Family Research

Today's the day! You have finally decided to get started with the research of your Italian Family. That's wonderful; it's here that you'll find the tools to identify the information needed to start a research project in Italy, read stories written by people like you who reconnected to their Italian roots, and learn more about our research services.

 

Top Resources

In order to start a research project onsite in Italy or to order Italian vital records, you need to have some essential information of your Ancestor/s who left Italy, specifically:

  • Full Name
  • Date of Birth
  • EXACT Town of Birth (all family documents in Italy are only maintained in the EXACT town where the person was born)
  • Parents' Names (if available)

If you don’t have this information, you need to research the following sources:

Immigration Records

The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc has made available online FREE all the Ships Manifests for those who arrived in the U.S. through the port of Ellis Island from 1892 to 1957. You need to have the full name of your Ancestor who migrated from Italy, his/her approximate date of arrival and his/her approximate age at arrival in case there are several passengers with the same last name. The Manifest will list the Ancestor's full name, age, sex, profession, last residence in Italy, birthplace (listed after 1907), names and addresses of the relatives in the US, etc. Ellis Island Records are also available at Familysearch.org, Ancestry.com and many other websites. 

SSDI (Social Security Death Index)

The US Social Security Index is an index of several million deceased people who had social security numbers and whose deaths were reported to the Social Security Administration. The index lists deaths since 1962. However, the records include the original Social Security Application that your Ancestor would have completed in order to acquire a Social Security Number.  This procedure began in 1936.  To research your ancestor’s listing in the SSDI free of charge, CLICK HERE.

Once you find your Ancestor’s listing, you can order the original Application (SS-5).

By mail:

You should address your request to: Social Security Administration, OEO FOIA Workgroup, 300 N. Green Street, P.O. Box 33022, Baltimore, Maryland 21290-3022. There is a fee is $27, when the Social Security number is provided or $29 if the Social Security number is unknown or incorrect.

Online:

You can order the SS-5 Form online from the Social Security Administration at: https://secure.ssa.gov/apps9/eFOIA-FEWeb/internet/main.jsp. The usual timeline to get a response is about two weeks.

The SS-5 Form will include your Ancestor's Full Name, date of birth, place of birth, parents' names, SS# and more. 

CENSUS RECORDS

Only Federal Census Records starting from 1900 list more information such as date of immigration, profession, sex, color, birthplace (it's not uncommon to find "Italy" listed instead of the exact town of birth), naturalization information (A=Alien, PA=First Papers, NA=Naturalized), etc. U.S. Census Records are available online at FamilySearch.org (free site), National Archives (NARA), Ancestry.com and many others websites.

Our founder’s grandmother: Bianca Marcuzzi, born in Trieste, July 8, 1903

The Marcuzzi Family Research Project shows what to expect from My Italian Family research services: a rich, detailed story with historical and cultural context. We work backward in time through your Italian ancestry to explain the path your family has followed over many generations. You will learn more than just names and dates — the research will illuminate the lives of your family members and give you insight to their hometowns and history. Are you ready to begin researching your Italian family? Read about the Marcuzzi family for a taste of what’s in store, then contact us to start your own research project.

VIEW A SAMPLE RESEARCH PROJECT HERE

At My Italian Family we are taking the invaluable work of an artist, Paola Sale, to have your Family Tree manually designed; you can choose among several formats and styles.

 A4 format (20cm x 30cm) : tempera painting on parchment paper ($400 + Shipping & Handling)

A3 format (30cm x 40cm) : tempera painting on parchment paper ($700 + Shipping & Handling)

Canvas Format (50cm x70cm): tempera painting on parchment paper ($1,000 + Shipping & Handling)

 

In ancient times, magical and sacred overtones were often the basis of a person’s name. The modern combination of a first name followed by a last name was established by the aristocrats in the Middle Ages and eventually filtered down to masses during the Renaissance. In 1593 the Council of Trento required parish priests to register parishioners by their first name (also referred to as Christian name) and last name in order to stop marriages between blood relatives.

