Tracing Your Italian Ancestors

mm018Moorshead Magazines is the publisher of Family Chronicle, and Internet Genealogy. Every so often the company collects the best articles on a particular subject from each of the three magazines and combines them into a special edition. Like the recently reviewed Tracing You English & Scottish Ancestors, and Tracing Your Irish Ancestors, Tracing Your Italian Ancestors is one Moorshead’s special genealogical releases.

“Millions of Italians in search of a better life migrated to the Americas during ta period that spanned from about 1860 to the beginning of the Great War. The documented trail created by this massive migration is extensive, and forms the basis for a very good collection of genealogical records, both here in North America and in Italy.”

To help further your education in finding and understanding the variety of documents available on these Italian immigrants, Moorshead turned to two experts on Italian research, Marcia Iannizzi Melnyk and Mary M. Tedesco, to put together this special edition publication.

From records and research basics to experiencing your ‘ancestral homeland,’ topics focus on locating, accessing, and understanding records while focusing on “local” records before resorting to searching foreign (“ancestral homeland”) records.

12 articles in 84 detail-packed pages makes this 2015 publication a relative bargain for the those searching for their Italian ancestors. A complete contents list of articles can be found below.

About the Authors:

Marcia Iannizzi Melnyk is a professional genealogist with over 25 years experience teaching genealogy courses all over the U.S. and Canada. She created and taught for the Genealogy 101 program. She has authored four books in addition to articles for journals and genealogical magazines. She is the President and founding member of The Italian Genealogical Society of America.

Mary M. Tedesco is also a professional genealogist, author, and speaker. She is also the season 2 genealogist on the PBS series “Genealogy Roadshow.” In addition to her formal education, Tedesco also carries a Certificate in Genealogical Research from Boston University’s Center for Professional Education. She is also a member of several local and national genealogical societies and is a board member of the Massachusetts Genealogical Council.


Italian Research Basics

Marcia Iannizzi Melnyk shares strategies and available resources to help you get started in your search

Home And Family Records

Marcia Iannizzi Melnyk looks at the importance of talking to your oldest relatives to see what they can add to your research

Naturalization Records

Marcia Iannizzi Melnyk looks at one of the most important records you will need for your Italian research

Passenger Manifests

Marcia Iannizzi Melnyk looks at the records available to help trace your ancestors’ travels to their new homeland

Microfilm And Online Records

Marcia Iannizzi Melnyk explains what you can discover in microfilm and online image resources

Planning A Research Trip To Italy

Mary M. Tedesco offers tips for success and suggestions for repositories you shouldn’t miss

Understanding Italian Civil Records

Mary M. Tedesco looks at why civil records are an important part of Italian genealogy research

Roman Catholic Church Records

Mary M. Tedesco shines a light on the various resources available from the Roman Catholic Church

Italian Notary Records

Mary M. Tedesco reveals why these records are the best source for adding context to a family’s life

Italian Military Records

Mary M. Tedesco looks at Italian military records for your family history research

Children Born to Unwed Parents in Italy

Mary M. Tedesco offers strategies for researching children born to unwed parents in Italy

Visiting Italian Ancestral Villages

Mary M. Tedesco shows us why it’s important to experience your ancestral homeland

Order copies of Tracing Your Italian Ancestors from Family Roots Publishing.

Finding Italian Roots

Italians, like so many other Europeans, emigrated in droves to the United State. The main reason for emigrating was economical. In fact, very few Italians came to the New World during the colonial period. Italians didn’t come in any large numbers until the 1870 and 1880s. Then, between 1890 and 1924 economic conditions in Italy pushed migration into the Millions. Many of those coming in the earlier years went into the deep south or west to California to work the field and start vineyards. Later, as economic condition worsened, more came to the industrialized cities to work the steal, train and large factories. Some went to Minnesota and Colorado to work the mines.

Descendents of Italian immigrants often have a difficult time researching their immigrant ancestors. Then, as with anyone else crossing an oceans in search of their ancestors, finding records in another language and historical culture can be even more daunting. Fortunately, there are books, like Finding Italian Roots, written by professionals to help researchers find their ancestors, both at home and abroad.

John Philip Colletta wrote the first edition of Finding Italian Roots in 1993. He prepared the book in response to what he saw as a great need to help a growing body of Italian American descendents turned genealogists. This book takes the issue at hand by cleanly separating, but covering, searching family both within the United States as well as tracing family records back to Italy and searching Italian resources.

