Showing posts with label languages. Show all posts
Showing posts with label languages. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

You Can Read Foreign-Language Genealogy Records

"I don't understand the language" is not an excuse. You can find the facts you need on a foreign-language vital record.

The reason why you can is the format. Official records from your ancestor's town are usually written on a pre-printed form, or in a standard style. In most cases, it isn't hard to find the keywords: born, died, father, daughter, the twenty-third of May 1859. Find these words and you'll find the facts you need for your family tree.

Understand the Form or Format

As usual, I'm going to focus on Italian documents. That's where all my non-English document experience is.

Here are two examples of the basic formats you may find.

Annotated Italian-language vital record

On this 1813 birth record (download a larger version), the handwriting is easier to read than the pre-printed words. The basic format includes:
  • Document number
  • Date
  • Town official's name and town name
  • Keyword: comparso. Look for the word comparso (appeared). It's followed by the name of the person reporting this event. Let's call them the declarant because they are declaring a baby was born. On a birth record, the declarant is usually the father of the new baby, but it may be the midwife or a close relative. You should see their age (di anni), profession (professione), and where they live (domiciliato).
  • On this document, the next section is a paragraph that follows a format. It says on this day of this month at this time in the home of the declarant was born a baby to him and his legitimate wife. The sentence may include the baby's mother's name, age and profession. The sex of the baby is written as masculine (maschio) or feminine (feminina).
  • The name given to the baby
  • The names, ages and professions of two witnesses who are familiar with this family
  • Signatures (or a mark, if a person is illiterate), including that of the mayor.
My takeaways from this birth record? Antonio Iamarino was born on 3 April 1813 to Giorgio Iamarino, a 21-year-old farmer, and his wife Pietronilla Cocca, age 20. They lived on Strada li Tufi in my grandfather's town of Colle. One of the witnesses has the same last name as the baby's mother. He may be a relative.

Here's a harder type of record. It may look intimidating, but when you know what to look for, it isn't so scary.

A standardized but formless Italian document.

This document, written in 1820, was part of a set of marriage documents (download a larger version). It says that on 15 March 1810 Maria Viola died. She was the daughter of Gregorio and Angela Caporaso. She was the wife of the late Pietro Iamarino and 60 years old.

On a free-form document like this, start with dates. Then look at names and words for birth, death, baptism and relationships.

The key to breaking into this document is the word marzo (March) in the fourth line. The sentence begins, "A quindici marzo mille otto cento e dieci". If you study the numbers a little for the language you need, you'll recognize this as a date. It says "On 15 March 1810".

Immediately after the date is a name, Maria Viola. Then there's another keyword: figlia, meaning daughter. So the next names are her parents. Then we see moglie, meaning wife. So Maria was the wife of the next name, Pietro Iamarino who has died previously (the word fu tells us this).

Unless you're viewing a document with no idea where it came from, you have some context to help you. If you found this document, you'd know it's related to Francesco Saverio Iamarino whose parents were Pietro Iamarino and Maria Viola. The context will help you understand the document.

Locate the Keywords and the General Words

There is probably no better genealogical language resource than You need an account to use this website, but it is free to join. The following pages offer the keywords for vital records and their English translation.
The pages above also offer the words for days, months, numbers and general words found on genealogy records. Get familiar with the language you need. It'll help you understand even more of the document. And when you're stuck on a word, try Google Translate. It may help you make sense of things.

Also check the language pages for other links to help you with handwriting, explain naming patterns in certain cultures and more.

Note: Bad handwriting or a low-quality image is a tougher challenge, but not impossible. Compare the difficult word to other words and letters on the document. If you think one letter in your problem word is a capital T, for example, compare it to another capital T in a word that is clearer to you.

I've read thousands of Italian vital records. I learned the Italian keywords quickly. I got used to the old-fashioned handwriting. Most of the time the important facts are ridiculously easy for me to understand.

You can do this! Get familiar with the important words. Find them in your document. Make sense of the facts.

Do not let your ancestor's language—the one you never learned—stop you from building your family tree.

Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives

  • 27 JAN 2019: FamilySearch is BLOCKING the GetLinks program so you cannot perform bulk downloads from their site. GetLinks still works on the no-restrictions Antenati website.
  • 4 SEP 2018: New images and tips about GetLinks.
  • 10 JULY 2018: New link to the software.
Italy has a genealogy website Italian descendants love. With some luck, it may contain your ancestor's birth, marriage and death records.

For me, it's the ultimate at-home research tool.


I spent about five years visiting Family History Centers to view microfilmed vital records from my maternal grandfather's hometown in Italy.

