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Cavaliere Anthonly Lascio

Cav. Anthony Lascio Chapter - PIP 1

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by Cav. Anthony Lascio

Notary records, you say.  Who cares?  You the time you get to the end of this article.  Unless your blood flows blue (nobility) these records may be the only resource you have to take your research back into history beyond the beginning of the local parish ledgers.

Notarial records in Italy revert back to the period of the Roman Empire.  In those ancient times, the land owner designated one of his slaves, who was literate, to record and maintain all of the owner’s business transactions.  No records, no proof.  Later in history the emperor chose a public official to do the job.  This was particularly important as it pertained to transactions regarding property.  A noble family, for example, required the recording of all it’s property activity in order to keep the family’s control over such matters.  As time passed, the notary public role became a status symbol as the position became more and more important.  It is not uncommon for a family to pass this function down from father to son, even to this day.

All property or possession transactions in Italy are registered and of course, taxed.

But what about the notary connection to genealogy? Notary records are only important when your search for ancestors comes to a screeching halt because your furthest research reveals no more data.  The ledgers of the Catholic Church are the sources which carry you back deeper into history than any other primary source.  But, all good things come to an end.  Whether it be the 1700's, 1600's or if you’re very fortunate, the 1500's, eventually even those valuable church ledgers had a beginning.  It is then, if you’re persistence overpowers you and more information is sought, do these resources become a factor  The notarial documents can provide a means to carry your genealogical quest back further into history.  That is the good news.  The bad news is the work you have ahead of you.

Every state archive in Italy has notary record copies, primarily concerning the transaction of property but also regarding wills/inheritance. These records, in some locales, could revert back to the year 1000, but on the average, as a rule, one will find these documents dating to the 1400's and the 1500's.  There is no particular pattern to the method or manner these legal transactions were recorded.  The style of the specific notary dictates the end result.  The language used for these records was Latin and they are filled with notarial lingo including coded language and an abbreviated format.  The typical American genealogist will discover that reading these documents will blow their mind.  Further, no indexes were used and many of the documents were extremely lengthy.  Recording of the notary records is chronological.  The time required first to understand the Latin style, secondly to translate all of the coding, and thirdly to interpret the handwriting, will test the stamina and patience of the most seasoned genealogist.

Exactly what genealogical information will notarial records provide.  If the ancestor had property, they will be among the records.  In most of Italy, especially the Northern and Central regions, even the poorest had some property be it a meager house on a small piece of land.  The record will show not only who owned the property but list all the family members and of course who inherited the deceased owner’s possessions.

Another notary record which may be of interest is the betrothal (marriage) contract which was somewhat common in Southern Italy and Sicily.  This act occurred when a dowry became involved.  Example; Antonio wishes to marry Giuseppa, but, because he was much older then his bride, her skeptical parents desired an exchange of property along with the daughter to “sweeten the deal”. Antonio or his parents were required to give Guiseppa’s parents land, livestock, or some other item of value in order to obtain their blessing on the marriage contract.  Thus, the act was recorded in the notarial records to protect the bride’s parents and provide legal certification and documentation.

To summarize, notary records are considered a secondary or collateral record source.  When all else fails, they could provide data to fill missing links.  But do bear in mind these records are extremely difficult to track down and interpret.  Their value is limited at best, but where nothing else is available, they can be helpful.  When planning to tackle these documents I have one piece of advise.  Before you begin, take two aspirin and go to bed.  

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