A s Italian Americans, we are incredibly lucky in that Italy has some of the world's most generous heritage citizenship laws. Operating on the principle of jure sanguinis (that's Latin for "by right of blood"), Italy allows descendants of the Italian diaspora almost unrestricted access to obtaining Italian dual citizenship, provided that the applicant meet certain criteria.
While I will make a later post on how to determine if you qualify for Italian dual citizenship, I decided to concentrate this post on the concrete steps to take towards obtaining an Italian passport.
Think back to your last Italian born ancestor. What personal details do you know about him or her? For reasons related to Italian citizenship law, it's best if you start by thinking about a paternal or male relative (women could not pass on Italian citizenship until January 1, 1948). What do you know about him? Do you know where and when they were born in Italy and, if possible, their parents' names?
Using your ancestor's name and date/place of birth, search for his or her naturalization record from the United States government (or verification of non-naturalization). The date of naturalization is key because it will determine your eligibility for Italian dual citizenship. In other words, if your last Italian born ancestor naturalized any time after his child's birth, you may be eligible - with few exceptions. Please refer to Italian citizenship laws pertaining to female ancestors, ancestors from Trentino Alto Adige, and ancestors who became United States citizens before June 30, 1912.
Obtain the Italian birth certificate of the Italian ancestor through whom you are applying. If your ancestor got married in Italy, get the marriage record as well. You may also need to get his/her spouse's birth record so check with your consulate to be sure - some will require it, and there is no one rule regarding "non-line" ancestors across the board.
Check with your consulate's website - or e-mail them if they respond to e-mails - and start to procure every U.S. document they require. You will need to obtain certified long form copies of all records (if in NYC, be sure to request a "letter of exemplification" for birth and death records), and will also need to apostille your records for use in Italy.
Be sure to check your consulate's requirements to see which U.S. documents need further authentications, as requirements vary from consulate to consulate. If you need your documents to be apostilled for use in Italy, send the original records to the relevant US authority for authentication (most commonly the Secretary of State's office in each state).
Determine which records must be translated into Italian and have them professionally translated.
The importance of a professional translator cannot be understated. Unless you are completely fluent in Italian, it is prudent to hand off your vital records to someone who is experienced with English and Italian legal terminology. A botched translation may cause you to lose your appointment and return months later.
Each adult applicant must apply in person at his or her Italian consulate. The consular official will review all records and provide feedback if your eligibility is not immediately determined. You may have to amend records, procure more records, re-translate, or cure any deficiencies in the eyes of the consulate.
Once your Italian citizenship is recognized, some consulates will automatically enroll you in AIRE (the registry of Italians living abroad). Some others will require you contact them for registration in AIRE. In either case, once you are registered as an Italian living abroad - as opposed to living in Italy - you are eligible to obtain an Italian passport. You can then schedule your passport appointment and obtain your passport when ready.