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Cavaliere Anthonly Lascio

Cav. Anthony Lascio Chapter - PIP 1

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by Cav. Anthony Lascio

This subject has been presented previously, but it is back due to popular demand.  It seems an ever increasing number of Italian genealogists are making the trek to the old country.  Some travel to the ancestral homeland because that is where the most valuable genealogical record sources are found; others find Italy fascinating to visit in addition to the research possibilities, still others cross the Atlantic to just get a ďbootĒout of the peninsula.

Whatever your reason, fun, work or both, be prepared!  The average genealogist is poorly prepared to encounter the governmental and ecclesiastical quirks of modern Italia.  I cannot even begin to report how many Italian Americans believe the Italian Republic is anticipating their arrival with open arms.  As a tourist.....yes, as a

Letís walk you through some very basic but fundamentally vital steps every future traveler to bella Italia should know, based on personal experience and first hand accounts.

First and most importantly, announce your visit well in advance.  Send letters written in Italian to every archive you plan to visit indicating who you are, what you are seeking, and when you wish to conduct research.

Secondly, bring copies, not originals, of all pertinent genealogical data with you including, if possible, a family tree/pedigree chart in Italian.  Most of the officials and clergy you encounter will not read English.

Thirdly, keep your research to a bare minimum.  Do not expect a priest, town hall clerk or a state archive employee to cater to you as though you were the troops landing at Anzio beach in World War II.  They are all busy people.

Fourth, be prepared to speak in Italian and if you canít, have an interpreter with you.  Few Italian priests or town archivists speak the English language.

Fifth, expect to offer the priest a donation as a token of appreciation.  How much depends upon his degree of cooperation and the amount of research which is conducted.  If you request documents/certificates, plan on increasing the size of your offering significantly.  Civil authorities or their representatives should be asked in advance how much their fee will be.  Many town archivists will not solicit money.  A bouquet of flowers, a box of candy, a token of the USA will go a long way toward establishing a rapport with the person who is conducting the research.

Remember, in most cases, you will not be permitted to perform the research yourself.  Italian ledgers are very fragile and in many instances, although marvelously recorded, they have been poorly maintained.  This fact alone surprises many researchers who expect to walk into a church or civil archive, sit down with a pile of ledger books and spend the day perusing the pages.

Above all, keep in mind you are an American and they are Italian.  We have a reputation that is the result of countless experiences the Italians have had over the years.  Although you personally many not fit the stereotype perceived by the person youíre dealing with, their mentality of Americans as a group is quite inflexible.  The worst characteristics you can exhibit are impatience, brashness and a confrontational attitude. I have said this over and over again in previous columns, and Iíll say it one more time.  You need them, they donít need you.  They have got what you want and the only way youíre gonna get it is by being polite, patient, courteous, and respectful.

After listening to hundreds of reports from Italian genealogists, I cannot promise you will be successful.  It seems to depend upon..... dumb luck.  You will either encounter a priest or civil representative who is cooperative, understanding, and helpful or you wonít.  It depends upon the town and the individual.  No one knows in advance what they will encounter.  You may be fortunate or you wonít. 

There have been many positive reports from genealogists like ourselves. Then again, there have been an equal number of negative responses.  One thing is certain. You can help yourself and your chances of having a favorable experience if you follow the trips I have provided previously.

As a rule, civil officials seem to be more cooperative than the clergy.  This is substantiated by the Mormon Church which has been trying to microfilm Italyís vital records for many years.  In general, they have received good cooperation from the local governments and poor results from the diocesan bishops.

In summary, make your best effort, go out of your way to be decent, and let them know you really need their help and treat them with the utmost respect.  With the proper attitude and procedure, you have a fairly good chance of obtaining your information.


© PIP Chapter 1, 2003 ~ Webmaster:  ~  page last updated on Tuesday, April 22, 2003