Italian immigrants often settled in particular regions, cities, or even city blocks once they arrived in America. The best place to start is by asking your family members.
Many Southern Italians traveled back to Italy to earn money for their families. These men were less likely to become naturalized citizens. Check for their names on multiple passenger arrival lists.
Italian ancestry refers to the heritage and lineage of individuals who trace their roots back to Italy. Italy has a rich and diverse cultural history, and people with Italian ancestry can have connections to various regions and traditions within the country.
Identify Your Ancestors
Before researching your family tree, gathering as much information about your ancestors as possible is essential. Sitting around the dinner table with a glass of vino and your family is an excellent place to start (and Italian families love to talk about their relatives who aren’t present). You can also identify names, dates, and places from old photo albums, documents, or gravestones.
Naturalization records and passenger lists may reveal when your ancestors arrived in America. It’s also a good idea to read up on immigrant culture and customs to understand what your ancestors were experiencing in America.
Establishing a filing system for the information you collect is a good idea so it can be noticed.
Begin Your Research
Research your Italian genealogy by talking with older relatives and recording family stories. Ask about their immigration experiences and what it was like to live in Italy. Please pay attention to the names they use. Traditional naming patterns in southern Italy, where many Italian immigrants came from, can be clues to the towns and villages they may have come from.
Write down your ancestors’ dates of birth, marriage, and death. You’ll also want to know their sex, occupation, and literacy, which can help you find records.
Unlike America, where most civil vital records are centralized and accessible, they’re kept locally in Italy.
Find Records in Italy
Tracing your Italian family roots can be a fascinating and rewarding project that will help you reconnect with your heritage and may lead to new opportunities, such as dual citizenship. You can begin by interviewing family members, reviewing passenger lists and census records, and searching for church and government documents.
Once you understand your family’s background, it is essential to locate records from Italy. Most Italian civil records are kept at the local municipality (comune) level and deposited annually with state archives. The website Comuni-Italiani provides contact information for each province’s municipal offices, and the site’s searchable database can help you pinpoint the exact town your ancestor lived in.
Another resource is Nati in Trentino, which indexes more than 1.2 million individuals born in the Trentino region of northern Italy between 1815 and 1923. The site allows you to request record images from the Archivio Diocesano Tridentino and is a must for anyone researching this area and period.
Write Your Family History
Putting together your family history can be an ambitious project. Work on it every day, and don’t procrastinate. As older relatives die or become invalid, the opportunity to record their memories may disappear forever.
Look beyond the skeletal pedigree chart and family group sheet to learn about your ancestors’ lives. What were their customs, habits, and traditions? How did they deal with war, natural disasters, and political turmoil? How did they cope with the cultural clashes between their home country and their new homeland?
A family history is a narrative that takes the names, dates, and places from your research and weaves them into an exciting story. It can be an engaging read for present-day and future relatives who don’t care about city directories or census records. A family history can be written in various formats, including a book, scrapbook, or photo album. Many people focus on a single line of descent and include personal stories, photos, and family trees in the narrative. The goal is to give readers a sense of being eyewitnesses to their ancestors’ lives.
Research Your Neighbors and Relatives
Cluster genealogy—researching an ancestor’s friends and relatives—is one way to scale brick walls.
When Italian immigrants migrated to America, they often settled with neighbors and relatives who spoke the same dialect. This is reflected in the “Little Italy” neighborhoods that developed in America, where people from a particular region, city, or village tended to live together.
To research your ancestors’ neighborhood, use the census and old real estate or fire maps, church and fraternal benefit society records, and naturalization records. These documents generally list residents’ names, dates, and places of birth and occupation. They also show the enumeration district, which can be used to locate your ancestors’ neighbors. The backs of naturalization records indicate the exact date a person became an American citizen, which can clear up uncertainties about when your ancestor arrived in America. It can also help you determine if your female ancestor obtained her citizenship independently of her husband, as women usually did during this time.