If we look for information from our Italian grandfather/great-grandfather we will have to look for documents and those documents are kept in the archives.
For the search for these documents to be successful, it is necessary to know where the documents that interest us are kept, in which archives and how the Italian archives are organized.
In Italy we can identify 4 types of files:
- the state archives (one in each province) and the Archivio Centrale dello Stato (which preserves documentation of national importance, would be a kind of "Italian National Archive").
- the communal archives (belonging to the communes),
- ecclesiastical archives
- private order files.
Italian State Archives: What Documents Do They Keep?
The State Archives (Archivio di Stato) are based in each Italian provincial capital, but the documentation they retain reflects the changes that occurred in Italian political organization over time. To these archives we can ask among other documents: Acts of the Civil Registry, Lists of Leva or Ruoli Matricolare, Censuses.
It is important to note that records prior to 1850 cannot be photocopied and that as we go back in time, we will find that Italian records were written in Latin, often in Vulgar Latin.
The files consist of large volumes and difficult to handle, the consequence of this is that we probably need a professional researcher to perform the task for us. These searches are very delicate and generally the status files do not have staff to perform them for us.
Know documents and time periods of the preserved records: El Portale Antenati
To consult the detail of the documentary heritage preserved by the state archives, one of the best tools is the Portale Antenati.In addition to access to images from civil registries, the portal offers information on the funds (civil and military registries) that are kept in the state archives of each province.
This last option is very important, since many state archives have recently acquired new documentary collections and catalogued them. For example: in the state archive of Rimini there is the anagrafe delle parrochie (1861-1865) and Fedi di nascita (1780-1919) extracted from parish archives included in the area of the commune of Rimini and surroundings.
In Italian Ancestors you will find a guide to search in Portale Antenati.
Italian Archives Online
Given the interest generated by the thousands of descendants of Italians around the world, many Italian archives digitized or are in the process of digitizing the documents of interest; among them: records of civil registration, pre- and post-unitary censuses, records of military service and old cadastres.
The main functions of the Diocesan Archives are to preserve and disseminate the historical documentary collections of the respective Diocese. Many times these archives are also considered as true historical archives because it was common, at that time, that it was the church that gathered all the background related to the life and history of a region. That is why they are sometimes called The Diocesan Archivio Storico.
Copies of the minutes drawn up by each parish under its jurisdiction should be deposited in the Dioceses. If, for example, one parish was destroyed or annexed to some other and therefore no longer exists, it is possible that the books are deposited in the Diocese. Over the centuries the number of documents collected in these archives has become enormous. Practically each of us arming ourselves with patience could rebuild our own family tree until the end of the sixteenth century. 1
Indeed, if the different parishes began to keep their records in the early 1600s, it is possible that records of marriage and death of people born towards the end of the 1500s will be found. Often the records available in parishes begin in the late 1700s, as neglect, wars and looting have forced priests, after a certain number of years (or centuries) to send all the contents of their archives to the Curia.
In some dioceses you can still find microfilms of parish records. Some dioceses, unfortunately, are so overwhelmed with their obligations that they also fail to respond to the numerous requests that come to them.
In many dioceses the curia is in charge of the diocesan archive and to it we will address our request.