A Day In The Life Of An Italian Genealogist

Planning a day of research is not an easy task for a genealogist. Many things have to be organized prior to visiting the town of origin.

The most important thing is to obtain access to the archives by contacting either the civil vital registration officer of the municipality or the parish priest of the mother church where the registers are maintained, depending obviously on where the research will take place. Sometimes this is not easily accomplished and costs a lot in phone calls, time and "patience" all in hopes of reaching the "right" person. Access is not always granted, but a good genealogist will try to bother anyone who could be influential enough to open all the doors of the archives.

Another important task is to gather historical information of the town; you don't want to discover once you are there that the town was only founded in modern times or that in the 1800s, it was part of another nearby town.

Then there is the planning of the trip: what is the best way of reaching the town where the research will take place? Most of our ancestors lived in small villages often located far away from the main cities and difficult to reach. The situation has not really changed today. Trains cannot connect mountainous towns and buses or cars may be the only means of transportation available. Sometimes, it is a combination of trains and buses, so that in the end to go 50 miles may take up to 3 hours.

With a 6 am wake up call to reach the bus stop at 6:30 am, the genealogist starts his "research" day. Once he or she gets to the town, the research begins immediately, maybe by taking some photographs of the main square where usually the city hall and church are situated. But there is still an unknown variable that most of the times can only be unveiled when inside the archives rooms: the status of the registers. Will they be in good condition, will there be any registers missing, will they have indexes? In all cases, a good genealogist would adapt to the situation in order to be the most successful.

The starting point is always the birth of our ancestor who left Italy a century ago. This is the evidence that the genealogist would need to verify to be sure that the family was from there. In past times, Italy was characterized by a great immobility; families would settle in a place for generations; sometime a member of the family would marry in a very close town, literally a few miles away and eventually move back with the spouse to the paternal village.

The most common/useful research focuses mainly on the paternal line with the complete family groups, in other words, the genealogist will research our ancestors' siblings' births, his or her parents' marriage listing their parents' names, their births and so on. This obviously varies according to the client's research goal. If the research takes place in the town hall archives, additional information is available such as professions and residences. This last piece of information can be very useful in discovering the home where our Italian family use to live before migrating away.

If the house is abandoned, a tiny piece can be borrowed since it would not cause any further damage.

Another definite stop is at the local cemetery. Unfortunately because of the existing laws, chances are our ancestors are no longer buried there, but it is always interesting to take a few photographs of some of the graves even when people with the same surname are not necessarily connected.

The research can then continue in the local parish church if there is still time available or in meeting living relatives, usually according to the research goal outlined.

Sometimes, the research can come to a forced stop due to missing registers caused by natural disasters or even war damage, but even partial results can still convey a deep sense of belonging to a land that somehow will become more familiar to us by learning of our roots.

After all, memories are not just of those lost times, but are part of a beginning. Knowing that losing our roots inevitably leads to a loss in our identity, finding our roots helps us to understand how our people live, think and love.

Ah… the bus to take the genealogist home is about to leave…he knows that when he will get home, he will have to wrap up all the findings, write a complete report, order the official documents of the names and dates researched, process the film for pictures… after all, even though the information is decades old, we are so eager to know the results… we can't wait any longer.

By courtesy of My Italian Family. Click here for more information on researching your family. Alternatively you can write to My Italian Family LLC, 302 A West 12th St #213, New York, NY 10014 or call FREE at 1-888-472-0171 or fax FREE 1-866-7288919 or email at genealogy@myitalianfamily.com.