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requesting records from italy
what, who, and how to write

By Deborah K. Millemaci
(return to genealogy)

There will come a time in your research of your Italian family ancestry when you will have to request record information from Italy. You need to become familiar with the different records available and how to request them.

What Tells You What
"Stato Civile" or vital records include birth, death, and marriages found in the town your ancestor was from. Writing to a parish priest for church records would give you baptismal, marriage, and burial information. If requesting a "Family Certificate" you would write to the "Ufficio Anagrafe." This type of record normally has current records of town residents but has been known to also have older records. Family census information will normally be found here. If you are planning a visit to Italy, and you wish to view vital records, you should write a letter to the "Sindaco" (the mayor) of the town you will be visitng.

Writing Your Letter
Before you compose your letters, you need to have the pertinent data necessary for the person receiving your letter to process your request. The name of the person you are researching, town he/she was born in, date of birth, and date of death (if they died in Italy) are required. In addition to this information, for best results your letter should be composed in Italian. But don't despair: I will list some websites that offer form letters in Italian that will help you. If you aren't fluent in our beautiful Italian language, these websites will also provide you with the terminolgy you need to know for your letter.

Time is Money
When requesting records from Italy, I have noticed there is a difference of opinion as to whether to send money as payment for the researcher. From my personal experience, I purchased an international money order and enclosed it with my letters to cover the cost of the person's time and research. One thing I strongly advise against is sending cash or a personal check overseas.

In sending cash, you have no idea whether it was received (mail service can be very slow in Italy), and no guarantees that your research request will be completed. I have also been advised by some of my friends in Italy that personal checks are difficult to cash. The number of records you request will affect the amount of money you will need to eventually send. The current exchange rates are 2.58 Euro for 1 record and 5.16 Euro for 2 records, etc. If you are hesitant to send monetary payment with your initial letter, then by all means don't do it. You can either offer to make a donation to the local parish or wait to see if there is a monetary request when you receive a reply.

Get Ready to Wait
You must also realize your inquiry may not be processed immediately. It may takes weeks or maybe even a couple of months, as there is such a large volume of requests. If after a few months you have not received a response, you can send a follow-up letter reqesting your information again. Be sure you enclose a self-addressed unstamped envelope also.

Extra Help
The following websites will further assist you in composing your letters to Italy. They not only include letters, but postal codes, white and yellow pages, church listings, and more:

These websites are great reference sources that will help you in composing your letters to Italy. If you don't have access to a computer, I would highly recommend Lynn Nelson's book "A Genealogist's Guide to Discovering Your Italian Ancestors," which includes letter-writing samples as well as addresses of the Italian archives and Italian terminology you need to know for composing your letters.

©Deborah K. Millemaci - 2002
No part of this article may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the author.


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