Beginning Italian Genealogy

A week ago, Apple posted an article on Nardozzi Genealogy. Apple describes how she found most of the US records for her husband’s Nardozzi ancestors, but she writes:

“I know that the family came from Rionero in Vulture, Province of Potenza, Basilicata Region, Italy. I don’t speak or read Italian and really have no idea where to go from here…”

My Experience Researching Italian Ancestry 

Back in April, when I last visited the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City, one of my goals was to research the Italian ancestry of a woman named Rose who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Rose knew little of her family history, although she knew the dates and locations of the births of both her parents, and she knew the names of her grandparents. Rose’s parents were both born in Augusta, Siracusa, Sicily, immigrated separately to America, and were married here in the Bay Area.

The Family History Library Catalog 

Before I left for Salt Lake City, I searched the Family History Library Catalog to see if the FHL had microfilmed copies of records from Augusta. The FHL Catalog showed that the library had copies of the Registri dello stato civile (Civil Registrations), 1820-1929 and the Riveli di beni e anime, Augusta (Siracusa), 1682-1815.

  • Registri dello stato civile = Registrations of the Civil State (Civil Registrations)
  • Riveli di beni e anime = Revelations of Goods and Souls (Census Records)

The Civil Registrations included nati, pubblicazioni, matrimoni, morti, allegati, diversi, memorandum, and cittadinanze.

  • nati = births
  • pubblicazioni = publications (of banns of marriage)
  • matrimoni = marriages
  • morti = deaths
  • allegati = attachments (documents to support the marriage, see below)
  • diversi = diverse
  • memorandum = memorandum
  • cittadinanze = citizenship

So, this looked very promising! The Civil Registrations alone range from 1820 to 1929, and the census records encompass the years 1682-1815! I’ve rarely been so lucky in my own research to find microfilmed records that covered such a long period of time for a single location.

Well, I started by looking for the most recent records and worked my way back in time. The civil registrations are in Italian (church records would be in Latin) and, since I’ve studied Latin but not Italian, I fully expected that I would have difficulty reading the records and that I might be able to find records for only one or two generations.

Finding The Records on Microfilm

I found the birth records for both of Rosa’s parents fairly quickly. Among other information, the birth records provided the dates and locations of birth and baptism, the names of the parents, and the age and profession of the father.

I then looked for the marriage records of Rosa’s grandparents. Among other information, the marriage records provided the date and place of the marriage, the names and ages of the bride and groom, and the names and ages of the parents of the bride and groom.

In addition to the marriage records, I found the allegati – attachments – which were a set of documents to support the marriage. The allegati included copies of the birth records for the bride and groom and death records for deceased parents of the bride and groom. The death records for the parents of the bride and groom named the grandparents of the bride and groom, and so the allegati provided information on three generations!

Well, I looked back in time for earlier generations and found civil registration records for Rose’s parents, her grandparents, her great-grandparents, and even six of her great-great grandparents going back as far as 1803. The records themselves only went back to 1820, but those records provided the names and ages of parents, allowing me to go back one generation more than the records themselves.

Quite a successful day, and I barely made a dent in the available records!

Apple’s Research 

Apple has a good start on finding records for her husband’s Italian ancestors. She knows that her husband’s grandfather’s name was Gennaro Nardozza and that Gennaro was from Rionero in Vulture, Province of Potenza, Basilicata Region, Italy. He arrived at Ellis Island on 17 Mar 1904 at age 24, meaning that he was born in about 1880. Apple has additional documents and, if she’s lucky, some of those documents show the names of Gennaro’s parents.

The Family History Library has microfilmed records from Rionero in Vulture (Potenza). Ufficio dello stato civile, Registri dello stato civile (Office of the civil state, Registers of the civil state), 1809-1860. The records include nati, pubblicazioni, matrimoni, morti, allegati.

