When applying for Italian Dual Citizenship or researching your Family History, the starting point is the official Italian birth record of that first Italian born Ancestor who migrated to the US. We must 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 do not know the exact town of their Father or Grandfather or Great Grandfather. The good news is that there are several US records that may shed some light on the town of birth of the Ancestor(s) who left Italy.
The first source that gives us important clues is the US Federal Census.
Federal Censuses started to be recorded in the late 1700s and every ten years on the “zero” year after that. Considering that the bulk of the Italian immigration took place between 1880 and 1930, the Census Records that interest us should be from the 1890 Census all the way to the 1940 Census (the latest Census to be digitized and available online). Sadly, most of the 1890 Census perished in a fire which broke out in the U.S. Commerce Building in Washington, D.C. on January 10, 1921. Of the 63 million people who were recorded, only a mere 6,000 records remain. Indeed, this was a loss of a significant piece of American history.
The good news is that descendants of Italian immigrants can still find their Ancestors in the subsequent Censuses:
The 1900 US Federal Census was the first census to list the immigration and citizenship status; in fact it gives us a snapshot of the family listing all the names, month & year of birth, occupation, “country” of origin, year of immigration and even naturalization information. This is how we can learn if our Ancestor was an Alien (AL), had filed First Papers (PA), or had already become a Naturalized US citizen (NA).
The 1910 US Federal Census also includes how many years the head of the family and his wife had been married, which is very useful if you do not know when they got married.
The 1920 US Federal Census also includes the “age at first marriage” AND if your Ancestor was naturalized, the year of naturalization. A key piece of information if you want to research his Naturalization Papers.
The 1930 & 1940 US Federal Censuses list most of this information except for the year of naturalization.
REMEMBER: When applying for Italian Dual Citizenship, in the event your Ancestor never naturalized, the US Federal Census is a required document.
Keep in mind that some US States conducted their own census which may provide some important information. They were also recorded every ten years on the “five” Year. For instance, the 1925 New York State Census provides the date AND sometimes even the place of naturalization. These State level census records stopped in the 1920’s and 1930’s.