Chapter 1 gets the research process started, with chapters 2 and 3 describing a wealth of U.S. based records. Then chapters 4 through 6 examine both civil and religious resources in Italy, covering both historical and modern records. Chapter 7 add practical suggestions straight from the author’s own experiences. There is also a glossary of Italian terms at the end of the book.

The book is filled with illustrations and documents, along with step-by-step instructions, point-by-point explanations, and numerous specific examples. Colletta is easy to read, with clear and concise details and explanations. John Philip Colletta is a language professor turned genealogist. He is also a very popular speaker, where his “speeches are famous for their clarity, humor, wit, and warmth.”


Order copies of Finding Italian Roots from Family Root Publishing; Price: $18.62.



Introduction: Americans in Search of Their Italian Roots

A Glimpse of Italians in America

1. Starting at Home

  • Three Basic Facts you Need to Know about Your Immigrant Ancestor
    • Full Original Names
    • Approximate Date of Birth
    • Town of Birth
  • Where to Find These three Basic Facts…and Much More
    • Interviewing Relatives
    • Materials at Home
  • Organizing Your Information
  • Joining a Genealogical Society
  • 2. Published Resources
  • Italians in the United State
    • Collective Biographies of Italian Americans
    • Histories of Italian communities in the United States
    • Published Genealogies
    • City Directories
    • Newspapers in English and Italian
  • Italians in Italy
    • Dictionaries of Italian Surnames
    • Italian National Biographies
    • Genealogies of Titled Families
    • Maps and Gazetteers
    • Italian Local History
  • The Family History Library
    • Instructions and Glossaries
    • Microfilmed Italian Records
    • Databases
    • Form Letters
  • Private Repositories with Italian Collections
  • Internet Websites

3. Key Records in the United States

  • Federal Records
    • Censuses
    • Passenger Arrival Records
    • Naturalization Records
    • Passport Applications
    • Other Federal Records
  • State Records
    • Censuses
    • Vital Records
    • Other State records
  • Local Records
    • County Courthouse
    • Cemetery Records and Inscriptions
    • Religious Records
    • Other Local Records

4. Civil Records of Italy

  • Archivio Comunale (Town Archives)
    • Stato Civile
      • Atto di Nascita
      • Atto della Solenne Promessa di Celebrare il Matrimonio
      • Atto di Morto
    • Certificato di Stato di Famiglia
    • Certificato di Residenze
  • Archivio di Stato (State Archives)
    • Stato Civile
      • Allegati
    • Registri degli Uffici di Leva
    • Minute, Atti e Bastardelli Notarili
    • Censimenti
    • Catasti
    • Registri dell’Emigrazaione e Passaporti
      • Italian Emigration
  • Archivio Centrale dello Stato (National Archives)

5. Religious Records of Italy

  • Catholic Records
    • Archivi Parrocchiali
    • Atto di Battesimo
    • Atto di Matrimonio
    • Atto di Sepolture
    • Status Animarum
  • Jewish Records
    • Jewish Patronymics and Surnames
    • Jewish Local History
    • Published Genealogies
    • Journals
    • Websites
    • Writing to the Jewish Community
    • Civil Repositories
    • Catholic Repositories
    • University Records
    • Cemeteries
    • Centers for Jewish Studies
  • Protestant Records
    • Waldenses
    • Non-Italian Protestants

6. Libraries and Other Resources in Italy

  • Biblioteche (Libraries)
  • Archivi Genealogici (Genealogical Archives)
  • Archivi Ecclesiastici (Ecclesiastical Archives)
  • Registri delle Università (Registers of Universities)
  • Genealogical Institutes in Italy

7. Practical Suggestions for Success

  • Letters Open Doors
  • Italinao, si! Inglese, no!
  • Get All the Goods
  • Postal Courtesy Makes Friends
  • Send Money, But Not Cash!
  • Props Are Worth a Thousand (Italian) Words
  • Culture is More Than Language
    • Interpreting Italian Terms
    • Italian Cemeteries
    • Detto (Called)
  • Local Oral Lore
  • Plan Your Transportation and Lodging


Bibliographic Notes



New Searchable Collections Added Online For Brazil, China, England, Ireland, Italy, Russia, Spain, & the USA

