself, and likely other researchers, by processing all the records of the comune. Start with the most recent records available, because these are the most readable. You will recognize the same surnames as you go back to records that are less readable. Start with the marriage records, because these connect the generations by proving the names of the groom and bride and their parents. The ages of the groom and bride provide approximate birth dates, which can be replaced later by exact dates when you process the birth records.

If you start with the 1910 marriages and go back, you will find the parents’ marriage records while you are in the 1880’s marriage records. This way, you build the framework on which to build the birth and death records, including the ones that did not marry in that comune.

Organizing the records of the comune will likely help you find you persons who emigrated to Colorado, Chicago, New York or Boston. Some may be descendants of your ancestors, and others will be ancestors of another researcher.

Too busy to browse all the records of your ancestral comune?

If you are too busy running a successful business, you may be able to leave a valuable legacy by hiring somebody to do the work for you. I am looking for a client who can afford to hire me for this work. Please contact Tom Alciere by email at

I look forward to making a lot of genealogy records readily accessible on FamilySearch while providing you with the GEDCOM files.