12 February 2017

How to Read a Free-form Italian Death Record

I've shown you some birth, death and marriage records from the Napoleonic era in Italy. These were somewhat easy to read because they used a fill-in-the-blanks form. But your ancestral hometown may not have used the same form—or any form at all. What then?

Here is a record of the 1789 death of Francesco Colasanto, written as a single paragraph in 1851. It was part of the 1851 marriage packet of his grandson, Francesco Saverio Colasanto. I have underlined parts of the image and underlined the text that corresponds with those sections to show you how to read this type of document. Granted, the handwriting can be difficult. Practice and exposure to many documents written by the same priest or town official can get you used to reading it.

Handwritten death record prepared for the 1851 marriage of the decedent's grandson
Handwritten death record prepared for the 1851 marriage of the decedent's grandson

Extract of the death of Francesco Colasanto. It begins with words to the effect of "In faith the priest of the Church of San Leonardo Abbate of Basélice," and goes on to mention where the original death record is found: Volume VIII, folio 41(?), document number 5. In that book of death records was found Francesco Colasanto, son of Giovanni and Donata Ruggiero, husband of Errica Pettorossi, died at 23 January 1789 and was buried in the same church. It states that this record is being written only for matrimonial purposes on 15 August 1851. It is signed by the priest, Giuseppe Maria DelVecchio, and by the mayor of the town. It bears a stamp from the church and from the town.

After viewing many handwritten documents just like this, I became familiar with their format and was able to quickly pull out the pertinent facts. Don't forget to let Google Translate be your friend.

OK. I promise to leave Italy for a while and return to U.S. documents.

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