The following was received from FamilySearch December 28, 2012:

FamilySearch added an additional 38.5 million new, free indexed records and images this week to its collection. Notable additions include the 6,095,759 indexed records in the new United States World War II Army Enlistment Records collection, the 4,068,907 indexed records for the new United States Germans to America Index from 1850-1897, the 2,922,943 added to the England and Wales Census of 1871, and the 2,608,645 added to the Denmark Estate Records collection from 1436-1964. Other new searchable collections online were added this week for Brazil, China, England, Ireland, Italy, Russia, Spain, and the United States. See the table below for the full list of updates. Search these diverse collections and more than 3.5 billion other records for free at

Searchable historic records are made available on through the help of thousands of volunteers from around the world. These volunteers transcribe (index) information from digital copies of handwritten records to make them easily searchable online. More volunteers are needed (particularly those who can read foreign languages) to keep pace with the large number of digital images being published online at Learn more about volunteering to help provide free access to the world’s historic genealogical records online at

FamilySearch is the largest genealogy organization in the world. FamilySearch is a nonprofit, volunteer-driven organization sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Millions of people use FamilySearch records, resources, and services to learn more about their family history. To help in this great pursuit, FamilySearch and its predecessors have been actively gathering, preserving, and sharing genealogical records worldwide for over 100 years. Patrons may access FamilySearch services and resources for free at or through more than 4,600 family history centers in 132 countries, including the main Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Collection – Indexed Records – Digital Images – Comments

Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Miscellaneous Records, 1748-1980 – 0 – 133,932 – New browsable image collection.
China, Collection of Genealogies, 1239-2010 – 0 – 1,078,765 – New browsable image collection.
Denmark, Estate Records, 1436-1964 – 0 – 2,608,645 – Added images to an existing collection.
England and Wales Census, 1871 – 2,695,024 – 227,919 – Added index records and images to an existing collection.
England, Manchester, Miscellaneous Records, 1700-1916 – 853,243 – 0 – New indexed record collection.
England, Westminster, Parish Registers, 1538-1912 – 1,276,875 – 43,393 – Added index records and images to an existing collection.
Ireland, Landed Estate Court Files, 1850-1885 – 682,055 – 53,799 – New indexed records and images collection.
Italy, Catanzaro, Catanzaro, Civil Registration (Tribunale), 1866-1910 – 0 – 193,658 – New browsable image collection.
Italy, Messina, Patti, Civil Registration (Tribunale), 1823-1941 – 0 – 143,597 – New browsable image collection.
Italy, Pesaro e Urbino, Urbino, Civil Registration (Tribunale), 1866-1910 – 0 – 323,971 – New browsable image collection.
Italy, Potenza, Potenza, Civil Registration (Tribunale), 1866-1910 – 0 – 298,330 – Added images to an existing collection.
Italy, Siena, Montepulciano, Civil Registration (Tribunale), 1866-1929 – 0 – 181,893 – Added images to an existing collection.
Russia, Simbirsk Church Books, 1768-1939 – 0 – 994,870 – New browsable image collection.
Spain, Diocese of Santander, Catholic Church Records, 1538-1984 – 0 – 757,418 – New browsable image collection.
Spain, Diocese of Segovia, Catholic Church Records, 1533-1987 – 0 – 8,311,103 – Added images to an existing collection.
Spain, Province of Cádiz, Municipal Records, 1784-1931 – 0 – 316,188 – New browsable image collection.
Ukraine, Western Ukraine Catholic Church Book Duplicates, 1600-1937 – 0 – 264,777 – Added images to an existing collection.
U.S., California, San Francisco, World War I Enemy Alien Registration Affidavits, 1918 – 6,545 – 33,870 – New indexed records and images collection.
U.S., California, County Marriages, 1850-1952 – 1,439,474 – 1,962,567 – Added index records and images to an existing collection.
U.S., Florida, Tampa, Passenger Lists, 1898-1945 – 50,103 – 0 – New indexed record collection.
U.S., New York, New York, Index to Passenger Lists, 1820-1846 – 526,400 – 0 – New indexed record collection.
United States, Bureau of Land Management Tract Books, 1820-1908 – 0 – 941,009 – New browsable image collection.
United States, Famine Irish Passenger Index, 1846-1851 – 604,596 – 0 – Added index records to an existing collection.
United States, Germans to America Index, 1850-1897 – 4,068,907 – 0 – New indexed record collection.
United States, Italians to America Index, 1855-1900 – 845,287 – 0 – Added index records to an existing collection.
United States, Russians to America Index, 1834-1897 – 527,394 – 0 – Added index records to an existing collection.
United States, World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946 – 6,095,759 – 0 – New indexed record collection.

