TRAFFORD R. COLE, author of Italian Genealogical Records, came to New York City on March 20, 1996 and gave an all-day lecture at a lecture and luncheon sponsored by the Italian Genealogical Group. The following is a summary of some of his comments.
[Updated on April 26th, 1998]
Italian Civil Records began in 1865 with beginning of the Kingdom of Italy. There are no central archives or even provincial. You have to go the Comune or local town for records of Birth, marriage and death. The records are kept there but a copy is sent to the province. The Province keeps its records for military purposes. If you need those records you have to go there or write. In writing to Italy , there is no general rule as to the response you can expect. It differs from town to town. In general, the town should allow you to have certificates of an event. The first general census was taken in 1911 If you request records from the Anagrafe Office any emigration after 1911 will be included on their records.
The Vital Records Office, Ufficio di Stato Civile, will often do a little research to find your record and give it to you. In big cities you must be able to give them the exact date of the record you want. This is because the older records in a big city may be kept across town and scattered making them difficult to get.
When trying to get records from Italy, focus on who you can make it easy for them to respond to your request. First, don't ask for 400 items. Ask for one to three certificates at a time. Respond with a thank you and then you can come back later with another request for more records.
Remember they will have problem with reading letters in English so it is better to write in Italian. Use form letters which are fairly easy to obtain to write your requests to Italy or have someone translate your request. Give them accurate, detailed information (as much as possible).
Remember the bigger the town the more there will have problem with many people having the same name. Torino will not give a certificate or extract unless you know the exact date. They don't have time to research. Some cities in the North restrict what they will do If you don't receive an answer, write again and then later possibly you could write to the Mayor (Sindaco).
In requesting records by letter from Italy, Dr. Cole suggested that you write our request and then offer to send any fee they request. You may be asking for not only a certificate but they may have to research to find it. He suggested a rate of 10,000 Lire per record request.
His recommendation was not to send money with your first letter/request. They will tell you how much you should send and in what form. Very often there will be no fee for the documents.
You have a right to documents for records of your immediate family within the past 75 years..By 1984 law the Civil Registrar must fulfil your request but they can be paid for it.
A common mistake of beginning researcher is to ask for a birth certificate which gives little information. Why you really should ask for is an "estratto" or extract of the record. It is against the law for the Civil officials to give you a photocopy. The extract for birth, marriage or death has far more information than a certificate. Most officials in the towns will answer letters if they are written clearly and are brief.
Before 1865, there are different types of records and regional differences. Napoleonic records started around 1806/09. The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies has records from 1809 or 1822 to 1865, the Napoleonic records, and are very complete. Most of them have been microfilmed and are available at a local Family History Library. The Civil Records before 1865 are at the State Archives in each Province. In the North there are very few Napoleonic records and they generally haven't been filmed.. Every Province has a State Archives and some have branches.
Anyone can go the State Archives to access their records. If you mentioned you are doing research (not genealogy - somehow genealogy has a mixed reputation). They will allow you to research but will probably request a copy of anything you publish. If you need areas that are now in the former Yugoslavia.` Some of those records are held in Italy in Gorizia, Trieste and Venice In Trento, there are no separate civil records, only parish records and they have all been filmed back to 1595.
State archives will respond to letters if they are for a specific item but will not do extensive research. If you go in person, you can only use two documents or books per day. This is okay for notary records which take a long time to read but for civil records you could be finished in a half hour.. They will sometimes bend the rule a little. If you go to the Town Record Offices, only the employees are allowed to handle and see the records.
The earliest civil records in Italy are 1804. There are none before that time. Before that time, there are only the Parish records to use but they are fantastic. In Italy,, people married other Italians in the same vicinity for centuries not like in the United States where peopled married and move often and married other nationalities.
From the Council of Trent, priest were told to keep records which means that most parish records were begun in 1595 with a few earlier. Church records are not organized or centralized.
They are kept in individual parishes. Therefore, you have to travel to obtain records. Priests are not generally too receptive and there are fewer and fewer priest. Most are older and now have many parishes to service as well as to teach, too. They have little time or understanding of the need for genealogy. Some will open their doors and let researchers in. Very few parish records haven been microfilmed. The availability is spotty.
You must write or go to the parish. Another tactic is to try to find by mail someone in the village, either a relative or a person interested in the village history or genealogy, who will do the record searching for you. Some people, a history professor or even an interested priest, will do a whole research report for you. Dr. Cole has seen where a priest in a small village has done a pedigree on everyone in the Parish. However, priests do not have to answer your requests so you must as courteously and send a donation as you are asking for a favor. The donations he suggested was somewhere between $10 or $20 depending on the request. Explain your interest and give detailed information so he can understand your specific request. If he doesn't do it, you have no recourse and you would have to find another way to get the information you need.
