Posts Tagged With: Rich Roots Genealogy

Adventures in Church Archives

Paolo Collection 2 (38)

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.

richedit2Ciao 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 –

orsola-giella-nata-1856_001Orsolo 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

Format:  Manuscript/Manuscript on Film
Language: Italian
Publication: Salt Lake City, Utah : Filmati dalla Genealogical Society of Utah, 1989
Physical: in 11 bobine di microfilm ; 16 mm.

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!

Categories: Finding My Family | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Genealogy Hints – Naturalization of your Ancestors

richedit2Our resident genealogist, the charming and smart Rich Venezia of Rich Roots Genealogyhas returned with more helpful hints on discovering our individual stories.  Many of you of Italian descent, have e-mailed me about obtaining Italian Citizenship.  Rich is the expert .  Here he talks about the first and most important step – naturalization of your ancestors.

Dear Readers of Nonna’s Mulberry Tree,

This month, we’ll be tackling a question I am asked all the time: How do I know if I qualify for dual citizenship?

While there are lots of rules and regulations – it is the Italian government, after all! The most important question you have to answer is the naturalization question.  Just when did your ancestor become an American Citizen?  If your Italian ascendant (say, your grandfather), naturalized prior to the birth of their child/your American-born ascendant (say, your father) – well, then the Italian bloodline was not passed through, and you’d be ineligible. However, if the Italian ascendant never naturalized, or naturalized after the birth of your American-born ascendant – well, we may be in business!

What?  You don’t get it?  Simple – we’ll use Midge as an example.  Her Grandfather, Francisco Guerrera became a naturalized American Citizen after Midge’s dad, Giovanni Francisco Guerrera, was born.  Even though her dad never understood that he was an Italian citizen until Midge started researching – he was!  The Italians don’t care where you are born if at the time of your birth your parents – or parent  – is an Italian citizen, then you are too!!!  Midge’s story.

So, the first step to citizenship – start looking into your parent’s or grandparent’s (great grandparent’s, etc.) naturalization. Here are some places you can survey –

The best place to start is by searching census records. These are accessible in various places online – notably Ancestry.com (check if your library has a subscription). Censuses starting in 1900 have a citizenship status column, and censuses until 1940 are available. (1950 becomes available in 2023.) If your grandfather immigrated in 1913, you should be able to find him on the 1920 census. Usually, one of four things are listed in the citizenship column:

NA = Naturalized

PA = First papers submitted (usually, a declaration of intent [to become a citizen])

AL = Alien (i.e., unnaturalized)

NR or blank = No record; it’s possible immigrant provided the info or know

Biagio Camperlino - 1920 census - Ancestry.com

Thanks to Ancestry.com – we see the PA and AL on the right.

So – if you find Grandpa in 1920, and he is listed as AL, and then you find him again in 1930, and he listed as NA – you can surmise that he probably became a citizen between 1920 and 1930. (Now – let’s just hope your father was born in 1919!)

The thing about censuses is that they can be very inaccurate, so it is unwise to take this information as completely factual without corroborating with further research. I have seen people go from being listed as “NA” in one census to “AL” in the next census, or people list “PA” for 30 years running! Do use the censuses as a guide, but just a guide! You’ll want to corroborate your information, especially for something as important and complex as obtaining dual citizenship.

World War I draft registration - FamilySearch

World War I Draft Registration from FamilySearch noted he was an alien.

If your male Italian ancestor was here in 1917 and/or 1918, and was “of fighting age” – that is, born between about 1873 and 1900, he should be included in the World War I draft registration card database. Note that all eligible men had to register – these cards don’t just exist for men who served in WWI. These registration cards can be found on websites like Ancestry.com or Fold3, as well as for free on FamilySearch. Most of these cards have a question relating to citizenship status – whether the registrant is a natural-born citizen, a naturalized citizen, an alien, or having declared intention. If your ancestor’s citizenship status matches that on the 1920 census (remember there were 2 or 3 years in between), you are one step closer to the truth.

Now that you have a timeframe in which your ancestor may have naturalized, what do you do next? The age-old answer: It depends. Naturalization records are held at different repositories, and each state and county may hold their records at different places. In New Jersey, most county clerks hold the naturalization records for their county (for instance, Middlesex County and Hudson County records can be found in those counties.). By calling the Office of the County Clerk, you can determine if they hold these records. However, in Monmouth County, for instance, their records are held at their County Archives – which has a searchable database online!  It is worth the phone call to see if you can do the research from the comforts of home!