I documented everything, piecing together 15,000 relatives. But my current job doesn't allow me the time to continue in this way.

One caveat: You must know the hometown of your ancestor. See "6 Places to Discover Your Ancestor's Town of Birth".

Here's how to use this Italian genealogy site without understanding Italian.

At the end of this explanation, I'll tell you how to download entire collections of images automatically.
  1. PROVINCE. Click your ancestor's province. If you know their town, you can Google it to find out its province. A province is roughly the equivalent of a county in the U.S.
  2. TIME PERIOD. Click a time period:
    • Stato civile napoleonico—The Napoleonic Era in Italy lasted from 1805 through 1814. These documents may cover a portion of those year and run through 1815.
    • Stato civile della restaurazione—This Restoration Period (1816–1860) spans the time between the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the unification of Italy.
    • Stato civile italiano—These are civil records beginning in 1861.
    …the exact years available depend on the town.
  3. TOWN. Click your ancestor's hometown.
  4. RECORD TYPE. Click the type of document, including:
    • Diversi—Various documents not included in other sets may be birth records for illegitimate babies, death records for stillborn babies, or marriage records.
    • Matrimoni—Marriage licenses may include the date of the wedding and the name of the church.
    • Matrimoni, pubblicazioni—Couples who wanted to marry had to publicly post their intentions twice before getting permission to marry.
    • Matrimoni, processetti—Each marriage generated several documents including (a) the birth certificates of bride and groom, (b) the death records for their deceased parents, and if the bride or groom's father was dead, you might also see their grandfather's death record, (c) their permission to marry, and (d) the date of their wedding in the church.
    • Morti—Death records.
    • Nati—Birth records.
    • Cittadinanze—Citizenship records.
    • Allegati—These are additional records for any of the above categories.
  5. YEAR. One by one, click a year, then click the archive number (it's the only thing on the page) to see the list of images (immagine), 45 per page.
  6. ENLARGE. When you select an image, click the image itself to enlarge it.
  7. SAVE. You can right-click the enlarged image and choose Save Image As, or save time by right-clicking the unenlarged image and choosing Save Link As.
Let's Speed Up This Process

I spent weeks downloading the records from my paternal grandfather's town one at a time. Then I learned about a software app called GetLinks that sped up the process so much, I went on to download my great grandmother's entire town in two sittings!

This is a simple program written by a Portuguese-speaking programmer. You only need to learn a couple of words to use the app. The author updated the program in July 2018 after I told him the Antenati website address had changed. You can download the working version from Dropbox. Here's how to use it:
  1. Download the file and double-click to expand it. Then double-click to run the program is called ArchiveDownload.exe.
  2. At the top, click Opções (Options), then click Opções again.
  3. Set the location where you want the downloaded images to go by clicking the “” button next to the words Pasta de Download. (Pasta means folder.)
  4. I find that 3 simultaneous downloads works efficiently. If you will be accessing, enter your login info on this screen. Click OK.
    NOTE: If you do not see the Cancelar and OK buttons at the bottom of this window, simply drag down the bottom of the window until you do. If you don't click OK, your folder choice is not saved.
    Make sure you're seeing the OK button.
    Make sure you're seeing the OK button.
  5. Back on the main screen there's an address box beneath the Ficheiro and Opções options. Into this box, paste the URL of the folder you want to access. For the Antenati site, that address would be at this level, for example:
  6. Click the Go! button. If things don't start happening within 2 seconds, look at the Download button on the right. If it is red and says “Download: Off”, click it so it's green and says “Download: On”.
Doing this, I downloaded every record from 5 or 6 towns.

Bottom line: If your town is included, your life is about to change for the better.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

What Language Barrier?

I've spent countless hours harvesting information from old Italian vital records. It was a little intimidating at first, but once I became comfortable with the most important genealogical words—and completely memorized my numbers—I stopped seeing these documents as being written in a foreign language. To me they are fairly straightforward documents filled with highly valuable data.

1804 Italian death record. No big thang.

You can achieve this familiarity with foreign languages, too. You can learn the key words you need to identify in a foreign document. And once you look at enough documents to get comfortable with the strange, archaic handwriting, you will be fine.

Here are several free wiki entries from to help you get accustomed to genealogical words in the language of your ancestors:

Find more languages by clicking the map on this FamilySearch page:

There is much more country-specific information available in the wiki, so if you don't see the language you want here, or if you need to understand how vital records work in another part of the world, start at the world map. My list above is very European focused because I did not find language help for African, Middle Eastern or East Asian countries. But there is plenty of critical information available about how records are kept, marriage practices, and more. Take advantage of it!