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How to do your own FREE
Italian Genealogy Research

Basic steps on how to find your Italian Ancestors Records and how to request Documents from the Historical Archives in Italy and the USA 
by Paula Nigro.

How to easily & freely find your Italian Ancestor Records.
The only payment required is for copies of the Government Records here and in Italy.  Eventually you may also want to make a donation to the Churches in Italy if you need to use their services and if there is someone on staff who can do lookups for you.  No payment or donation is "required" to have ''professionals'' mail your letters or write them for you because you can do it yourself.  You do NOT have to join an organization and pay monthly dues to work on your own family tree.  If you try your best to do your own genealogy research you will have fun and you will meet people who are researching ancestors in the same localities and then you can help each other.

START WITH YOURSELF and go backwards in time generation by generation.  Write down your name, your parents' names, your grandparents' names, your great-grandparents' names and anything else you know or can discover from relatives, including the names of the brothers and sisters of your parents, grandparents and so on.  Finding records on your ancestors' siblings (collateral lines) will help you document your Family Tree.  Write down everything you know or can find out about your ancestors especially significant dates of important events and places your ancestors lived...  You will need to PROVE your Family Legends and Colorful Stories using Primary Source Documents from Italy and from the places where your immigrant ancestors immigrated.

Elders are Gold Dust in Genealogical Research.  Visit, telephone or write all of your older relatives and ask them to help you fill in the blanks.  Ask them if they know of anyone who might have additional information.  Make sure to take notes and tape record the conversations if possible. Date each piece of information given to you &  write down who gave you the information. Keep in touch with them.

This is your most important step in Italian Genealogy Research:
   You must discover the exact place in Italy where your Italian ancestors were born. You need the name of the Italian comune (municipality, township) and Italian province.
       Your ancestors' last place of residence in Italy before they emigrated may NOT be where they were born.   

Once you find this valuable heritage information you will be able to gather your Italian Ancestry Documents from the correct municipality & province. Then you will be able to try to connect your Italian Family Tree (L'Albero di Famiglia) to living family (cugini and parenti) related to your exact Italian Branch.

Your Italian Ancestors' place of birth can be found on documents and records such as USA Immigration papers, Birth records, Marriage Records, Death Records, Census Records, Social Security Applications, Ellis Island or other Immigrant Ship Passenger Arrival Records, Naturalization Papers, Obituaries and some WWI and WWII draft cards. These documents are all very useful in discovering the birth place of your Italian immigrant ancestor. 

 -- P L E A S E --  don't make the mistake of thinking someone in a microfilm or an online family-tree with the same surname and birth year and even born in the same village as your ancestor is necessarily part of your direct-line family branch.

Discover How Easy It Is To Stay Organized Make it easier for yourself to hold on to your own Family Tree Information and easily pass it along to your relatives by using any of the free genealogy charts, family group sheets and extraction forms available on the Internet.  HERE on this site You will find a list of simple to understand, EASY to use basic genealogical documentation aids and organizational tools, including easy to use *PAF* Personal Ancestral File, on the Genealogy Record Keeping page of this website.
C L I C K  t h i s  l i n k:

The "Mormons" (Latter Day Saints) have filmed some of the Italian Civil Records for many of the comuni (municipalities) in Italy from about 1810 to 1860.  Some LDS microfilms go up to the 1900/1910s ...BUT many do NOT.  Therefore, if your ancestors, born in the 1880s & 1890s, came over as adults in the 1900s you will have a gap in the records.  GO in and talk to one of their genealogy volunteers.  Tell them you are starting to work on your family tree and that you would like to pick up their free genealogical forms and research guides. They have a *very* inexpensive guide to doing Italian Genealogy Research, an Italian Genealogy Work List and more.  