Genealogy at a Glance: Italian Genealogy Research

Italy did not become a nation, as we know it today, until 1860. The first “Italians” to migrate to the America’s came during colonial times, coming predominately from the northern region of modern Italy. These first immigrants would have identified themselves with towns or regions, rather than a country. There were, in all, very few early immigrants. However, towards the end of the 19th century, and moving into the 20th century, Italian immigration expanded dramatically. Genealogy at a Glance: Italian Genealogy Research covers key resources and research skills useful in tracing these early Italian immigrants, as well as those who arrived more recently.

Like all the Genealogy At A Glance sheets, this guide is a four-page, full-color limited brochure meant to be easily stored and sized to take with you when conducting related research. And, like each At A Glance, the top of the first page provides Contents and Quick Facts. Some of the “Quick Facts” from this guide include:

  • 1806 Civil record keeping begins in Italy
  • 1861–1870 Italy is unified
  • 1871 Nationwide census
  • 1901-1910 Peak immigration to America of more than two million Italians

Italian Genealogy Research was put together by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack, author of:

The guide helps the reader begin their search utilizing American sources, tracing towns of origin and finding and searching Italian sources. Interesting topics include such concepts as identifying the patron saints of different towns and using food preferences in research. This guide is great for both the novice and the experienced researcher. Following is a complete topic list for this guide:

Italian Immigration and Social History

  • Return Migration and Chain Migration
  • Ports of Departure and Arrival
  • Settlement Patterns
  • Social Customs

Starting Your Search in America

Finding the Italian Town of Origin

  • Italian-American Neighborhoods and Little Italys
  • Death Matters
  • Patron Saints
  • Food Preferences

Resources in Italian Civil Records

  • Using Civil Records

Online Sources

Writing to Italy

Additional tips and further references provide the reader with additional help and sources to records.


Find the help you need, and carry it with you, with your own copy of Genealogy at a Glance: Italian Genealogy Research available at Family Roots Publishing; Item #: GPC881, Price: $8.77

Reading Non-English Records

Tracing one’s history in their own native language offers plenty of challenges. Changes in writing styles and in handwriting, problems with damage and discoloration, both added to transcription and indexing errors can make record finding and reading difficult at times. However, at some point most researchers find themselves with an even greater challenge: finding and deciphering records in another language. Once a genealogist traces his/her ancestral roots to another country, language barriers add to overall complexity in research. Following the Paper Trail: A Multilingual Translation Guide by Jonathan D. Shea and William F. Hoffman was written to help researchers with this very problem.

Following the Paper Trail not only acknowledges the need for language assistance, but recognizes that many researches will need help in more than one additional language. This book looks at many languages, dividing them into linguistic families. Similarities within a single family make it easier to identify words and commonalities in other associated languages. For example, the Latin or “Romance” language include French, Latin, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, and Spanish, which together make up one section of the book.

Each language appears in the book with their alphabet in both printed and cursive forms. Sample documents are provided with an analysis, including translation to English, of their components. Selected vocabulary terms round out each language. All the documents are representative of the typical records genealogist seek or that their immigrant ancestors may have had in their possession. The authors refer to this volume as “an introduction to the translation of such documents.”

As such an introduction, this book makes an excellent resources for those just starting out with their immigrant ancestors research, or as a volume for regular reference.


