Friday, July 11, 2008

Italian genealogy

Post 8
Italian genealogy

by Trafford R. Cole

One of the blessings of being an Italian or of Italian descent is that Italy like many countries in Europe has wonderful historical records. There are three reasons why Italian are blessed in their genealogy and family history work. The first is that family is the most important social context for Italians. The family comes first for Italians and always has. They visit their parents and relatives regularly. Even Italians who have emigrated to the North or to other countries in Europe spend their vacations going back home. Therefore they are closely knit and interested in their family history.

Secondly, Italy like much of Europe is very traditional and is not a mobile society. That is Italians over the centuries have not moved around very much. Many lived in the same town and even in the same family home for generations and generations. They married people from the same village or a village nearby. Therefore, you may find many generations of your family in just one town or certainly in the same province. This is also true because Italian as a language is fairly recent, dating back only a couple of centuries and most Italians speak their local dialect. Thus even when Italians emigrated to the States, Sicilians married Sicilian and Calabresi married Calabresi because they spoke the same dialect and they did not have a common language with other Italians.

The third reason is that there are some wonderful records in Italy. The civil records from the Italian state only go back to 1865, or in areas in the South go to 1809. The parish records instead date back much further. The Council of Trent established in 1565 that every parish priest should keep record of all the births and baptisms, marriages and death of every parishioner. This was ratified in 1595, so all the parish records in Italy date back to this period unless the parish was established later. This means that ten, twelve or fifteen generations of family history can all be gathered from just one source; The dream of every genealogist.

All of this is changing rapidly however. In modern society the work force is becoming more mobile, family ties are being strained and historical records are subject to damage, loss and negligence. The parish records in particular were written in single copy and kept in the parish. As a result if they are lost they are gone forever. This is an ongoing process as churches are vandalized, or are destroyed in natural disasters like floods and earthquakes. The Catholic Church is also taking steps to restrict the consultation of these records.

So if you are of Italian descent this is the time to do your genealogy and discover your family history. Do not procrastinate or it may be too late.


Rebecca Talley said...

I am of Italian descent. My great grandfather was born in Frinco di Asti in the Piedmont province (I hope I'm writing it correctly). He came to America in 1905, but I have yet to find any info before that time. I'm not even sure where to look. Can I access records online or do I need to travel to Italy?

Shirley Bahlmann said...

I'd love to go to Italy some day.