Italy Roundtable: Tracing Your Italian Roots

by Jessica on March 13, 2012

by | March 13th, 2012  

As Spring is, well, close to springing in the Northern Hemisphere, we’ve got the earth on our minds. That’s why this month the Italy Roundtable has chosen ROOTS as our blogging topic. How metaphorical will we get? Probably very.

One of the many reasons for visiting Italy is to trace Italian ancestry. Tracking down family information is, of course, something that can be done in any country – but there are a few places where it’s more common. Countries that saw huge waves of citizens leave due to war, famine, or other unhappy causes (places like Ireland and Italy) tend to experience more “ancestry tourism” today.

Looking for family connections in Italy has benefits besides having a better understanding of where you come from. If you’ve got living relatives still in Italy, there is nothing – I repeat, nothing – better than the feeling of homecoming when you meet long-lost cousins you never knew you had. You are taken in instantly, no questions asked, fed handsomely, and left wondering why you didn’t visit sooner.

Alas, with no Italian blood, I haven’t had this experience in Italy. I have, however, had the experience of meeting cousins in foreign lands and being made to feel like long-lost family – and I have friends who traced their Italian roots back to living relatives who had the same nose as Grandpa.

It’s a life-altering experience. Just read this story of a blogging friend who tracked down her relatives in Puglia and tell me it doesn’t make you cry.

Tracking down information about your Italian ancestry isn’t always easy, however, especially if you don’t speak the language. Just because your last name is unique in the town where you grew up doesn’t mean it isn’t the Italian equivalent of “Smith” back in the old country, after all. There are a few things you can do at home and online to help facilitate the search for information and living relatives in Italy, but be prepared with a huge stockpile of patience.

Here are some resources to get you started if you’d like to trace your Italian ancestry:

  • This article on ITALY Magazine outlines 13 things you can do to start tracing Italian ancestry, including asking your relatives lots of questions, learning which comune (legal distinction for a group of cities/towns in a region) your family comes from, and knowing the last names of both the men and women (maiden names). There’s a list of websites at the end of the article that can be good resources, too.
  • Once you’ve figured out what comune your family comes from, you’ve still got to figure out who to contact in that comune for information – and that’s where this website comes in. The whole D’Addezio site is quite a good overall resource for Italian genealogy information, too, if you want to browse around the rest of it.
  • This site, called ItalianGenealogy.com, also looks like a good overview for researching your family history on your own.
  • You may be familiar with Ancestry.com, but did you know there’s an Italian version? You can register at Ancestry.it, too. (You’ll need to understand Italian for this.)
  • For reasons that some may find questionable, the Mormon church is deeply interested in genealogy – which means they’ve gathered an immense amount of information and (this is the good part) made it public. Here’s their online starting page for Italy research.
  • This is very text-heavy, but it’s an introduction to Italian genealogy that might be a good starting point.

So, are you getting exhausted yet? Yes, searching for Italian relatives or family history in Italy when the connections between family members have long since gone cold can be a long and difficult project. That’s why many people turn to the professionals, enlisting the help of agencies that specialize in genealogical research to help them navigate the murky waters.

One such company is ItalyMONDO!, which specializes not just in genealogical research but focuses solely on Italy. They’re based in both New York and Naples, and offer a multitude of services – assistance in filling in the gaps of your Italian family tree, help in locating living relatives still in Italy, and even help with dual Italian-American citizenship. Founder Peter Farina was interviewed on the Eye on Italy podcast in 2010, and in that interview he provides a great overview of what tracing Italian ancestry can be like – and the rewards it can bring.

Do you have family roots in Italy? Have you traced your Italian ancestry, or found any living relatives you didn’t know about? Tell us your story!

Other Voices from the Italy Blogging Roundtable

What roots are the other members of the Italy Blogging Roundtable cultivating this month? Find out by clicking on their links below.

photo by swanksalot


{ 6 comments }

Rebecca Winke March 14, 2012 at 11:47 am
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I have so many guests come through who are on a journey to track down long lost family in Italy…this is a fantastic guide for them. I remember the interview with Peter Farina and was so moved by it!

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Jessica March 22, 2012 at 4:21 pm
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Thanks, Rebecca!

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Susan Van Allen March 21, 2012 at 10:54 am
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Of all the wonderful experiences I’ve had in Italy, those that I treasure most are times I’ve spent with my Italian cousins in Rome and the village of Vinchiaturo in Molise. Lucky for me, my maternal immigrant grandparents kept in touch with those that stayed behind, so it was easy to reconnect, immediately be greeted with smotherin-lovering, and of course the most delicious food!

It’s great of you to post this info. I’ve talked to many travelers and heard the range of stories of Italian root quests–from some who just decided to show up in their family village, with no pre-planning and ended up disappointed when the welcome mat wasn’t thrown, PLUS they didn’t speak Italian, so couldn’t truly connect–to the better stories of those who did the research, planned carefully, took along a translator, and ended up having a life-changing experience.

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alanc230 June 12, 2012 at 6:32 am
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Thank you for these resources. I hope to be able to share them with family and friends who would be interested.

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eJean1981 August 20, 2012 at 1:14 pm
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This is great. I’ve bookmarked the page and I’m definitely going to use these resources.

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Joe Quicquaro October 30, 2012 at 4:34 pm
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I’m very interested in discovering the roots of my Italian surname “Quicquaro”. They all appear to be related to me after search through Italian phone books. My father was born in Toro Italy a province of Campobaso. It seams od that there are two Q’s in my name. A relative told me that someone may have immigrated to Italy from Spain with a short Q name a long time ago and the name evolved somehow. I read that the “qui” and “qua” are Latin for HERE

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