Get Started with Your Italian Family History Research – “footnotes” guest Margaret Fortier, CG®


Welcome back to Genealogy TV and this is
another footnotes episode. I call them footnotes because it’s footnotes where
the real sources are. Today’s real source is Margaret Fortier, she is
certified from the Board of Certification for Genealogists and as a
member of the APG, which is the Association for Professional
Genealogists. She’s an expert in several areas such as French Canadian and
Portuguese ancestry as well as Immigration and Naturalization, but today
we’re going to talk about one of her favorite subjects for which she is also
an expert in and that is how to get started with your Italian research. We’re
gonna jump into that interview in just a few moments but before we do, I’d like to
remind you to subscribe to Genealogy TV on the YouTube channel and ring the bell
so that you get notified of every new episode I upload. And now on to our
interview with Margaret Fortier. I’m so glad you’re here because I know nothing
about Italian genealogy. I don’t have any Italian that I know of in my tell us
tell us where if we’re just discovering that we have it Italy in our background.
where do we start? Well you start here in the United States that’s your basic workflow for any immigrant because you
want to find out as much as possible about them here before you jump the pond
and the reason for that is because Italy has no none zilch nada no national
databases mm-hmm so if you do not know the town you can’t really look over
there so you want to mine the records in the United States to get as close to the
town as possible before you look in any Italian
records so they don’t have any national archives online. Oh boy oh they have
archives but they are by province and a province has many many many towns and
there isn’t like a provincial index. You have to know you have to know the
town. Okay that sounds very familiar with a lot of jumping the pond kind of
research we avoid and for Ireland I know even for myself I have Danish ancestry
you kind of have to figure out the towns here and we can do that through a lot of
different records here in the United States
once they emigrated here somewhere in those records it’s going to say where
they’re from beyond just the country so well that’s good to know. All right so if
we know this say we know the town of the province…Province is like a County right?
District maybe? Yes yeah. Okay and so once we know that then what do we do? Well if
you know the town mm-hmm Then there are several websites you can
go to look for the Italian vital records. Family Search has a number of them and
that’s good because they’re free. mm-hmm Ancestry has some of them, and there’s a
wonderful site of the Italian provincial archives called Antenati, which
currently has about a little more than half of the ninety-five archives online
so you can’t go to that site and it actually has an English version so you
don’t have to… all right… the Italian and …put that link in the show notes too for people watching… and the thing there that’s a little bit difficult is it it will tell
you well here are births for these years and then you go into a folder and you
have the year and you kind of have to go page by page. Sometimes there’s an index
right not but if you but if you no the year within a year or two if you
can find it. The the more difficult thing is figuring out the handwriting. Yes I am
familiar with that from my Danish ancestry. And here’s a tip so on Facebook
I managed to find friends in Denmark when I was doing Danish research so I
imagine you could do the same thing… that would translate for me. So I’d say hey I
don’t understand this little loop in the handwriting can you tell me what that is?
And they would write back and tell me so I’ve met cousins that way actually using
DNA research to that our descendants you know we have common ancestor so there in
Denmark so if you’re fortunate enough to have or discovered cousins in Italy I
would imagine you could do the same thing. Yeah there’s actually a Facebook
group called genealogy translation and people go in and just post you know a
snippet or a record or something like that and there’s guarantee be guaranteed
to be someone who can translate it for you. Well that’s that’s a new tip for me
too because I had heard that you know one of the things that I’ve discovered
beyond just the normal Google Translate which is on Chrome, is the Google app
have you seen that, the Translate app? So if you’re traveling Italy right and you
have the Google Translate app on your phone you can hold it up to a sign a
road sign or you can in it translates you’d like just immediately. My
husband showed me that yeah that’s pretty nice. Well alright so what’s next
for us? If we are now… tell me again the name of that website? Antenati. So I’m imagining that not everything is online. No, no. If we are
fortunate enough to travel to Italy where would we go, obviously… You go to
the town hall for the vital records mm-hmm and they would probably have them.