Michelle Tucker Chubenko of Jersey Roots Genealogy is a colleague and friend of mine. She wrote a blog post that might be helpful on finding records in the NJ district courts.

In Pennsylvania, records are *generally* held at the Prothonotary’s Office, but this differs from county to county.

This is Midge, I had never in my life heard the word “prothonotary.”  What the hell is that?  According to the source for all – Wikipedia: The word prothonotary is recorded in English since 1447, as “principal clerk of a court,” from L.L. prothonotarius (c. 400), from Greek protonotarios “first scribe.”  Who knew?!  

If you are having trouble finding the records, keep in mind that some state archives, local or regional libraries, or genealogical societies may also hold these naturalization records. The New Jersey State Archives, for instance, holds a vast collection of naturalization records – for some counties, into the 1940s and 1950s! (Union or Sussex County ancestors, anyone?)

Another complication is that the naturalization laws changed in 1906 – and a lot of Local Courts lost their ability to naturalize citizens.  Now the search gets a little sticky!  Just what court naturalized our ancestor??

If a US District Court existed in the city or county where your ancestor lived, it’s extremely likely they would have naturalized through this court. In Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, for instance, after 1906, all naturalizations occurred in the US District Court of Western Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh. In New York City, many immigrants would have been naturalized at the US District Court of New York (Southern District) if they were Manhattanites or from the Bronx. Queens, Kings, and Staten Island residents likely naturalized through the US District Court of New York (Eastern District). In New Jersey, there were District Courts in Newark, Camden, and Trenton. The records of the US District Courts are generally held by their regional branch of the National Archives (NARA) – NY and NJ at NARA New York, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia at NARA Philadelphia, Ohio at NARA Chicago, etc.

Citizenship Frank

My nonno was naturalized in a Local Court.

The good news is that a lot of these records can be searched online (at least up to the 1930s or 1940s). Italian Genealogical Group has indexed the records of the NJ and NY District Courts. The Pennsylvania District Courts’ records are on Ancestry.com up till 1930. FamilySearch also has a large amount of naturalization records available online for free – both District Court and Local Court records. You can also order a search with NARA for a nominal fee – National Archives.

If you have lots of time to wait and not a lot of time to do the research – this may be the option for you. It requires a little less detective work but a long waiting period .  Just pay the fee and order an index search from US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS). They hold all naturalization records from 1906 onward. A search can be ordered here: US Citizenship and Immigration Services. The current waiting period to receive the results of the index search is anywhere from 6-8 months.  That doesn’t seem so bad.  However, then factor in another 6-8 months to receive the record if one has been found using the index search. I generally find it a little easier to verify naturalization by other means. However, you should be able to use the results of the index search to determine your eligibility. A date of naturalization is usually listed on the index search, so you can determine whether this was before or after the birth of your American-born ancestor.

A USCIS index search would also come in handy if you believe your ancestor never naturalized. There will likely be an AR-2 (alien registration form) for them if they were alive in 1940. (Midge here -Why is it that alien makes me think of ET Phone Home?)  Even if the USCIS search is negative – no naturalization for grandpa – you may subsequently request a letter certifying the non-existence of a naturalization.  If this were the case for your ancestor, the Italian Consulate would require such a letter for your dual citizenship appointment.

The bottom line is – no matter how you find your ancestor’s naturalization record, the date that they were granted citizenship to America is key. It must be after the date of their child, your American-born ascendant. The concept of dual citizenship jure sanguinis, through bloodline, only works if the bloodline is unbroken – and until 1992, Italian nationals could hold only one citizenship.

In boca al lupo. May your search be swift and uncomplicated, and may you be eligible for a beautiful red passport!

Rich Venezia is a professional genealogist based in Pittsburgh, PA. He specializes in Italian, Irish, and immigrant ancestry, and NJ/NYC and Pittsburgh-area research. He also assists clients with dual citizenship applications. He has worked on two genealogy TV shows (including PBS’ “Genealogy Roadshow”) and is available for client research and speaking engagements.  His website can be found at richroots.net and he can be reached at rich@richroots.net. He adores Midge and her blog, and is so thrilled to be visiting with her regularly. A presto!

Categories: Finding My Family, Practical Matters - Living Abroad | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: