Ancestry.com

Getting Started With Italian Genealogy

The process of finding your Italian roots can be one of the most rewarding endeavors of your life.  You will learn something about yourself each time you connect with your native birthright. You will see how each Italian-American embodies a piece of the Italian past that is particularly their own. That is why the journey is so intriguing. You realize that you are descended from one of the greatest civilizations and cultures of all time. You rightly feel proud of the countless contributions made by Italians to society. From engineering and science, to law and literature, to art and music, to philosophy and finance, to polemics and theology, Italians have shaped the very essence of the western world. Every aspect of modern life has been influenced in some way by the insightful and creative genius that is so much an integral part of the Italian people. It is who we are.

Panorama of the author's grandmother's hometown of Rovereto, Italy.

Panorama of the author’s grandmother’s hometown of Rovereto, Italy. (Click to enlarge)

Beginning with the research of my own Italian family history in 2006, I turned right away to Ancestry.com.  The effort resulted in the successful location of my Italian grandparents’ passenger lists.  My paternal grandfather arrived in New York in 1929; my grandmother came later in 1946.  (Wow! How great is that?)  I felt an immediate connection with my heritage.  I wanted to learn more.  So I dove headlong into an impassioned pursuit of my Italian roots—a pursuit that has become my avocation.  I now trek all over Italy tracing the Italian family histories of clients as well as my own family.  It is an enchanting career that gives me a wonderful feeling of purpose. I am so fortunate to be doing what I really love to do—genealogical and historical research and problem solving in Italy.

Over the years, Ancestry has continued to add valuable collections essential for pursuing Italian roots.  As a professional Italian genealogist, I always begin my client project research with Ancestry.com.

Creating and storing your Italian family tree

In the beginning stages of documenting your Italian family history, it is essential to set up a reliable way to keep track of your growing family tree.  Before doing anything else, I recommend putting all the information you know to be true in a family tree.  Ancestry.com offers several solutions for storing your family tree data:

  1. Create your tree directly on the Ancestry.com website: http://trees.ancestry.com/tree.  Click on “Create a new tree.”  You have the option of creating a public or private tree to house your family data.  Ancestry also has a fantastic mobile app for your tablet or smartphone that allows you to take your family tree with you anywhere.
  2. Family Tree Maker (http://www.familytreemaker.com) is a versatile and useful tool that allows you to link your family tree directly to Ancestry.com.  With Family Tree Maker, you can also save your tree directly to your computer.

    View of the Fountain of Neptune in Piazza della Signoria. Florence, Italy.

    View of the Fountain of Neptune in Piazza della Signoria. Florence, Italy. (Click to enlarge)

Interviewing family members for information

Once you have created a family tree based on the information you already know, the next step is to begin interviewing family members to find out additional family details.  I recommend talking with older relatives first since they may have knowledge of your family’s ancestral town in Italy and other important details.  In some Italian-American families, the key to locating your ancestral town is to ask!

Here are some good questions to ask when interviewing relatives:

  • “When did grandpa, grandma, etc immigrate to the USA?”
  • “Do you remember the name of the town in Italy our family came from?”
  • “Do we still have living relatives in Italy?”
  • “Do you have any old family documents, like letters, passports, or military papers?”
  • “Do you remember the names [first and last] of your grandparents and/or great grandparents?”

Locating your Italian ancestral town using Ancestry.com

Finding your Italian ancestral town or towns is a central piece of successfully continuing your Italian family history research.  For some families, grandpa or grandma’s hometown is common knowledge, for other it takes hours or even years of diligent research.  The most important thing to remember is never to lose sight of your goal to locate your ancestral town.  The task may seem impossible, but when broken down into manageable steps it becomes achievable.

Knowledge of your Italian ancestral town is essential to beginning your research using Italian records created in Italy.  Knowing the region or province of your ancestor’s birth is a great start, but the exact ancestral town is needed to proceed effectively.  Fortunately, Ancestry.com offers many collections essential to locating your ancestor’s hometown in Italy. Here are few collections on Ancestry that I recommend consulting first in your quest for your Italian ancestral town:

One of Florence, Italy's most famous churches: the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.

One of Florence, Italy’s most famous churches: the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. (Click to enlarge)

Italian First and Last Names

Although your ancestor’s name was not changed at Ellis Island, as the popular myth suggests, it is entirely possible your ancestors began using different first and/or last name after arriving in the United States.  When searching, keep an open mind about names.  Giuseppe may have become Joe or Joseph; Francesca sometimes became Frances; and Vincenzo could be listed on records as Vinny, Vincent or Enzo to name a few.

Spelling is also variable to some extent.  Italian first and last names sometimes lost or added letters, took on Americanized spellings or changed entirely.  Bevilacqua sometimes became Drinkwater and Martino could have become Martin.  Arriving at your ancestors’ original first and last names is also essential to continuing your research into Italian records.

It is also important to remember that because an Italian name is rare in the USA, doesn’t mean that it is also uncommon in Italy.  For example, if your great grandfather was the only Giuseppe Esposito on Main Street in Woburn, Massachusetts USA in 1920, it doesn’t mean he was the only Giuseppe Esposito born in the Province of Naples between 1885 and 1890.

Italian Birth, Marriage and Death Records on Ancestry.com

There are actual Italian records on Ancestry.com?  YES!  Ancestry.com has digitized Italian Civil Birth, Marriage, and Death records and indexes from a select number of Italian provinces, towns and cities.  In order to utilize these records, knowing your ancestral hometown and ancestors’ original name are essential.

The Trevi Fountain is a sight not to be missed in Rome, Italy

The Trevi Fountain is a sight not to be missed in Rome, Italy. (Click to enlarge)

Additional digitized Italian records are available on the FamilySearch website.

 

But the Records are in ITALIAN!  What Do I Do?

Yes, of course, Italian records are in Italian (or Latin in the case of Italian Catholic Church records).  It is noted that many 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generation Italian-Americans do not speak Italian, but don’t let this hinder your research.  Purchase an Italian dictionary, utilize online translation tools, hire a translator, but please don’t let the language of your ancestors stop you from pursuing your Italian roots!

 

I Can’t Read Italian Handwriting!

Who said something as rewarding as Italian genealogy was supposed to be easy 100% of the time?  The best way to learn how to read Italian handwriting is to look carefully at a lot of records and try transcribing [writing out word for word] the records of your family.  Transcribing the records first also makes it much easier to translate them.

Additional Italian Genealogical Resources on Ancestry.com:

Suggested Reading for Italian Family History & Genealogy

Trento, Italy's Piazza del Duomo is breathtakingly beautiful.

Trento, Italy’s Piazza del Duomo is breathtakingly beautiful. (Click to enlarge)

Italian American History & Culture

  • La Storia: Five Centuries of the Italian American Experience by Jerre Mangione & Ben Morreale
  • The Journey of the Italians in America by Vincenza Scarpaci and Gary R. Mormino

Italian History & Culture

  • A History of Italian Law, Vol. 1 & Vol. 2 by Carlo Calisse
  • The Italians by Luigi Barzini
  • The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, Its Regions and Their Peoples by David Gilmour

Italian & Latin Language

  • Bantam New College Italian/English Dictionary by Robert C. Melzi
  • 501 Italian Verbs by John Colaneri, Vincent Luciani and Marcel Danesi
  • Ciao! [Italian language textbook] by Carla Federici and Carla Larese Riga
  • Dictionary of Ecclesiastical Latin: With an Appendix of Latin Expressions Defined and Clarified by Leo F. Stelten
  • A Primer of Ecclesiastical Latin by John F. Collins

As you can tell, there exists a robust gamut of resources that will help propel you into the exquisite core of your profound Italian ethnicity. When you are reconnected with your ancestral roots, you will realize that you are the living personification of our wonderful heritage.  You will understand why Italians are truly special people. Enjoy the ride!

 

 

About Mary Tedesco
Mary M. Tedesco is the founder of ORIGINS ITALY, a firm specializing in Italian and Italian-American family history research. She speaks fluent Italian and travels often to Italy where she conducts genealogical and historical research and visits family. Mary holds a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics from Boston University and a Certificate in Genealogical Research from Boston University's Center for Professional Education. She is on the board of directors of the Massachusetts Genealogical Council and is also a member of number of local and national genealogical societies. Her favorite destination on Friday afternoons (besides Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester, MA USA) is Massachusetts Vital Records! Mary can be contacted via the ORIGINS ITALY website at www.originsitaly.com.

6 comments

Comments
1 stringbeanannieOctober 17, 2013 at 7:41 pm

Well … now I am a happy camper! Just received the new DNA updates, and have been researching, etc. all day! Thank you so very much. Also, I have just opened and bookmarked the Italian research information page, which will be extremely helpful to me. My husband’s family came from Sicily, Italy … and, I have found that some of my Great Grandparents were also Italian (royalty to be sure). This is such fun, although very time consuming and emotionally draining. Only wish I could have shown this information/family history to my dad (another historian) and my mom. She would have been totally surprised/shocked by some of her ancestors; perhaps, even disbelieving. But, since I have my DNA tested, it seems to be confirmed. Again, many thanks …

2 Timothy LaveyOctober 17, 2013 at 8:28 pm

How may I contact the blog author? I’ve tried to email her at the progenitore@gmail.com address at the bottom of her blog posting, but I’m told it’s an invalid address.

3 Ancestry AnneOctober 18, 2013 at 10:09 am

Timothy, try contacting Mary via her Originsitaly site, more specifically http://www.originsitaly.com/contact/

4 Anthony AliotoOctober 22, 2013 at 8:43 pm

Try looking for ancestors and family members using the Italian Property Registry. Find information on Italian wills, list of Italian property that is still in your family and those properties that have been abandoned. Do you want to put in a claim. Contact us for the requirements.

[...] click here to read the full Ancestry.com guest article. Do you have suggestions for future ORIGINS ITALY [...]

6 Jason the SajJanuary 15, 2014 at 8:17 pm

Question, you provide a dozen links of records from A-Z, but I do not see the town or regions I am looking for?

Castel di Lama Ascoli Piceno, (Marche) Italy

How do I know which to use?

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