The majority of Italian surnames derive from first names, originating from the name of the head of the household. The most common are Giovanni, Andrea, Anna and Rosa – with all their variant spellings. More than one third of Italian surnames are based on geographic locations – nations such as Bulgari, regions such as Lazio, cities such as Palermo, and places such as Della Casa.

Some surnames come from nicknames such as Grassi (big/fat), Gambacorta (shortleg), Gentile (gentle) or Forte (strong). Others derive from trades including Barbieri (barber), Pastore (shepherd) and Medici (physician). Occasionally, unusual circumstances gave away to surnames such as Fumagalli, meaning “smoked poultry”. Thieves used to fill the hen-house with smoke so that chickens would be silent while being stolen… If your name is Fumagalli, one of your ancestors may have been a chicken thief.

Most spelling variations have specific regional origins. Surnames ending in –isi, as in Troisi, indicate a Neapolitan or Sicilian background; surnames ending in –aloro, as in Favaloro, are Sicilian; surnames ending in –igo, such as Barbarigo, are Venetian; surnames ending in –utti, as in Zanutti, are from Friuli Venezia Giulia; and those ending in –iu, such as Mongiu, are from Sardinia.

If your surname is Tripodi, your ancestors came from the region of Calabria and your surname is derived from the nickname tripodu, meaning “tripod”. The surname Amoroso originated in either Sicily or Puglia and derives from the adjective “loving or caring”. If the surname is Esposito, there is a good chance that your ancestor was from Naples. Originally a surname given to foundlings exposed in the streets or in front of churches, Esposito is today the number one surname in Naples and, in fact, the fourth most used surname in Italy after Rossi, Russo and Ferrari.

Changes in surnames have always occurred. Researching old records brings to light differences in spellings as names were translated from Latin to Italian and sometimes dialect. The latest changes happened during more recent migrations and many Italian surnames were adapted to the new environments. They were often translated into English, or “Americanized” which often involved shortening the name or dropping its final vowel.

If you wish to research your family history, you need to know the original spelling of your Italian surname. By researching local sources here in the U.S., you may find when and how your surname was changed. Census records, Naturalization records (in particular the “Petition” and “Declaration of Intention” forms), Ships’ Manifests, Social Security Death Index and vital records may list this information.

To determine all possible variations of a surname, use telephone directories (also available online) or mapping software programs that localize a surname and provide images of the regions, provinces or communes where people with that name reside today.

Our Surnames are part of our Italian Heritage and truly bind us to the culture, history and soul of Italy.

Get started with the research of your FAMILY HISTORY today!

Researching Italian records can be particularly rewarding when we consider that for generations people would remain in the same town. It is part of the Italian culture to settle in one place marrying people from within the same community, living in the same ancestral home and carrying on the same trade for generations. As a result, today we can trace a family as far back as the late 1500s by researching records in the same town.

The oldest records are the parish church records that were introduced after the Council of Trento in 1595; that marked the division of the population into parishes (i.e. parrocchie) where each priest was required to record baptism, marriage and death of every parishioner. To this day, a parish church could serve one town, a group of small villages or one neighborhood in a large city.

All records were handwritten and although each priest wrote in the language he desired, the preferred one was Latin. These are mostly unique records.

Two and a half centuries later, it was Napoleon Bonaparte who conquered a large part of Italy and introduced very important changes to most of the areas under his control. With the Napoleonic code, civil acts of birth, marriage and death started to be recorded in the local town hall (i.e. municipio) by town hall officials in a more standardized fashion and in duplicate copy. Despite the effort to introduce this practice throughout Italy, only southern regions, mainly the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (from Campania down to Sicily, part of Tuscany, Lazio, Abruzzi and Molise) established the civil record system as early as 1809 (Sicily started in 1820).