If you are home-bound and/or unable to drive to one of their centers these *Classic LDS Family History Guides* will help you very much.  If you keep them for future reference you can use them whether or not you have an internet connection and many lose their internet connections due to the economy or they are giving up computers, due to the constant push by heart-less companies to force everyone to upgrade their computers and programs constantly (planned obsolescence). Therefore, RIGHT CLICK and SAVE these classic .PDF info guides to your computer:

Family Search (connected to the LDS church "Mormons") has also placed some of their holdings online for FREE. You will find ACTUAL IMAGES of ''some'' of the records in Italy. In some cases, though not all, you can see these images by using your own home computer. Check them frequently for availability:

The Italian Archives in Italy (Archivi di Stati) in the process of putting some of the older (pre-1860) Italian Birth, Marriage and Death records Online
B R O W S E ~~the Digital Images of the civil records in the Italian State Archives for FREE.
           The following Italian Archives of State (Archivi di Stato) have these Historical Document IMAGES Online:
Archivi di Stato di  Agrigento,  Arezzo,  Ascoli Piceno,  Asti,  Bari,  Benevento,  Bergamo,  Brescia,  Caltanissetta,  Campobasso,  Catanzaro,  Como,  Cremona,  Cuneo,  Enna,  Firenze,  Forli,  Genova,  Grosseto,  Imperia,  Imperia,sezione di Ventimiglia,  Imperia,sezione San Remo,  L'Aquila,  Lucca,  Macerata,  Mantova,  Messina,  Modena,  Napoli,  Pesaro,  Pesaro-Urbino,sezione di Fano,  Pesaro,sezione di Urbino,  Pescara,  Potenza,  Prato,  Ragusa,  Reggio Calabria,  Rieti,  Roma,  Savona,  Taranto,  Torino,  Trapani,  Treviso,  Udine,  Venezia, Viterbo.

NEVER Trust an extract or a transcription of a document.
Please try your *best* to find and view the actual document, or a transmittal from Italy, not someone's *version* of the record. It is never in your best interest, genealogically speaking, to trust a transcription.  You need to see the actual record so you don't pass along incorrect information on your ancestors. I've even reviewed a transcription where the transcriber had a mother married to her son. So that made a big, scrambled mess for generations. In addition some transcribers cannot read the old type of writing.

Besides incorrect spelling on their extractions some people confuse the date of presentation of a birth to the Mayor (or other comune official) as the birth date. The birth date of the baby is found near the name of the mother. --LOOK at these examples:



Write to the Civil Record Offices in Italy to find your direct line immigrant ancestor's records when trying to fill in missing years.

Don't slurp up *MIS*information from online trees
This is a terrible problem that is happening all too frequently now due to the lack of accountability on the "anything goes online trees" ---

LINKS AS SOURCES: Dear People... In 5 or 10 years the links you added to your tree to prove you found some proof online will be gone. The online link where you found an image or transcription proving your ancestor's existence and dates of events is a publication link only and can soon become obsolete and meaningless.

However, IF you took good notes and have retained digital images, photocopies, or print-outs of the births, marriages, deaths, photos of tombstones, censuses, draft cards, property records, newspaper articles, etcetera, you will still have your proof and a link will show where you originally obtained your valuable information..

In addition, most of those publication links need to be abbreviated by removing the tracking scripts (most of those sites give you) and trimmed down to the exact record. Place the publication link into the “Publication Section" of each individual source note. Most good programs will have you cite Source, Author, Publication and Repository along with various options such as Citation Detail (volume, page number, etc.), Date of Entry, and Actual Text. It takes a little work and will last for generations and generations as good, competent, genealogy research.

LINKS CHANGE. The specific information you found does not. You will be wise to record the information by typing it into your personal family tree database.  I use PAF4 and highly recommend it.

Keep backup photocopies, printed images, digital images, etc. in your personal off-line files. A source is an image or excellent notes from something you have seen (like a family bible) that you have on file permanently and that you have typed into your notes for an individual. It should include the source author's name, the database location, the image number, and any other form of identification.

SAVE YOUR TREES on your own computer or in your own file folders and make copies of anything digital and burn to your own Cds and DVDs. Give them to relatives, keep them in a safe deposit box, whatever!! .

