The Italian Challenge: Finding Your Family Amongst Your Many Families

LDS released more digitized Italian records and I was fortunate that updated Rovigo, Italy Civil Registration records were among them.  Specifically, I had been waiting to scan through hundreds of Massa Superiore (Castelmassa) and Castelnovo Bariano documents for as much as I could find.  Besides the freakish coincidence of typing in a random page number at the outset and finding my great-great grandparents marriage certificate and license, discovering more was challenging.

When Napoleon invaded Italy in the first decade of the 19th century, he established a civil registry for births, marriages and deaths.  Luckily, my family is from the regions where those registries were created.  After Napoleon abdicated his throne, however, some areas stopped the practice by 1815.  A few areas continued civil registration until Italy’s unification when it became law for the whole country.  Unfortunately, most areas will have a huge 50-year gap!  From what I understand, Lombardia and Veneto are gap regions from 1815 until unification.

In Rovigo, where my great-grandmother Maria Bighinatti was born, it seems record-keeping returns about 1871, just in time to miss out on registering her parents (my great-great grandparents), who were born in 1868 and 1869 (or 1870, if you believe my great-great grandmother Mabel over the records.  Sorry, Mabel.).  The marriage record I discovered contained names of their parents, who were likely born during the gap period as well.  Adding to the confusion, every registration book as multiples of our family names: Bighinatti, Provasi, Zaghini, Franciosi.  Without additional information, deciphering which cousin is from what branch of the family is impossible.

Death records are slowly trickling out but the years I suspect the parents of Arturo Bighinatti and Amabilia Provasi died are not yet available digitally.  If their parents are indeed listed on the death registries, I could link the missing gap in the family tree using Italian records with Napoleonic ones.  Numerous registration systems in one area over the course of a century sounds like a genealogical nightmare.  But that’s why we do this stuff!

Church records may be the ultimate answer to my genealogical “prayers” but from my understanding, LDS does not have Castelmassa diocese church records.  A cousin of my grandmother once went to Italy and retrieved her mother’s baptismal record from the Church but I am unaware of how far back the record-keeping goes.  It may the only hope of family researchers with Lombardy and Veneto roots.  Maybe it is time to learn Italian and buy a plane ticket?  If only I had known when I was studying in Tuscany ten years ago.  Ugh.

My Italian lineage trail has been mostly trial and error.  I knew my great-grandmother Maria was the first born in 1896 so I searched the previous year and voila (or should I say ecco!  I think it’s ecco in Italian), her parents marriage certificate was there.  The records I have seen, once you have seen enough of them are mostly self-explanatory if you copy it into an online translator.  Figlio means son, so when you see “figlio di Vincenzo,” that mean “son of Vincenzo.”  After a while, you’ll spot the information you need.  Stay patient, the same surnames are repeated often in the same town.  It can get interesting.

In Bocca Al Lupo!

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