Table of Contents

About the Authors


The Germanic Languages


  • The German Alphabet
  • The German Language
  • German Pronunciation
  • Document #1: A Family Record
  • Document #2: A Birth and Baptismal Certificate
  • Document #3: A German-Ukrainian Military Passport
  • Document #4: A Death Certificate
  • Document #5: A Contract for Passage on a Ship
  • German-English Word List
  • Personal Names


  • The Swedish Alphabet
  • Swedish and the Other Scandinavian Languages
  • Document #1: A “Moving Certificate” (Exit Permit)
  • Document #2: A Report Card
  • Document #3: A Swedish Passport
  • Document #4: An Emigration Contract
  • Document #5: A Swedish-American Baptismal Certificate
  • Document #6: A Confirmation Certificate
  • Document #7: A Marriage Certificate
  • Selected Vocabulary Terms
  • Selected First Names

The Romance Languages


  • The French Alphabet
  • Document #1: A Civil Birth Certificate
  • Document #2: A Baptismal Certificate
  • Document #3: A French Passport
  • Document #4: A Steamship Ticket
  • Document #5: A Death Certificate
  • Selected Vocabulary Terms
  • French Personal Names


  • The Italian Alphabet
  • Document #1: A Steamship Ticket
  • Document #2: A Civil Family Registration Booklet
  • Document #3: Parish Family Registration Documents
  • Document #4: Civil Family Registration Documents
  • Document #5: An Italian Passport, Booklet Form
  • Document #6: A Long-Form Birth Certificate
  • Document #7: A Short-Form Birth Certificate
  • Selected Vocabulary Terms
  • Italian Personal Names


  • The Latin Alphabet
  • The Use of Latin in Genealogical Records
  • Document #1: A Slovenian Birth Certificate (Latin-Italian)
  • Document #2: A Polish Baptismal Certificate
  • Document #3: A Slovak Baptismal Certificate
  • Document #4: A Ukrainian Baptismal Certificate
  • Selected Vocabulary Terms
  • Selected Personal Names


  • The Portuguese Alphabet
  • Document #1: An Identity Card from the Azores
  • Document #2: A Birth Certificate from the Azores
  • Selected Vocabulary Terms
  • Selected Portuguese First Names


  • The Romanian Alphabet
  • Document #1: A Romanian Birth Certificate
  • Document #2: A Romanian Passport
  • Selected Vocabulary Terms


  • The Spanish Alphabet
  • Document #1: A Civil Birth Certificate
  • Document #2: An Identity Card
  • Document #3: A Consular Records
  • Selected Vocabulary Terms
  • Selected Personal Names

The Slavic Languages


  • The Czech Alphabet
  • Czechs, Bohemians, Moravians, Slovaks, and Their Languages
  • Document #1: A Czech Birth and Baptismal Certificate
  • Document #2: A Parish Family Registration Document
  • Document #3: A Slovak Passport
  • Selected Vocabulary Terms
  • Selected Personal Names


  • The Polish Alphabet
  • The Polish Language
  • The Format of Long-Form Documents
  • Template for Birth Records
  • Template for Death Records
  • Template for Marriage Records
  • Document #1: A Long-Form Polish Birth Certificate
  • Document #2: A Short-Form Polish Birth Certificate
  • Document #3: A Jewish Birth Certificate (Polish-Hebrew)
  • Document #4: A Polish/German Birth and Baptismal Certificate
  • Document #5: A Passport Application
  • Document #6: A Republic of Poland Passport
  • Document #7: A Polish/German Passport from the Austrian Sector
  • Document #8: A German/Polish/Ukrainian Employment Booklet
  • Selected Vocabulary Terms
  • Selected Personal Names


  • The Russian Alphabet
  • The Russian Language
  • Document #1: A Russian Orthodox Birth Certificate
  • Document #2: Long-Form Roman Catholic Birth Record
  • Document #3: A Short-Form Certificate
  • Document #4: A Jewish Birth Certificate
  • Document #5: An Islamic Birth Record
  • Document #6: A Russian Booklet-Type Passport
  • Document #7: A Single-Sheet Russian Passport
  • Document #8: A Ship Ticket
  • Selected Vocabulary Terms
  • Selected Personal Names

Other Languages

Hungarian (Magyar)

  • The Hungarian Alphabet
  • The Hungarian Language
  • Document #1: A Hungarian Birth Certificate
  • Document #2: A Hungarian Passport
  • Selected Vocabulary Terms
  • Personal Names


  • The Lithuanian Alphabet
  • The Lithuanian Language
  • Document #1: Lithuanian Baptismal Certificate I
  • Document #2: Lithuanian Baptismal Certificate II
  • Document #3: A Lithuanian Passport
  • Additional Useful Terms

Appendix A: Bibliography

Appendix B: A List of Genealogical Organizations


Following the Paper Trail: A Multilingual Translation Guide is available from Family Roots Publishing for $28.42; Item #: AV346.