The town of origin

Finding the town of origin of Italian immigrant

Italian immigrants

The town of origin is the most important piece of information needed to begin your research of Italian ancestry. Therefore, it is essential to know the town of origin for an immigrant ancestor so that the records of that town can be studied. Usually, the hardest thing to do in the research process for any immigrant ancestor is to determine the precise town of origin. In fact, it is often more difficult than adding four or five new generations to the pedigree once the location is known.

It is important to begin your Italian research (whether at home or abroad) with a place of origin. Understanding when and why your Italian ancestor left Italy may help to shed light on his or her town of origin. The years 1880 to 1920 were record years for Italian immigration to the United States. A vast majority of these immigrants came from southern Italy, or an area commonly referred to as the mezzogiorno. They came for many different reasons, but most were seeking a better life in a new world.
For some Italian-Americans, their ancestors’ points of immigration to the United States are recent enough that they know the town, province, and region their family came from. But for some researchers, the task is not that easy. Many immigrants identified themselves by their town (comune) and province (provincia) before they identified themselves with the nation-state of Italy. Some immigrants may even have named their frazione (fraction or hamlet) if they were from a larger city such as Rome, Naples, or Palermo. Immigrants remained loyal to the local body rather than the national body because Italy was not fully unified until 1871. It is, therefore, not uncommon to hear Italians referring to themselves as Genoese, Neapolitan, Sicilians, Tuscans, Venetians, and so forth.

If you do not yet know exactly where your family came from in Italy, here are a few places that could provide you with that information:

Family Records

Communicate with other relatives who may remember details about your family. Clues to the origin of your Italian ancestors may be found in your own home. Search for family documents such as birth, marriage, death or church christening and confirmation certificates.

Vital Records

Death and marriage records from the U.S. may list an exact place of birth for an immigrant. Birth and death records of an immigrant’s children may also provide this information. Search in Italian genealogical records online.

Immigration Records

Fortunately, Italian immigrants are generally much easier to trace back to their town of origin than other ethnic groups. This is because of two main reasons. First, the largest wave of Italian immigration took place when U.S. record sources were very informative as to place of origin. Second, Italian culture was such that origin was part of the oral traditions often passed on to posterity.

U.S. incoming passenger lists were regularly kept since 1820. However, these records were generally not very detailed until about 1890. Fortunately, this is about when the big wave of Italian immigration began. Most immigrants came into the port of Ellis Island in New York, though other ports such as Philadelphia, Boston and Baltimore welcomed many Italian immigrants as well. Passenger lists can be searched in a variety of ways.

From 1861 to 1985 30 millions of Italians immigrated to different places of the World. A large number of Italian immigrants left for the Americas from French and English ports.

Naturalization Papers

Typically, U.S. Naturalization records after 1890 list an immigrant’s exact place of birth.

Next Steps

After you have identified an exact place of origin and have collected other details about the family such as birth, death and marriage details, then you’re ready to begin searching in original records!

Related Links

Unfortunately, few Italian emigration records exist. You can, however, find many records in the United States of Italians who moved there. (FamilySearch Wiki)

- The most important step in doing your initial research is to find out exactly which comune in Italy your ancestors came from and where they were born. The place they were living in Italy before they emigrated may NOT be where they were born. (Italian Genealogy Online)

Pro Genealogists (no longer available)

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