Assuming Gennaro was born in 1880, Apple won’t find Gennaro’s birth records in the FHL records because the records for this location were microfilmed only up through 1860. For the same reason, it’s also unlikely that she’ll find the marriage records for Gennaro’s parents. However, Gennaro’s parents may have been born in 1860 or before, and so, if Apple knows the names of Gennaro’s parents, she may be able to find records of their births in the microfilmed records at the FHL. Apple can order of these microfilms through her local Family History Center and view them there.

But, even if Apple doesn’t know the names of Gennaro’s parents, she could write to Italy for Gennaro’s birth and baptismal records, using the Italian Letter Writing Guide available on the FamilySearch website. Those records should show the names of Gennaro’s parents and she can move backwards in time from there.

Best of luck with your Italian research, Apple!

Research Assistance and References 

The FamilySearch site provides assistance for researching Italian records. Look under the “Search” tab for “Research Helps” and “Research Guidances” and then look for “Italy”. The FHL also provides an incredibly helpful, full-color publication entitled Finding Records of Your Ancestors, Part A. ITALY 1809 to 1910. I couldn’t find this publication online, but it can be ordered from the FHL.

Here are some other references to get you started in Italian Family History Research:

Cole, Trafford R. 1995. Italian genealogical records: how to use Italian civil, ecclesiastical & other records in family history research. Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry.

Colletta, John Philip. 2003. Finding Italian roots: the complete guide for Americans. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Pub. Co.

Nelson, Lynn. 1997. A genealogist’s guide to discovering your Italian ancestors: how to find and record your unique heritage. Cincinnati, Ohio: Betterway Books.

Copyright © 2007 Stephen J. Danko

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6 Responses to Beginning Italian Genealogy

  1. Apple says:


    Thank you so much! I do have names for Gennaro Nardozza’s parents which hopefully are correct. I will check out the the FHL guides and books you mentioned and visit the FHC to see about ordering microfilm.

  2. Apple,

    You are very welcome. I’ve been thinking about writing this article on Italian genealogy for a while and your post on Gennaro Nardozza was the catalist to finally do it.

    Best of luck with your search. I look forward to reading about your experiences!

  3. Carole says:

    Hello – I wish I had this information when I was researching the town where my father was born! Luckily I do speak some Italian and was able to muddle through the names.
    I might warn those who are researching in the areas of Italy that experienced heavy battle during WWII, that you may never find the information you are seeking. The town my father was born, Castelforte, is in the region of Latina, province of Lazio and is very close to the monestery of Monte Cassino. The fighting and bombing in the region was intense and Castelforte was almost leveled. The town is ancient and records in both churches went back hundreds of years and most were destroyed. After the war the Italian government did it’s best to recreate the surviving records as best they could but there are huge gaps. Thanks to the Morman Church there were several microfilm reels I was able to rent and found many family connections. However, the records for the time my Grandparents were born, married and my father was born were never recovered. I’m very fortunate to have family that live in Italy and have collected information from them.
    Buon Fortuna to all of those researching and thank you Steve for your very informative blog! C. Vecchio Beringer

  4. Jenny says:

    Tell Apple, too, that when requesting Gennaro’s birth records she should also request a copy of the “Stato di Famiglia” (Family Status) record. This will list all of Gennaro’s siblings, in addition to his parents, as well as any boarders or relatives living in his home, with their ages, professions, etc.. Those records have never been filmed (pity!) but I find them the most useful!

  5. Christine says:


    Nearly a year after you created this post a stranger vivasciously types away at her keyboard, tears swelling behind her eyes, and a knot in her throat, to tell you how grateful she is for your help! I have just recently begun doing my family history (after too long of a delay) and wasn’t sure where to begin (I was never patient enough to understand the FHL search engines, plus I needed those wonderful translations you provided). So, I simply began googling the surnames of family and the cities they are from. After weeks of blind searches I found this post after googling “potenza, Italy birth records”. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! I’m so incredibly anxious to find out more about my family, I’m afraid I’ll have a little longer delay until I can order some of the films I need, but truly believe that all your information has exponentially improved the prospects of my journey!

  6. Jessica says:

    Your blog is very informative! A quick question- Is there a way to view the FHL microfilms other than say, actualy going to Salt Lake City? I’d love it if you could email me at

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