Whew, the holidays are over and those resolutions are racing around your brain. A good number of my Italo-Americano pals have said that this year they are committed to researching their families. I always say the same four words – call genealogist Rich Venezia! He is cute, works hard and is Italian! Rich and I were talking about some of our experiences doing research and decided that it was time to suggest that you go back to church – the parish churches of your ancestors. Through the church archives in Pontelandolfo, I was able to trace my grandmother’s family back to the 1500s!!! I had a little help from Antimo Albini (link to story) who told me that the priests were responsible for census and wrote down incredibly interesting details about the parishioners. My great – grandfather was a hunchback! Who knew! Let Rich Venezia tell you how to use the archives to find out more about your family.
Ciao a tutti!
I’ve been traveling all over these past few months, and Ms. Midge has also been quite busy herself! Rumor has it her new hip is working just fine. I’m glad to be able to finally sit down and write for our third round of genealogy hints.
Midge asked me to write about church archives, and what a great topic it is! The records held by churches throughout Italy can trace your family back generations upon generations. The main question is access – do they still exist? Where are they held? Will the priest let you look through them?
After the Council of Trent in the 1560s, the pope required all Catholic churches to create registers of vital events in each parishioner’s life – births (baptisms), marriages, and deaths. From 1595 forward, after the papal proclamation (do it or else!), records should exist in most churches in Italy. Of course, there is the occasional fire, flood, or other act of God (see what I did there?) that would render the registers unavailable in present day.
In a lot of cases, these registers remain with the parish church of origin. Whether they are well-preserved in a church archives, stored in the priest’s attic, or tucked away in the sacristan’s garage will differ from parish to parish. Archdiocesan archives also exist, but what will be held at each of these archives will differ greatly: for instance, the archive of the Archdiocese of Sorrento-Castellammare di Stabia in Sorrento only appears to have the church supplements (allegati) for marriages that occurred in that Archdiocese. In the archives of the Archdiocese of Vallo della Lucania, however, the only surviving records for one of my main ancestral churches – San Biagio in Matonti, Laureana Cilento – can be found. (I wish I’d known that before going to the church!) It’s important to know where the records are located before you head across the pond!
If you want to research in the parish registers of your town, do as much research as you can before you go. Genealogically, work backwards to the start of the civil registration records to find as many of your ancestors as you can. Technically, have a good software program to record further generations of ancestors efficiently and accurately.
If your ancestor was from a city – or even a big small town – there will be more than one parish church. How to find which one was your ancestor’s place of worship!? Start with the Italian vital records – stato civile. Between 1815 and 1865, there were two columns in the stato civile records – one column was for civil information, the other (right-hand) column for ecclesiastical. The ecclesiastical column will list the parish church in which the baptism or marriage occurred… and voila! You have your parish church. If your ancestor was born after 1865, look for their parents, or even grandparents, in stato civile records. Many families went to the same church for generations, unless they moved to un luogo faraway. Here is an example –
Orsolo Giella – from Family History Library microfilm of Archvio di Stato di Avellino (has name of parish on the right-hand side – it’s the name of the town; there was only one parish at the time of her birth)
Practically, get in touch with the local priest in advance. While you could write to the church in the mail, I’d recommend getting in touch via email (when possible) or the local parish priest by phone (try to find his cell phone number). If you can’t find a number or address for the church, try to get in touch with Town Hall. Someone there may be able to assist you in getting in touch with the priest. Many town websites include information about the parish.
As you can imagine, to do this, you’ll want to have advanced Italian language skills or a bi-lingual pal – both for the set-up of the meeting and the actual research process, too. (Most records are in Latin, but if you can’t communicate with the priest enough to let you in the door…) If you don’t have a relative or pal, I’d recommend hiring a local translator or guide. (Midge note – I know a few bi-lingual Pontelandolfese if you need someone.) This can also make it much easier when doing the research, as they can help you communicate with the priest and other town officials who you may come across during your local research. Perhaps you have cousins still living in your town? See if they can provide some assistance for you.
Note from Midge – We were lucky in Pontelandolfo that the church archive had been digitized by a parishioner! It pays to nose around town – local bars are great places to uncover who is who – and ask if there is a local person who has taken on this task. When I started my research, my Italian was basic Berlitz vacation guide at best. Everyone was helpful and even sent around for someone to help me who spoke English.
I don’t recommend just showing up at the door of church and expecting to have good results. Especially in small southern towns, priests may work at two or more churches – which means it’s very likely your day in town will be their day in another town.
A very select number of parish records have been filmed by the Mormon Church, so it’s always worth a peek at familysearch.org to see if your town’s records have been filmed. (I see this mainly in Sicily and northern Italy.)
Note from Midge – I went to the link and discovered that they have records from Pontelandolfo! I also found out that in East Brunswick, NJ Family Search had a Family History Center and I could have the microfiche sent there! Thanks Rich!!!
Registri dello stato civile di Pontelandolfo (Benevento), 1809-1860
Getting access to these records isn’t always easy, but as you can imagine, the benefits can be very rewarding. Who doesn’t want their family tree traced back to 1595?!
For further information, you may want to look at the following article from ItalianGenealogy.com. (I am not associated with them in any way – I just think it’s a great and detailed article.)
I hope to see you in Italy! Happy hunting!
Grazie Rich! Ci vediamo!