You can also go to the Catholic Church in the community for the baptism and
marriage records. You can go to the provincial archives for the military
records because every male in Italy after born about after about 1860 or so…
right… was registered at birth for the military draft for when he was 18 so
they didn’t have any of this show up when you’re 18 they had you from birth
and if you are if you weren’t there like you had emigrated because many many
young men emigrated at that time they would have a notation emigrating we’ve
got to the United States you would have the provincial archives for that kind of
records and if you wanted to go further there are some areas that have censuses
and other kinds of things but that’s a little more advanced you know if you if
you get the birth marriage and death records that gets you started because
like all of the most of the European records it will give you the parents the
mother’s maiden name and then you can go back. I think of them like Russian
nesting dolls you may find one record you do it and then there is oh there’s
more and then you undo that you can keep going back. Well that’s that’s what you
want yes right… yes… that’s awesome. Yeah. Is there any nuances with the family
clusters the family groups? I imagine you know back in the day like many of the
countries lots of family groups live together in small quarters or you know
farming villages where there’s you know aunts and uncles and cousins all living
in the same place? Actually many of the Italians from a certain town all moved
to a certain area in the United States. In fact there are some u.s. towns that
can trace directly to the Italian town because so many of the people went there.
Because don’t forget it was a huge huge emigration you know I mean and… What time
period would you say that the biggest part of that immigration was
happening? 1900 to 1924 because the immigration act in 1924 greatly reduced
the number who could come over. Okay so I know from some of my immigration classes
that there was a push or a pull. Either people were leaving the country for a
reason or they were returning or you know they were they were seeking
something better… What do you think the case is with Italy
and the migration no I don’t know the history very well… so admittedly I’m naive. There
there are so many reasons I mean there was the poverty semi-starvation there
was there was no public education no required mandatory public education in
Italy until 1911. Well if kids got to the age of 8 they
went to work in the fields were lots of natural disasters earthquakes there was
a tsunami and Sicily that followed an earthquake that wiped out like 250,000
people in the early 1900s. Wow be enough yeah there were cholera
epidemics typhoid because in southern Italy you’ve had long hot dry summers
followed by wet winters just the perfect conditions for mosquitos to you know
transmit these and then there was just the the structure which was really
practically a feudal structure where you couldn’t get ahead you know the land
owner owned everything and if you were a peasant you had your little home and you
walked to your fields it would could be like an hour away and then you walked
home for lunch and they know back and you know it was
just there was no your lunch with you know to the field right and then the
military draft you know when you were 18 and from 18 to 21 you could be
conscripted for up to three years and in the
nineteen hundred’s Italy was very active in Ethiopia and other areas so you could
be sent far away for many years you know so I think a lot of people just said you
know this is not going to get any better and so let’s take a chance and go. Okay
so all right so let’s pretend for a moment that we know somebody is
immigrating to the United States where would you suggest they go to find those
travel records and/or the immigration naturalization records? Well for the
passenger list you can look on ancestry and I believe family search. What I would
recommend is actually using Steve Morse’s site he hasn’t won a link for
that too he has a one step website that’s kind of like a front end to the other
ones that makes it allows you to search more broadly so you can for example
search by the place they came from mm-hmm not something that you can
normally search for an ancestry or whatever and this is where you have to
be really flexible with your spelling some of the listings you know they
didn’t get it right or they you know part of those last names blotted out or
whatever right not to look for the passenger manifests and don’t assume
that they came in through New York or they came in through Boston unless you
know for certain just do a very broad search. Okay all right good to know good
to know. And then when you get the record if you’re lucky enough they came late
enough that the manifest will tell you who they left in Italy mm-hmm who
they’re going to in the United States and you always want to take those names
and find out about them because the person that they’re coming to in the
United States they had to have come over at some point
and you want to find their record and sometimes it will say it’s a friend but
if you go and research it you actually find out it’s a cousin or something. Part
of that chain migration yeah you know that’s I’m constantly talking about
almost in every video it seems lately about you know the concept of cluster
genealogy or Elizabeth Shown Mills FAN research. Yeah so yeah so that’s a good
tip that’s another set of rocks that we need to be turning over as far as doing
our cluster genealogy. Do you want to jump into these slides and take a look
at what you sent over. You see that? Yes I do this is my great-great-grandfather
who was born in 1852 and I’m just thrilled that I have a picture I know I
know he was I think he was about 70 he was coming from
Buenos Aires Argentina to New York that’s this immigration card and the
reason I say on the slide that my ancestor was not Italian is because when
he was born there was no Italy it was just a
collection of states Italy wasn’t unified completely until 1870 so he
would have said he was from Avellino which you can see over there in the
right with the red star which was in the Campania region he would have said he
was Avellinese. He wouldn’t have said he was Italian.