We will have to wait until after the unification of Italy around 1870 for this practice to become official throughout Italy, i.e. central and northern regions. The dual-recording by both “state” and “church” initially created some confusion among people who, until the state was able to enforce its authority, were reluctant to declare and register their marriage, births and deaths in the local town halls according to the new rules. Eventually people adapted to the new system, which slowly became the official one.

Because vital records are kept at the local level throughout Italy, you must know the exact “town-of-origin” to conduct a family research project. Once you discover and verify the proper town you can then determine where the records are best kept, for instance: the year the local municipality started the civil record system, the condition of the records and what is missing if anything. You may need to make contact with the local church for older records and this gets more complicated when the town has more than one parish church. For instance, in large cities such as Salerno or Firenze, although the civil records are kept in one location, the towns have respectively 40 and 111 churches to choose from for the older parish records. On the other hand, smaller towns such as Marigliano (Naples) has seven while Salcito (Campobasso) has only one.

If your ancestor came from a southern town, odds are that research records from the 1800s will be performed in the local town hall records. If he or she came from a northern town, then the research will have to be split between the town hall and the local mother church and obtaining access in both sources can be difficult and time consuming. In both cases, hiring a professional researcher can become very helpful. All in all, the goal for most of Italian Americans is to reconnect to their long lost family and despite the difficulties that Italian research can present, the reward is always very high.

A family tree is mostly a collection of birth, marriage and death information; this is possible when these records are available and when we know the essential information to start a research in the Italian local sources such as town halls and parish churches.

If we want to expand our family history with facts and additional information, or if we need help to find some missing data (i.e. the exact town of birth), military and conscription records can be very helpful.

Military records started to be recorded around 1873 (although this varies according to each geographical area) with men who were then 18 years old. The imposition of the draft, one of the first acts of the newly formed Italian State was very unpopular at that time particularly in the agricultural south, where it meant sending strong men needed to cultivate the land over to the State for two to three years. 

The conscription records, also called Liste di Leva list all men by year of birth (classe) and they are kept in the main provincial State Archive. If these records are indexed by surname and not by town of birth, they can be an extremely useful source of information, because they allow us to find the EXACT town of birth in case we only know the main province where our Ancestor was born. Besides listing the main civil vital information, including parents’ names and occupation, a detailed physical description is also provided:  the height, the chest measurement, eye, hair, and skin color, condition of the skin and any scars or birthmarks. The board’s final decision on whether the man was able or not for military service is also listed. Ineligibility was determined primarily by ill health and disability.

Eventually the civil birth records were used to detect draft evaders. At that time, many young men decided to leave the country and migrate to the New World, including sometimes to escape the military service.  In that case they would have been declared able but delinquent because they had already left the country.

A separate record called Foglio Matricolare (Military curriculum of a draftee) documents the individual’s military career, from changes in status to promotions until the final discharge.
The war caused many immigrants to be called to arms in 1915, even if they had already served the army for the mandatory period. Many Italians who were already abroad, returned to Italy, while many more remained in the US and were labeled as deserters, which is often indicated on their military records. This could explain why most of our Ancestors did not return to Italy for the longest time; after all, desertion was punishable with imprisonment and even death during the wartime.

It is true that many Italian-Americans (some sources estimate up to 400,000) served in the American army during the Great War and many lost their lives. Many serving in WWI pledged their loyalty to America, notwithstanding the mixed feelings public opinion had toward Italians.

We want to remember all of them who fought in defense of peace and freedom, our ancestors, our family members, our loved ones, our neighbors, and our friends who have given the ultimate sacrifice.

If military records can be considered an essential source when we don’t know the EXACT town of birth of our Ancestor who left Italy, they can also be considered an additional source to learn more about his physical traits and military achievements.

TO ORDER A MILITARY RECORD CLICK HERE

Kathy McCabe is the host and executive producer of the award winning travel series DREAM OF ITALY on PBS and Create TV. Season 2 is particularly dear to us, not just because we are one of the proud sponsors of the show, but because Kathy traveled with her parents to her Ancestral town to reconnect to her Italian roots. This is what she was able to find with our help… 

"I always knew I wanted to tell the story of Castelvetere sul Calore, my ancestral hometown in the Avellino province of Campania. When my mother and I first rediscovered the town 23 years ago, who could have imagined that our story would turn into an episode of my own PBS travel series Dream of Italy! If you haven’t seen the episode yet, you can watch it HERE. Piecing together any family story is complicated and as soon as I decided I wanted to bring it to TV, I knew that I would need experts to help fill out the research I had done on my own over the years.

One of the people I turned to was my friend Bianca Ottone of My Italian Family for help in finding all of the documents we needed to effectively tell the story or what we thought was the story. In genealogy, it is never what you think! These documents filled in the gaps with their own story…

This small hilltop town overlooking the Calore Valley is so rich in history, tradition and yes, faith; a close-knit community that holds on to its ancient roots and can always count on each other’s help and support. My great-grandfather migrated to Massachusetts in the late 1880s looking for more financial stability if not for him, for his children and grandchildren. But who was he really?

Our first stop was the municipal archives where we discovered that my maternal great grandfather, Generoso Nargi, was born on September 8, 1864 (a date that did not quite match the ages and years declared in the US documents, something Bianca said was common), to a family of farmers and small landowners who most likely worked the rich land still used today to produce great wine.

At the time the Nargi family resided in Via Orticella, a street where originally there were only a few farmhouses, all destroyed after the 1980 earthquake. Generoso had four siblings; only one remained in Castelvetere, Grazia Petronilla Nargi. With Bianca’s help researching births, marriages, deaths and census records, we were able to locate a living descendant who still resides in Via Orticella today.

Photo courtesy of Kathy McCabe

Four Nargi generations later we found ourselves in the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, a place of worship and miracles. Named after the town’s Patron Saint, the Church was built in the 1400s; it was here that in 1797, Generoso’s grandfather, Vincenzo Luigi DE NARGI was baptized. These ancient records allowed us to identify five more generations of Nargis with Savino DE NARGIO (literally “the son of Nargio”) being the oldest Ancestor, born about 1625. Baptismal records started to be recorded in Castelvetere in 1594.

If genealogy helps us delve deep in our family roots, it is also a necessary tool when it comes to identify records that can prove whether we qualify for Italian Dual Citizenship or not; from the birth record of our Italy-born Ancestor to the US Naturalization records, or lack of thereof, to prove that he or she did not become a US citizen before the birth of the “next in line” child. In my case, Generoso Nargi became a US citizen in 1905, well after the birth of his son Louis here in the US. Unfortunately, prior to 1912, when a native-born Italian naturalized in another country, he gave up not only his own Italian citizenship but also that of all his minor children, regardless of where they were born.

Photo: Courtesy of Kathy McCabe

So I had to look at the other half of my Italian family (my other maternal great-grandparents) and visit the town of Ariano Irpino in Campania to research Marie Cuzzone’s parents, Generoso Cuzzone, a carpenter born in 1862, and Caterina Scrima. Similar to the Nargi Family, the Cuzzones migrated to the US in the late 1800s; based on the 1910 US Census, Generoso was still an “alien”, i.e. an Italian citizen, after the birth of his daughter Mary (her legal name though she went by Marie) here in the US.

Unfortunately, the current law granting Italian citizenship jure sanguinis (by right of blood) states that women could hold but not pass citizenship to children born before January 1, 1948, the date Italy became a Republic. Because my mother was born before this date, I could not at first glance fulfill all the requirements that would have given me Italian dual citizenship.  That law I just mentioned is considered discriminatory and I may still be able to achieve my dream of citizenship by going to court in Italy to contest the law. Stay tuned…

In the meantime, if you’ve watched the episode, you know that I received quite a surprise that more than made up for the traditional challenges of seeking Italian dual citizenship."

DISCOVER IF YOU ARE ELIGIBLE FOR ITALIAN DUAL CITIZENSHIP

GET STARTED WITH THE RESEARCH OF YOUR FAMILY IN YOUR ANCESTRAL TOWN

To watch this amazing Dream of Italy Episode, CLICK HERE

Larry Ardito, a UNICO member, recently traveled to his town of origin to meet his Italian relatives together with our researchers. Thank you, Larry, for sharing your family story with us. We were delighted to help connect you with your living relatives in Sicily.

GUEST POST “MY FAMILY TRIP TO NICOLOSI” by Larry Ardito

This past June, my wife Linda and I, traveled to Nicolosi, Sicily to visit the homeland of my mother, Angelina Toscano.  Prior to our trip, we researched my mother’s family history and discovered we had relatives still living in the region! 

Upon our arrival in Nicolosi we were warmly greeted by the researchers MY ITALIAN FAMILY provided to us, Francesco and his wife Maria, who took us to the local Municipal Archives where old family records are stored. How fantastic to see my maternal grandfather’s birth record handwritten in the Birth Volume from 1882!


My mother was born in the US, but we knew that the family went back and forth several times, before making Lawrence, Massachusetts their permanent home. It so happens that my mother went back to Italy with her parents in 1912 and there she remained, living with her paternal grandmother, for eight years. Eventually she was called by her parents and sailed back to the US in 1920 at the age of 11 on board of the Duca D’Abruzzi.  Once the ship arrived at Ellis Island, all passengers were quarantined. By researching US records, we discovered that my grandfather Sabatino Toscano, who traveled to New York to greet her, could not wait for his daughter to be released, so he signed an affidavit giving permission to the Red Cross to take custody and escort her home to Massachusetts.

Back in Nicolosi and armed with Family Lineage information, we were introduced to the local director of tourism who had arranged for us to meet the LaRosa family who descended from a sister of my Grandfather!   First, they accompanied us to the local cemetery where many of our mutual relatives were laid to rest; later they entertained us at their home where we shared family photos (the picture below shows my paternal grandfather, Sabatino Toscano with his wife Anita Reitano). They even took us to the workshop of a local sculptor who creates works of art from Mt. Etna's lava and gifted us with several pieces of art including the Trinacria, the 3-legged symbol of Sicily.

A wonderful day could not end without a fabulous family dinner; it was held at a local farmhouse restaurant where we met 16 relatives who welcomed us with hugs, tears and photos.   We were entertained by musicians who encouraged everyone to sing along to songs that were favorites of ours, as well as our relatives. 

The evening of music, wine, and delicious food brought us all together as a family for the first time. We took many pictures of us, together, something I would have never dreamt it possible, and promised to stay in touch as the evening came to an end.

Without the extensive research into my Italian heritage, I would never have been able to discover my family in Nicolosi.  This was a memorable and life-changing trip that my wife and I will cherish forever.

THIS CHRISTMAS GIVE THE GIFT OF YOUR FAMILY TREE! Get started on your journey today and share your family story with your children and grandchildren.

TO ORDER A CHRISTMAS GIFT CARD, CALL US AT 1-888-472-0171

All Resources

February 24, 2019
Resource

The origin of Italian surnames dates back from the end of the 1500s when parish priests were required to register parishioners with their Christian names and surnames in order to stop marriages between blood relatives.

Surnames come from different sources: first names, nicknames, geographic locations, professions, objects and titles, but each Italian region has adopted some types more than others with different spelling variations. Tracing these sources and variations is part of genealogical research and unveils an important part of family history and Italian heritage. 

