Monday, November 25, 2019

Finding 1838-1859 Italian Records for My Grandsons' Ancestors

They say that "luck is the residue of design."  One of my favorite genealogy things to do is "research down a rabbit hole."  The design issue here is Ancestry Hints, which include not only records but Photos and Stories submitted by researchers to their Ancestry Member Trees.  I got lucky because Ancestry provides these hints, and so I went down this rabbit hole (again) for a whole evening.

1)  Last week, I had a half hour of free time, so I decided to check out the "Photo Hints" in my Ancestry Member Tree.  One of the Photo Hints was for Maria Ferrari (1841-1911), who is my grandsons' 4th great-grandmother.  I knew the name from the family records for the San Francisco families on the Sturla side of my grandsons' tree.  The information I had was that their town was Varese Ligure in La Spezia state  in northern Italy (it's on the coast, east of Genoa).   They migrated to the United States in around 1880 and settled in San Francisco.

For the Hint, I clicked on the link to Maria Ferrari in the submitter's Ancestry tree, and found genealogy and record images of birth, marriage, and death records for the 1838-1859 time period in Varese Ligure in La Spezia state.  The submitter also had 1837 census record images for some of the families.

Here is the 1859 marriage record for Francesco Figone and Maria Ferrari (my grandsons 4th great-grandparents) in Varese Ligure:

The submitter conveniently put the web link to this image in the description of the image - it is I never would have found this record without this link!

That is the bread crumb trail for the record on the Antenati website which collects records for the State Archives in Italy.

2)  Getting to this particular record by starting at the Antenati URL was a challenge, but the bread crumb trail helped:
Home › Sfoglia i registri › Archivio di Stato di La Spezia › Stato civile della restaurazione › Varese Ligure (Parrocchia di San Giovanni Battista) › Matrimoni › 1859 › 39.23 › Immagine 9

Once you get to the "Varese Ligure (Parrochia di San Giovanni Battista)" page, then you see that they have "Matrimoni" (Weddings), "Morti" (deaths), and "Nati, battesimi" (births, baptisms) sections:

For a marriage, I chose "Matrimoni" and opening that page showed me the years available for this specific town:

I chose "1859" from the list, and then selected "39.23" from the next screen, and saw the list of 19 images for Varese Ligure marriages in 1859:

The Figone-Ferrari marriage was on image 9:

The records in this Antenati database are, apparently, not indexed.  They have to be searched one state, one town, one record type, one year, and one image at a time.  It helps to know where the ancestors were in the 1838-1859 time period in this case!

3)  The Ancestry Member Tree submitter's name for the record above is Ray Boyd, and he has a significant family ancestry in Varese Ligure.  He has worked thousands of hours finding records, defining families, downloading and attaching images, and transcribing the records for those family members, and building his family tree.  It is an awesome family tree!  

My grandsons' line in Ray's tree goes down to their 2nd great-grandparents.  We corresponded via Ancestry messages and found that he and my grandsons are probably distant cousins (probably 7th or 8th cousins from common ancestors in the 1700s).  

4)  But what does the record say?  How do I find the dates, the names of the wedding partners, the names of their parents and witnesses, etc. if I don't speak Italian?  

Well, the FamilySearch Wiki has help to understand these forms on the "Italy Church Records" page:

The form that matches the above marriage record is the "Post Unification Marriage Act" form:

The English translation (with blanks and underlined text to fill in) is:
Isn't this a wonderful aid for those of us who can't speak or understand a word of Italian? 

5)  This has been a fun break for me from my usual genealogy work.  Rabbit hole work is real genealogy fun for me.  You never know what you're going to find!  Here is the pedigree chart for Maria Figone, my grandsons 3rd great-grandmother, and daughter of Francesco Figone and Maria Ferrari:

Before this study, I knew the names of the persons in green, but not the persons in black.