Marriage records usually include a series of records of the betrothed which include birth certificates, death certificates of parents, if deceased, and a whole wealth of documents go with the marriage record. There are more often found in the early 18th Century when they are most important because they can give you records that go back past the beginning of civil records.
Census records taken by the churches called Status Animarum were taken every year in some parishes and not at all in others. When available they give names, ages and relationships and are a great source of genealogical information. There are some in the North and few in the South.
You will find them at the local parishes or on film at the Family History Library.
Responding to questions about orphans, Dr. Cole stated that there were not many orphanages in Italy. The local parish would raise foundlings and then place them with a family. They would generally keep their original surname. When the mother in a family remarries after the death of her husband, the children would keep their original surname.
Before 1820/1812, records are handwritten and in Latin. In Bolzono the records will be in German and in some areas you will find records written in dialect. You will find records in Spanish in Sargdegna and in French in Piemonte. However, Trafford noted that while records may be in Latin it doesn't mean that they were written in good Latin. Also, they often used abbreviations. You generally have to get used to reading and using the records with all the handwriting variations. The major problem with the records we need is the age and poor condition of them - faded writing, ink (handmade), poor paper and poor condition due to their being stored in poor areas.
Death records are the worst records to use as little information was given besides the name and age (which is often inaccurate). Cemeteries are not a good source of information as you will not find any gravestones before this century and often not more than 30 ears old.
One of the reason you will not find old gravestones is that in Italy if one rents property for over 99 years, he becomes the owner. Thus the lessee would own the plot in 100 years. Most cemeteries don't have separate records and they are usually recent. Years ago the parishes took care of the death records and cemeteries.
Military records are of genealogical importance as all males in Italy at age 18 have had to register for the draft since the beginning of the Republic of Italy. The information on all males is taken from the Court records (Tribunale) so that all male children born in 1871 are called up in 1889. Very often it is easier to locate a person if you only know the area or province they came from. These records are indexed, listed by year of birth and include the whole military district. If you know the name and approximate birth date, you can find the person you want in the military records. They are fairly easy to use and will give much information on about every male born in Italy. After finding the person in the index you can get his entire military record.
These records are in the State Archives and they will respond to a written request for these records.
For modern military records you would have to contact the Military District (which also has copy of the same records as in the State Archives.. Most military records for Genoa were lot in the floods of 1860's. Military records begin with birth dates in the 1860's but most are from the 1870's. For Trento, the military records are in Vienna.
The State Archives also has notary records back to 1000 A.D. These are difficult and time consuming and mostly for people of wealth. There are also university records, census records (vary from Province to Province; some are from 1600 but most don't); tax records which are more complete (catasti regarding property); and also fantastic historical records such as town minutes, town council records which give you an idea of the customs and history of the town.
THE FOLLOWING WERE ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS FROM THE AUDIENCE:
Passport and Exit Visas: You won't find them. You can send a request to the Questura They don't keep copies and if there are some, they would be in Rome.
Passports: Is the date of the passport when they leave Italy? That is not the date they left Italy.
It was the expiration date of the passport. There was no firm time period when they left - anytime before it expired.
Parish Records: some diocese are pulling records together to the Curia from each parish. The Curia in most cases has a copy of the parish records from about 1820. Write the Curia Vescovile to find out when the parish began and where the records are.
Naples: The State Archives are better than the Town Archives. Response is slow because they can't find the records. Civil Vital records before 1910 are kept in a separate building in a state of disorganization. Naples is broken down into 12 neighborhoods. The records from all are piled in one room and some are mixed together.
Orphans: Foundlings were often born at a convent. The convent will have a record. The name given is at the discretion of the parish priest. In bigger cities there might have been an orphanage but not in small towns.
Hiring a researcher in Italy: better to do it yourself but at some point you can no longer continue. Before that, ask a priest, professor or historian in the village who might do some research for you It is cheaper and they know the village better. Relatives may have no interest and no skill in genealogy. There are not too many professional genealogists.
Mail - will still get to a new province if addressed to the old province address. The newer provinces are:
1968 - Isneria and Prodenone
1994 - 6 new Provinces.
Where the Province has changed over the years, the records could be in the old State Archives or the new one. You would have to write. Some of the new provinces haven't yet created new archives. In fact, Belluno, an old province, has just started an archive but most of their records are still in Venice. Florence has the only regional archives because the provinces in that area are sparsely populated.
The visit of Dr. Trafford Cole was his first in six years and he doesn't know when he will return.
He has been doing Italian genealogical research in Italy for 18 years. He still takes clients for research but now restricts himself to research in Northern Italy. We were indeed fortunate to have him visit us.
Are you sure?