 

February 24, 2019
Resource

Our founder’s grandmother: Bianca Marcuzzi, born in Trieste, July 8, 1903

February 24, 2019
Resource

In order to start a research project onsite in Italy or to order Italian vital records, you need to have some essential information of your Ancestor/s who left Italy, specifically:

  • Full Name
  • Date of Birth
  • EXACT Town of Birth (all family documents in Italy are only maintained in the EXACT town where the person was born)
  • Parents' Names (if available)

If you don’t have this information, you need to research the following sources:

December 12, 2018
Resource

At My Italian Family we are taking the invaluable work of an artist, Paola Sale, to have your Family Tree manually designed; you can choose among several formats and styles.

 A4 format (20cm x 30cm) : tempera painting on parchment paper ($400 + Shipping & Handling)

A3 format (30cm x 40cm) : tempera painting on parchment paper ($700 + Shipping & Handling)

Canvas Format (50cm x70cm): tempera painting on parchment paper ($1,000 + Shipping & Handling)

 

September 30, 2018
Article

If not , here is your chance to win a Family Research Project! Contest begins October 1, 2018!

August 06, 2018
Article

Kathy McCabe is the host and executive producer of the award winning travel series DREAM OF ITALY on PBS and Create TV. Season 2 is particularly dear to us, not just because we are one of the proud sponsors of the show, but because Kathy traveled with her parents to her Ancestral town to reconnect to her Italian roots. This is what she was able to find with our help… 

December 10, 2017
Resource

Do you know the meaning of your last name? It may tell you about some physical traits of your Ancestors, where they were originally from and more...

January 08, 2017
Article

Maria Montessori was born on August 31, 1870 in the small town of Chiaravalle (part of the province of Ancona, region of Marche) in the house located in Piazza Mazzini No. 10.

April 25, 2016
Article

As Italian-Americans, most of us have an understanding that our ethnic background is mixed — you might consider yourself to be half Italian, a quarter German, and a quarter English. In reality, Italy and other nations have their own dynamic histories. Your Italian ancestors may have migrated from France a thousand years ago, or from Turkey three hundred years ago.

April 13, 2016
Article

The great Italian scientist Antonio Santi Giuseppe Meucci was born in "popolo" San Frediano, part of historic district of Firenze, in the house located in Via Chiara No. 475 (today known as Via de’ Serragli No. 44) in the early hours of April 13, 1808. A day later he was baptized in the Battistero di San Giovanni.

March 29, 2016
Article

Before Ellis Island went into service, people coming to the US would be processed through Castle Garden. 

For 34 years, from August 1, 1855, when it opened, to April 18, 1890, over 8 million people entered the US through Castle Garden. Among them, was Mother Cabrini, later canonized as Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, from the village of Sant'Angelo Lodigiano in Italy, who worked tirelessly to help Italian immigrants.

March 09, 2016
Article

When applying for Italian Dual Citizenship or researching our Family History, the starting point is the official Italian birth record of that first Italian born Ancestor who migrated to the US. We have to remember that all family documents in Italy are only maintained in the exact town where the person was born. Surprisingly, many Italian Americans today often don’t know the exact town of their Father or Grandfather or Great Grandfather.  The good news is that there are a number of US records that may shed light on the town of birth of the Ancestor(s) who left Italy.

February 19, 2016
Article

Arturo Toscanini was born at 3:00 am on March 25, 1867 in in the house located in via San Giacomo No. 13 in Parma, Emilia–Romagna, son of Claudio Toscanini and Paola Montani.

February 17, 2016
Article

Researching Italian Records can be very rewarding if we take into account that people would remain in the same town generation after generation. It is part of the Italian culture to settle in one place, marry people from within the same community, live in the same ancestral home and pass on the same trade to the next generation. As a result, today we may be able to trace a family as far back as the late 1500s by researching records in the same town.

January 05, 2016
Article

The newest and certainly the most intriguing approach to discovering our family history is DNA testing and analysis. A DNA test result shows us the “mix” by percentages of the various “nationalities” or geographic history of our family.  But often, the results may not show any or only a small percentage of “Italian” background…

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