KEEP YOUR OWN Genealogy records using simple Genealogy Record Keeping Tools.

A computer "cloud" is NOT a magical place it's a data warehouse or warehouses with Servers (big computers) where you are renting space along with a bunch of other people ... They are big so they can hold millions and billions of people's stuff. Computer clouds waste huge amounts of energy, are wasteful and all the greens do is complain about incandescent light bulbs and other trivia when "Cloud" computing destroys the environment and eats up massive amounts of resources.

The word "Cloud" in the computer world is a MARKETING TOOL.  Computer "clouds" are vulnerable since outsourcing data storage increases the surface attack area. Even celebrities are waking up to that fact and deleting their "save it to the cloud" accounts.

Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak says the cloud is a nightmare.

So why even use one if you can avoid it?

Most of us are just regular people, rank and file, the good folk, so backup (save) all your research once a month. Make copies of your work on DVDs, or CDs, or other Hard-Drives, or even just print stuff out and put it in acid-free archival sheets.

Keep your work someplace safe and share with all your relatives.

The fastest and most fun way to find out more about your ancestors:
Find others interested in the Genealogy of Families from the same municipality, city, town, or village as your ancestor. You will have more fun and better results. Some are linked here: http://italiangenealogy.tripod.com

It doesn't matter if they share your surname. Genealogy researchers searching for ancestors that were from the same location as your ancestors and very important. The information from these types of location specific connections is very valuable.  Some researchers will know stories that will help you connect to fact.  Some might even help you get records from the Italian comune office or church if they are going there on a visit.  Some have films of Italian Vital Records for your comune of interest, which have been filmed by the Mormons, on permanent loan at their local LDS-Family History Center and they will do free lookups for you.  

F Y I ... most of the records filmed by the Mormons are also available by writing to:
the Italian Province Archives / Archivio di Stato in Italy / Italia. So if a connection finds your ancestor in one of the Registries of Birth, Marriage or Death then  you can write for a copy from Italy if it's too difficult to deal with the LDS Family History Centers due to location or if they are closed (unfortunately many are closing or cutting back hours and it is **sad** for genealogy researchers) OR if you do-not have a device that can access the familyseasrch site without paying lots of money to upgrade your computer or purchase a new one.
  I've also written to the Province Archive in Italy, just on a hunch, and have received records from them including copies of Italian Military Records such as the "registro di leva" not available online.

Use Italian Form Letters.
The Italian Provincial Archives are equipped to answer genealogy requests. Many have Italian genealogists on staff and all of them have certified Archivists who will do simple retrieval if you give them enough information. They charge a minimum for Shipping and Handling back to you. If you are requesting a lot of research they may not do it or they charge for genealogical research. If you send them a simple request for photocopies of a certain record of a certain individual then the charge is about 3 Euros for 2 photocopies, shipping and handling.

Ask for Corrections:
Once every year or so, "if" you have uncovered more information on your family tree research, print out copies and send to your relatives.  You don't have to send the entire thing... just the branch they are in.  Ask for corrections.  It's easier if they have computers because then you can simply upload your gedcom onto a relatively advert-free free server offering free web space and use it for your family tree history.  You will get better results and find more relatives if you make your genealogical information available online in such a way that your tree can be easily accessed without forcing potential relatives to go through a red-tape sign-up to view or even WORSE pay-to-view which Ancestry Permira Private Equity and others now require with 'their' family-trees,
which were given to them for FREE by their subscribers.

Don't limit your ability to easily connect to people from all over the world who are doing research on your comune of interest by locking and trapping yourself into a pass-worded or pay-to-view database. Having to give a company your Credit Card Information just to view a Family Tree that was GIVEN TO THEM FREELY is basically a Mafioso Extortion Racket.

