30 August 2022

9 Bonus Facts on Italian Birth Records, Part 1

I'm nearing the end of my mega-genealogy project. I'm reviewing every available vital record from my grandfather's hometown. Then I'm fitting almost everyone into my family tree.

As I journey from 1809 to 1942, I'm noticing that most couples had far fewer babies in the 1870s than they did before. Instead of 12 babies, they had about five. Did they finally discover how not to get pregnant every year?

I've also noticed 9 types of facts that you can easily overlook on certain birth records. How they recorded these facts depends on the place and the year. Once you know they might be there, you can be on the lookout.

This article was running long, so here are the first 5 bonus facts. Please come back next week for the rest.

1. Abandoned baby

Birth records for abandoned babies may be found with all the other births that year. Or you may find them listed in a group at the end of the birth records. These records may have details about who found the baby and where, and what they found with the baby. Was the baby naked? Wrapped in rags? Wrapped in a nice blanket? Was there some small token with the baby?

If a mother hoped to claim her baby later, she could leave behind a sign. She could wrap it in a blanket that only she could describe. She could include a picture of the Virgin Mary, or something that only she knew was with the baby.

You'll see wording to say that they "gave" the baby this first name and this last name. And you may see who will raise the child.

If someone in your family tree was abandoned or born out of wedlock, don't overlook these important facts.
If someone in your family tree was abandoned or born out of wedlock, don't overlook these important facts.

2. Baby born out of wedlock

A woman had to be pretty brave in a Catholic community to claim her out-of-wedlock baby. But it happened. In this example we see that 25-year-old Florinda claimed her baby Maria who was born:

dalla sua unione con uomo celibe, non parente ne affine nei gradi che astono al riconoscimento

This translates to: from her union with an unmarried man who is not her relative nor of any close relationship to her.

Sometimes you'll see the words unione naturale, which is a nice way to say the baby was not conceived by a married couple.

3. Marriage date of out-of-wedlock baby's parents

There are times when a man will claim his out-of-wedlock baby, but not give the name of the mother. This is a lot less common than a woman claiming her baby and not naming the father.

Sometimes the birth record will have a note stating the other parent's name, and when they married. What a bonus!

In the example of Cristina Iamarino, her father Donato claimed her but didn't name the mother. Like the example above, we see:

dalla sua unione con donna non maritato, non parente ne affine nei gradi che astono al riconoscimento

This tells us his baby was born from his union with an unmarried woman who is not his relative nor of any close relationship to him.

The note in the column says that 5 months later, Donato married Antonia Paolucci—the baby's mother, legitimizing their baby.

This jaw-dropping bonus in Cristina's birth record gives the name of her missing mother!
This jaw-dropping bonus in Cristina's birth record gives the name of her missing mother!

I find it interesting that Cristina's marriage notation shows she married an abandoned baby with a made-up name.

4. Stillborn baby

There seemed to be a lot of stillborn babies in the towns where my ancestors lived. The idea of a father carrying the dead baby into town to present to the mayor is horrifying. But that's what happened. (See Why Our Ancestors Marched Hours-Old Babies into Town.)

On these records we see these Italian words right after the baby's first name:

e che io si conosco essere senza vita

This translates to, "and that I know myself to be lifeless." That's the mayor (or their clerk) saying they see for themselves that this is a dead baby. (God help me, that makes me think of Monty Python's dead parrot sketch.)

Look for the words senza vita (lifeless, or literally, without life) written near the given name, or nato morto (stillborn, or literally, born dead!) written in the column. It always pains me when I see a couple having more than one stillborn baby.

Always look near the baby's name for "senza vita," or in the column for "nato morto" or a death date. This bonus fact is easy to overlook.
Always look near the baby's name for senza vita, or in the column for nato morto or a death date. This bonus fact is easy to overlook.

5. Baby's early death

When death records aren't available, it's helpful to find a death date written on the birth record. This tends to happen when a baby died very soon after birth.

In this example, Pasquale Iamarino was born on 2 April 1912, and the note says he died on 14 April 1912.

Next week's article, "9 Bonus Facts Found on Italian Birth Records, Part 2," includes a bonus that's new to me. It's something I'd always wished they would include. And sometimes they do!


  1. This is very interesting to me. I don't think my great grandparents ever married. The civil records show 7 births. My great grandfather claimed paternity of the first 4 children by an unrelated and unnamed women (similar to the language in your blog). In the following 3 births my great grandmother was named as the wife and mother. There are Church records for this town and they show my great grandmother as the wife and mother for all seven of the births. However, there is absolutely no record of a civil marriage or a church marriage between these 2 people! I did find a church record for my great grandfather to obtain a certificate to show he was single and free to marry. If you were marrying someone outside your Parish (in another town) the Catholic church required you obtain this certificate to give to the town clerk and the local church where the woman resided. And, I did find civil marriage banns for my great grandfather and another women (not my great grandmother) in a nearby town in another Province but no record of that marriage taking place. There are no church records for this town that are available so I cannot check Church Banns. This is one of the many mysteries in the paternal side of my family tree.

    1. Wow. That really makes you wonder what on earth was the situation, doesn't it? Maybe they were in love but their families wouldn't consent to their marriage. Maybe they even tried to marry him to another woman but he couldn't go through with it. Have you been able to determine if your great grandparents were neighbors?

  2. It's crazy, very convoluted and very hard to follow. One of the great mysteries of my family tree. My great grandmother Antonina was from Limina, Messina, Sicily. When her mother, Giuseppa (my great great grandmother) was widowed Giuseppa moved to Bronte, Catania, Sicily with her children. My great great grandmother Giuseppa then had a child out of wedlock. She gave birth to the child in Cesaro, Messina. I do not know if she gave birth to this child before she moved to Bronte or if she became pregnant in Bronte and went back to Messina to give birth. Cesaro, Messina is where I found the civil marriage banns for my great grandfather Sebastiano and the other woman who it appears he did not marry. My great great grandmother Giuseppa married my great grandfather's brother (her "son in law"). Add to this the first child of my great grandparents Sebastiano and Giuseppa married my great grandmother's half brother, the out of wedlock child born in Cesaro, Messina. All of these marriages have church records and civil records. The only marriage I can't find is the marriage between my great grandparents. I also note that when my great aunt married her half uncle only her father went to the Commune and it was stated on the marriage record that she did not know who her mother was! The church records always name my great grandparents Sebastiano and Antonino as married and the parents of all of the children.

    1. You've got your hands full with your tree, to say the least!

  3. LOL. I have theories but not sure how I can prove them at this point. I think when Giuseppa was living in Cesaro and expecting her out of wedlock child she met Sebastiano who was living in Cesaro and who posted Civil Banns to marry the women from Cesaro. I don't know if her daughter Antonina (my great grandmother) was in Cesaro with her mother but maybe Sebastiano met my great grandmother at that time and decided he wanted to be with her. There is a 27 year age difference between Sebastiano and Antonina. The women Sebastiano posted banns with was a much older widow. Maybe Sebastiano and this women had the Church ceremony and not the civil ceremony (no church records for Cesaro are available) and he wasn't free to marry my great grandmother. My great grandparents most certainly were not married for the first 4 births of their children. My grandmother's Civil certificate is the first one that says they are husband and wife. Maybe at that point the woman from Cesaro died. In any event what a mess!