How to Start Researching Your Italian Roots
Every person interested in getting their Italian dual citizenship has to start somewhere. A last name or even a family story can give you the earliest clues about possibly qualifying for Italian citizenship by descent.
But clues alone are simply not enough. Before any potential Italian dual citizenship applicant can make their claim, they’ll need to find proof of eligibility in black and white.
This means that every prospective dual Italian citizenship applicant must obtain the necessary genealogical records. And when they put the birth, marriage, naturalization, and death records together, the documents must show an unbroken “chain” of citizenship.
12 things you can do right now to start researching your Italian ancestors
- Start with your last name. It can offer a surprising bit of information. Plug your last name into Cognomix and see where it’s most common in Italy. Alternatively, Rizzoli publishes the Dizionario Ragionato dei Cognomi Italiani, a hardcover book that you can purchase.
- Talk to your family and be persistent. They may know some information or at the very least know someone else who does. Plus, isn’t it time to call your grandmother anyway? She misses you!
- Find out which comune (town) your family came from. You’ll need to know where your ancestors were born. Then you can contact the town’s ufficio anagrafe for information. If your ancestors left Italy after 1880 you may even be able to obtain a “certificato di stato di famiglia” which contains extensive family information. Here is an alphabetical list of all comuni (the plural of comune) in Italy along with relevant information, addresses, and websites.
- Draw your family tree. It doesn’t matter if it’s pretty, just try and go back as far as you can to see where your gaps of information are.
- Try and find the maiden names of the women in your family so you can trace the generations back even further.
- Look through all family records. Naturalization records in particular are a wealth of information because they usually list your ancestor’s town of birth.
- Parish records are also an excellent source of information. You can try and write your parish for help, and enclose a small donation if possible.
- Use the FamilySearch website (run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints). You can even find your nearest Family History Center and use its resources.
- Connect with other people looking for their families in the same area. You can use social media or websites.
- Census information is also incredibly helpful. You can find records on Ancestry.com just during a preliminary search. They will usually list all members of a household, naturalization status, and places of birth. But, just a word of caution: because census data was self-reported, it may not always be correct.
- You can search Ellis Island records for free.
- Join Ancestry.it and Ancestry.com and connect with people doing research on the same area.
Frequently Asked Questions
- The Italian State Archive, where you can find censuses, military records, civil records, etc. You can write to local authorities to request copies, but cannot view documents under 75 years old.
- U.S. Federal Census information from 1790-1930.
- The Anglo-Italian Family History Society.
- A list of Italian parishes.
- Italy Heritage, a self-help resource.
- The Italian Genealogical Group.
- Italian Genealogy Online.
Start with what you do know! If you absolutely have no idea and are starting from scratch…
Get your parents’ birth certificates and work backwards, picking up information along the way.
Not necessarily, but it helps especially if you end up reading old documents written in Italian.
You can always enlist the help of an Italian-speaking friend. Additionally, you can use Google Translate to view websites in Italian.