The best and easiest online tree sites are those which can be viewed by all computers no matter what kind of operating system they are using and without requiring the user to allow scripts, activeX or JavaScript.  A perfect example was the classic R.I.P. GenCircles designed by Cliff Shaw that was purchased by MyHeritage. Unfortunately, myheritage recently took GenCircles offline to force people to go to THEIR JavaScript bloated trees. These bloated trees are what they and Ancestry-com ‘sell’ by enticing users to pay-to-view after slurping up trees from innocent users who had no idea this would happen. The old, classic, HTML FamilySearch trees WERE easily accessible by everyone in the world but not now. (RIP to them too) Use your search engine to find people who have put their own family trees online and also make use of the free space you get with your ISP connection or use a free website host and your own Gedcom to HTML Program... I use PAF5 for webpages and also GED4WEB. There are other good options too.

Upload your own family trees. It is not that difficult to learn. Be Pro-active. You can do it if you try. The first step is to TRY!!!

Most of the sign-in-to-view sites now require Java Script, which is slow to load, more difficult to read due to low contrast (grey backgrounds and grey thin type faces) wide screen movie viewing format and Worse is that some Java and other scripts can compromise computer security so I don't recommend them to anyone.

If you have family members with computers and you have learned to put your own research online, send your family members your family tree link asking if they will "proof-read" and send you corrections or more information. If they are "computer-free" like many of the senior-citizens who have given me terrific information, then snail-mail family group sheets to the individuals connected to each family group and ask them to please make corrections.  Send 2 copies; one for them to edit and one for them to keep.  It is easier for them if you visit or talk to them on the phone. Be sure to keep notes and dates on who gives you information in case you have questions in the future.  Try to find recorded, written documents to prove every genealogical (family legend) story. 

Find Written Proof:
After writing down or entering your basic family tree information in a genealogy program start to acquire copies of written proof in the form of civil or church documents to verify all of the family legends and interesting stories.  It is good to share "primary source" documents like Birth, Marriage, Death and Census Records, Military Records, Ships' Passenger Arrival Manifest, pictures of Grave or Tombstone Markers, Work Papers, Naturalization Papers, Land Records, World War I Draft Registration Cards, Wills, Deeds, and etc, with relatives who are also researching the same lines & who share with you.  Sharing with other family members also saves your work for posterity.  Sharing with your relatives is a good way to have a friendly backup in case any of your research is damaged, lost, hit by a hurricane, a flood, or whatever.

What is Proof vs. Legend?
A Primary Source is one that is proof positive that the person mentioned is the person you claim them to be.  Primary sources are documents that were created at the time an event occurred like a birth, marriage or death date being recorded at the time of the actual birth, marriage, or death.  A birth date on a death record is not a primary source it is a secondary source.  A Secondary Source is one that is not actually proven but gives you a good clue.  IMPORTANT NOTE: all Government and other 'official' records "may" still contain errors in spelling, dates, ages, and more.  This is why it's smart to get about 3 records minimum (or more) on each person if possible.  Most "Family Stories" or "Family Legends" contain a basic truth but are often "decorated" or contain misspellings or other problems of oral tradition.  Collect primary source records to prove the stories.

Where to Write for Vital Records in the United States:
Most USA States have archived birth, marriage, divorce and death records at their Office of Vital Records since the early 1900s & a few have them from about 1880.  Check this link: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/w2w.htm  If earlier records exist you would write to the County Recorder in the county where the event occurred. Contact the local City Hall where the event occurred as sometimes smaller cities & towns will provide you with copies from their office. 

Social Security Applications:
Generally,  the original Social Security Application will give your ancestor's place of birth and their parent's names including mother's maiden name.  You can easily find the SS# on your ancestor's Official State Death Notice.  The U.S. Social Security Death Indexes Online *rarely to never* have listing for people who died before 1962.  Also, they only have the names of those deceased persons who had a SS# and obtained benefits or whose survivors applied for benefits against the Social Security Number holder and then the Social Security Administration must move the name and number to the Death Index list.  Go to the USA Tools Page on this Italian Genealogy website for more information

"The U.S. National Archive and Records Administration" has a tremendous amount of information available for genealogy researchers.  They have sent me copies of Census Records, Naturalization Papers, Ships Manifests, Ships Pictures and more.  If you have enough factual data on your ancestors, simply email NARA and ask them to do a lookup.  If you have time, visit the NARA closest to you: https://www.archives.gov/locations

U.S.A. Records:
Go to our USA-Tools resources links page for more info on various USA Records such as the U.S. Census, Cemeteries and Death Indexes and more.  Everything you need in order to teach yourself to do Italian Family History Research or fundamental Genealogy Research can be found via our ItalianGenealogy Online homepage or linked to Genealogy Tools & Resources contents page.

Writing to Italy:
Read Steve Saviello's Tips: How to Research by Mail, What Italian Records are available, and which Archive in Italy has them: http://geocities.ws/paulanigro/italian-genealogy-online/saviello2.html  After you know exactly which comune (municipality) / comuni (municipalities) in Italy to write to, use any of the sample "Italian Genealogy Form Letters" you feel comfortable with, which are linked to the "Italian Genealogy Online - SITE MAP"
and the Italy Tools page:

  • In the yellow contents box near the top of the page click on:
    "ITALIAN FORM LETTERS - in English & Italian - How to write a letter to Italy" It is always good to check back and forth through the various Italian Form Letters and work up one of your own.  All the letters are in Italian with English underneath so you should be able to easily figure out how to proceed.  Simply change the names and dates given as examples by replacing them with your own family names and dates.

  • T I P:
    If you request an "estratto" from Italy you won't need much translation help after they send it to you as it is very self-explanatory.  Go to David's Italian Form Letters:  for an example of an Italian Form Letter requesting an estratto.  (estratti is plural).  Although usually you will find more details by requesting a photocopy of the actual record itself, the problem is often a comune will not photocopy the record for you. However the Province Archive (Archivio di Stato) will do photocopies..

Understanding and Translating Italian letters to and from Italy
If an Italian Archive sends you a copy of the original certificate in Italian, simply use the machine translator links, Latin and Italian Genealogy word lists listed on this site to help you understand the translation as most of the Civil Birth, Marriage and Death records are standard.  Besides helping you to get the "gist" of a translation the computerized translation links can help you to make *small* changes to Italian Form letters:  

Italian Form Letters to Send to Italy for Genealogical Information
It is best *never* to send a request letter to Italy written entirely by using a computer translation.  It will sound weird, funny or strange to them.  If you do not read & write Italian, (simple, grammar school level is okay) then the best way is to use the Italian Form Letter examples, which are found on various sites.  Most of the non-commercial self-help Italian Form Letters are linked to this website on the Italian Genealogy Help page: http://geocities.ws/paulanigro/italian-genealogy-online/italy_tools.html#italian.form.letters

Finding general location addresses for your letters to Italy
Use these links to find the Postal and Province code for the comune in Italy in which you are doing your research.  Type in the name of the comune (municipality) at the " ....la LOCALITŔ" section:
http://www.nonsolocap.it/   Double check it on the Official Italian Post Office Site:
http://www.poste.it/   Other helpful address and Italian comune look up links are on the handy, helpful "Italy Tools" page of this site

Use the Italian White Pages to do specific address lookups:
To look up the address of the town hall in the comune you are researching enter Municipio where it asks for Cognome.  Sometimes I have used the word Municipale instead if nothing comes up for municipio or comune, or comune di or whatever else you can think of.
http://www.paginebianche.it/ and/or

If you cannot find the exact address of the municipality / comune of your ancestors in the Italian White Pages *or* if there seem to be too many addresses to choose from... simply address it the way shown in Steve Saviello's Tips and the letter will go to the proper place because all you really need is:

    How to Address Your Request Letter
  • Name of Comune (Province Code)
    Vital Records Office
    Cap Code - Comune (Province optional)
    Italia  /  ITALY

    E x a m p l e:
  • Comune di Salerno (SA)
    Ufficio di Stato Civile
    84100 Salerno (SA)
    Italia  /  ITALY

You need to add ITALY at the bottom so that the Post Office does not become confused by the word Italia and return your letter to you as has happened to some people in the USA. I even had a teller at the post office ask me "where is Italia? what is it?" The teller next to her rolled his eyes and told her while I printed ITALY under the word Italia.