The Italians became Italian when they came over to the United States really.
Well isn’t that interesting I who knew? Yeah. Wow. Well still this document right
here is just… I know.. You were probably doing a dance around the house when you
found that one. Yes and it was so interesting because it was the second
wife of his grandnephew who had kept all this stuff and gave it to me at a family
reunion about 10 years ago because she she knew it was important and she
just wanted to give it to the family history person in the family and there I
was and I was just thrilled. That is just… that’s… well the photograph just is… right
now is blessing for sure alright I’m gonna move on the next slide
here tell us about what we… I think I’ve got that centered up pretty well. Yes. The
naming patterns in Italy there was a very strong naming pattern as it came as
they came to the United States it was followed less and less but this is why
your grandfather has five cousins named Vincenzo
because then Jen’s oh and Maria get married and they have three sons Antonio
Pietro and Luigi. So Antonio has two daughters first and he names the first
daughter Maria after his mother. The first daughters always named after
the father’s mother. Then he has a son who he names after his father Pietro
gets married he has a son he names them after his father. Luigi gets married he
has a girl names her Maria and then he has a son names him Vincenzo. So now you
have three Vincenzo’s born in the space of six years, with the same surname, in
the same town This is why you have to be really careful you have the right
Vincenzo and he could have more sons who could have more sons this is just three.
So it’s important to know and understand this it’s not always followed but it is
followed more often than not. Wow. All right very very good to know
all right so anything else on this slide the only other thing is that in the
Italian naming pattern you never named a child after a parent unless the parent
had died. So a child could be named after the parent posthumously if the mother
died child words of the father had died
before the birth, and that’s the only only… They had the same ten or twelve names
running around all the time. Yes but they’re not not as bad as the Irish
names were I think they took four names and just recycled them forever. Right Wow.
Alright let’s see what it was there anything new that you didn’t discuss on
this? This is just the the pattern that the first son after the father’s father,
the second son the mother’s father, the first daughter the father’s mother, and
the second daughter the mother’s mother. Excellent alright so the last slide that
you have here I can’t quite go ahead. This is a picture of the pasta eaters in
Naples in the early 1900s and think of these as like the the food trucks we
have today where they would have vendors set up and you were well-off you had a
plate of pasta with sauce and maybe a little meekness sauce you know you had
to be pretty well-off for that okay look quite so well-off you had a plate of
pasta maybe with a little oil in it and if you were poor and this was all you
could afford you had the pasta water the water the water the pasta had been
boiled in that had some starch in it and that’s what you had and to me that
illustrates the the poverty better than all the stats in the world Wow
Very good story . Anything else we need to talk about? I would just recommend if
somebody really wants to explore the Italian genealogy a book that came out
last year by Melanie Holtz, The Family Tree Italian Genealogy Guide, which is
very useful there really hasn’t been a good guide for U.S.
research into Italian ancestry and its Melanie
does exclusively Italian research she travels there and it’s it’s a wonderful
resource. Well that is a great tip I will put a link for that in the show notes –
are you speaking anywhere soon? Yes actually I’m speaking at the at the end
of January at the Merrimack Valley Chapter of the messages Society
genealogists in Georgetown mass on Andiamo
Finding your Italian Family. Awesome well I know that you are experienced in other
areas as well so hopefully we’ll get you back on to talk about some of your other
other areas you want to tell us about those real quick? Yes I do
French-Canadian, I speak speak read write French I also do some Portuguese
American and because I’m in Boston I do Irish because they’re here. Well if
anybody wants to find you how do they go about finding you? My profile is on the
APG the Association of Professional Genealogists website and I’m on Linkedin and
Facebook and I assume I can give you the link for my email. Absolutely, I can put
all of those links on the show notes if you wish I can certainly do that. And I
appreciate you taking the time right after the holidays here to to talk to
everybody about doing their Italian research. Thank you so much…Thank you so much. Well
that was great fun. I know I learned a few new tips along the way. As always
look in the show notes for the links about the things that we discussed in
that video. Be sure to sign up for the Genealogy TV newsletter… Links for that
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your family tree.

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