6)  If you have Italian ancestry in the 19th century, then you could go on Antenati and on FamilySearch to see if there are records for your family.  It really helps if you know a birth, marriage or death year and a birth, marriage or death place for your person.  Search for your last known person's name on Ancestry and FamilySearch Family Tree, and see if someone else has found records like these that could help you.

These are not the only Italian family history records, of course.  Some are online, but records back into the 16th century may be available in the local church archives or in state archives.  I also realize that Antenati probably has more records than I know about at this time!

I have more Italian records to find for my grandsons' ancestry in other states, and hope to entice them to help me with the searches.  I definitely will send them, and their father and cousins, a copy of the records that I have found.

My thanks to Ray Boyd for all of the hard research work he has done on these families and records, and for permitting me to include them in my research.  


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Unknown said...

Randy, there are also books in Antenati that list mariages, births and deaths for the spans of 10 years: "indici decenalli". So if you don't know the exact date but only a range, you can always flip through these registers. I research in the province of Bergamo and I use them all the time. Annick H.

Bill said...


Great rabbit hole, great post.

The families of my wife's parents came from Italy about 1900, so we've worked on these to the extent we can. I was initially impressed to find that the collection of civil registration goes back to about 1800, even earlier than England's 1837. Another thing to watch out for as you work with those is that marriage and death information are often noted in the margins of the birth records. Valuable info for supporting research.

Bill Greggs

Randy Seaver said...


I looked all through Antenati for the "indici decenalli" and couldn't find it. Do you have a link for La Spezia or Genoa? Or is it on another site? Might it be on FamilySearch?

Thanks -- Randy

Randy Seaver said...

Bill, Thanks for the tips. I spent an hour yesterday going through the 1867 birth records for Lavagna in Genoa state on FamilySearch searching for the birth of Maria Podesta, one of my grandsons' ancestors. Scrolled through 313 images of about 200 birth records - at least they put the name of the child in the margin. Found 6 Podesta children, but not the Maria I was seeking. I need to go through 1866 and 1868 now...the date 1867 was from family information.

Reality strikes back - not every name or date is correct or exact.

Unknown said...

I am so used to the state of Bergamo that I forgot that this is the problem with the whole of Italy. The different regions have been under so many different governments and never the same that there is no unity in the way the archives were kept and now shared on Internet. The "Indici decennali" are for the archives after 1866, after the unification, and are fashionned after the French way of maintaining archives. There are no archives for Lavagna in the state of Genova on Antenati. But I searched by name: Maria PODESTA and there are many in Genova proper. I guess that doesn't help since Lavagna is almost 30km from there. Sorry that I answered too fast and was not very helpful. Annick H.

Randy Seaver said...

Hi Annick,

No problem, thank you for the explanation, and for looking for it in Genova.

I spent another hour today looking for Maria Podesta and found her in the 1868 birth records for Lavagna on image 271 of 325. There is no marriage or death date on the birth record so she must have died elsewhere. I also found the son's (Giacomo Sturla) birth record in 1892 in Lavagna. That was fast - I knew the birth date, and guessed image 78 and he was on image 77.

Unfortunately, FamilySearch has Lavagna civil marriage records from 1866 to 1882 and 1924-1941, deaths for 1866-1936, and births 1866-1939.

I have used the FamilySearch translation forms a bit now, and the records don't exactly follow it - especially the parts where the father and mother are listed with their parents.

Is there a translation service somewhere?

Thanks -- Randy

William Jessie said...

You have shared a nice article here about the Marriage Records. Your article is very informative and useful for those who are looking for the Dominican Republic Marriage Records. I am thankful to you for sharing this article here.

Winedign said...

Thank you Randy for the kind words and very well written article on how to search records from Varese Ligure. My Boyd Family Tree on now has over 10K folks born and/or emigrated from Varese Ligure, Italy. Many, including my Great Grandmother Angela Figone, ended up in Northern California. If anyone needs help with their tree from Varese Ligure, please feel free to reach out via -Ray Boyd