The Registry (Census) Office is = L'Ufficio Anagrafe.
The person in charge is the Officer of the Census is = L'Ufficiale di Anagrafe

The Office of Vital Records is = L'Ufficio di Stato Civile.
The person in charge is the Officer of the Civil Records is = L'Ufficiale di Stato Civile.

*It is not necessary to use the article "the" =  "L" in the address.  Lately I've been using "Anagrafe/Stato Civile"

Italian State Archives / Archivio di Stato
Use this to find the address of the Provincial Archives in Italy that handles the records for your comune of interest.  The Achivio di Stato will have copies of many of the Civil Records of the comune, which is where the Mormons filmed the ones they have and in addition sometimes the Italian Archives have more years in their files.  They also have copies of some of the Italian Military Records or generally speaking at least the "Liste di leva" from about 1842 - 1909 or later if you are lucky. I have seen some listing their Ufficio di Leva holdings as comprising as many years as 1792 -1926. To check other "Patrimonio Documentario" not available from the comuni or more easily available through the State Archives go to this link, find the province governing the your comune of your ancestors and read through their links:  http://archivi.beniculturali.it/  In addition the Archivi di Stato have an official Historical Archivista (historical archivist) on staff, 'kind of like' our US National Archives (NARA) except in Italy they do not have a National Archive only Province Archives.  

Catholic Church Address Lookups:
If you are searching for an Italian comune that starts with San or Santa and nothing shows up on the online searches and phone books then use only the initial S. followed by Fele or whatever is part of the rest of the name.  This link is generally reliable but always double-check everything as I have found mistakes in all the online lookups
Catholic Church links and Diocese lookups are on the Italy Genealogy Help page:

  • You can double-check your answers by doing "Church lookups" on the Italian Yellow Pages and also by doing an internet search for Chiesa and the name of your comune of interest:

  • On different days and for different churches I have found results by doing searches for - chiesa, chiesa cattolica, chiesa parrocchia, parrocchia and other variations. 

  • David Zerga recommended this phrase: Chiesa cattolica - servizi parrocchiali.  

  • For some reason all searches, on all days, do not get the same responses.  I have been getting results by simply using by using the Italian White Pages: http://www.paginebianche.it/ and entering parrocchia in the space under "Cognome" and the name of the town in the space under "Dove"

Search through our Italy Roots Forum Italian Genealogy Online Message Board and read what others have done to find & obtain records on their ancestors: (you don't need to post or join anything simply read through what others have shared as it will help you too).  http://disc.yourwebapps.com/Indices/104917.html

Italian Family History Sites:
Visit and learn from non-commercial, personal, Italian Family Tree Stories.  Many are listed on this list of Italian Ancestry Family Tree Genealogies.  The best will include Surname lists, Family Tree Charts and Pedigrees. Some may be researching Surnames from the same places in Italy your ancestors originated.  Be sure to contact them if they are researching a surname in your Family Tree and from your ancestors' town in Italy.  They are all Italian Genealogy Hobbyists and freely share what they have learned from researching their own Italian Roots:

Do not send money to Italy without asking first.
The comuni (municipalities), provincial archives, and parishes in Italy welcome your financial contributions to cover their overhead charges. However, do not send money to Italy without first writing the Italian archive to ask them for their fees. They don't require much and sometimes they will send a record free of charge or for less than $5.00 for the postage & handling of each document, so ask them first.  Pay Italy directly for your record requests, *after* they advise you personally of the cost.  It's less expensive than hiring professional genealogists and gives you the knowledge of how to help others with your experience in doing your own Italian Family Tree Research.

Best Regards,
Paula Nigro
Italian Genealogy Online

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