06 February 2017

How to Read an Italian Death Record

My annotated Italian birth record received a lot of attention on Facebook and LinkedIn, so I'd like to continue with an annotated Italian death record. This is the 1830 death record for my great great great grandfather Giuseppe Leone of Basélice, Italy.

annotated Italian death record

The general format of many such documents from this era is to state the date, the name and position of the official recording the information, describe two witnesses to the facts, state who died and when, and provide the names of the person's parents and spouse. At the bottom is a somewhat generic official statement that everything above is true and here are our signatures to prove it.

Now for more detail. In this particular town the form begins with the words "Death extract" and the decedent's name is handwritten. The documents are numbered in the order in which they are recorded, so this is document 176 for the year.

Next is a long fill-in-the-blanks statement reading (in general): "The year 1830 the day 21 of the month of November at the hour 15 (3 p.m.) before me (Mayor's name) and officials of the state of the Comune of Basélice, District of Campobasso, Province of Molise, appeared …"

Next comes the description of the two witnesses: "Francesco Iampietro, age 49, a farmer who lives in this town, and Michele Marucci, age 50, a farmer who lives in this town, to tell me of the death on the day 21 of the month of November in the same year as written above, of Giuseppe Leone, at his own house, age 60, born in Basélice, whose profession was [missing], who was the son of the late Michele and the late Giovanna Pisciotti, and who was the widow of Lucia d'Abrillo."

That's a lot of information. At the very least you want to key in on the name of the decedent, when they died, their age and place of birth, and their parents' and spouse's names. In this town's records I have often seen "widow the second time", meaning here is the name of his second wife who also died before him. It is particularly helpful that you can tell by the word "fu" or "furono" that the parents have already died. I have seen several birth records for babies in this town whose father died before they were born. The word "fu" tells me this.

Like anything else, with enough practice and a basic knowledge of the key words, you can decipher these documents, too.

04 February 2017

How to Read an Italian Birth Record

I spent about five years viewing microfilm of every birth, marriage and death record from my maternal grandfather's hometown in Italy. Gathering every piece of information allowed me to build his very extended family tree back about seven generations. Spoiler alert: 90% of the town was interrelated!

It also taught me a lot about how to quickly decipher these documents. Let me show you how.

The other day I found online documents from my paternal grandfather's hometown in Italy, and I quickly found the 1902 birth record for my grandfather himself—Pietro Iamarino.

Here is that birth record with some annotations. (On 5 Feb 2017 I have updated this image to point out the time and day of birth.)

annotated Italian birth record

Different towns will use a different form, and that form will change over the years, but there are a lot of similarities. They generally begin with the year, day, month, hour and minute of birth. The year is always written out—never in numbers. So 1902 is millenovecentodue. The next section is an official statement to the effect of "Before me, official's name and title in this town, appeared this man (father of the baby's name, age, occupation, and address), to state that a baby was born to him and his lawful wife (her name, age and occupation)." The baby's name is out in the column of the document, but also below the mother's name.

The next section includes the names, ages and occupations of two people from the town who swear that this man (the father of the baby) is who he says he is, and that they attest to these facts. After this you may see signatures of the father, the witnesses, and the town official. Often in these old documents the father and the witnesses may be illiterate and unable to sign. If that is the case, the official will state as much.

So this document tells me that my grandfather Pietro was born on 10 Oct 1902 in Colle Sannita at 1:30 p.m. to Francesco Iamarino, a 24-year-old farmer, and his wife Libera Pilla. It also says he was born at 36 via Casale, which I'm trying to reconcile with the facts I had previously. I stood on the spot where my grandfather's house once stood, and it was not via Casale, nor can I find a via Casale in modern Colle Sannita. But his father Francesco Iamarino's birth record also includes that address.

Once you become used to the form from the town you are researching, you'll be surprised how quickly you can extract all of the facts you need. To learn the key Italian words from these vital records, see my other blog entry, "Italian Words You Must Know."

02 February 2017

Case Study on "Haven't I Seen You Before?"

This post is about the importance of being fully organized and supports my earlier post, "Haven't I Seen You Before?". I've seen countless articles about how best to file your paper documents and binders and photos, but I have extremely few paper documents. They're in one manila folder.

On the other hand, I have ten of thousands of digital documents—primarily jpg files. Early on, when I was going gangbusters and grabbing hundreds of census sheets, ship manifests, draft registration cards, and more, I realized it could be difficult to get back to the right jpg file very easily.

So here's what I did:
  1. I named each file using a standard naming convention such as LastnameFirstnameYear.jpg. For a census sheet or a ship manifest containing a whole family, I used the name of the head of household, such as SavianoAntonio1898.jpg.

  2. I placed each type of document into a folder with an unmistakable name, such as census, draft registration, immigration, certificates (that's for birth, marriage and death).
  3. When I import a jpg into Family Tree Maker software, I fill out the properties window as much as possible. I use a standard title (e.g., "1898 immigration record for Antonio Saviano and family"), enter the date on the document (in my preferred standard of day (numerical) month (first 3 letters) year (4 digits)), and click the checkbox for the type of file (including vital record, photo, military, census). Finally, in the description section I state which line number(s) to look at, and enough details to allow anyone else to find the original document themselves (such as the name of the collection, the roll number, and image x of xx on ancestry.com). Sometimes this is handy for me to have, too. For example, if I have a family that I think lived on the same block as another family, but they're not showing up in a census search, I can retrace my steps to the first family's census sheet and start paging through until I find the other family.

  4. documenting an image's properties
    I created my super handy document tracker spreadsheet (download one for yourself) and update it every time I find a new document. Each line has one person on it, lastname first so I can easily sort them all alphabetically. The columns are for the different types of documents, like censuses and ship manifests. Each time I add a new jpg, I mark the proper column with the document's year. So if I have the 1910 and 1920 census for someone, both of those years go in their line, and it's obvious that I do not have 1930. I currently have 1,380 lines, but I think I haven't added the tons of people documented in my Basélice research project.

  5. Every so often I copy these files to another location, like my own website server. I don't have to recopy them all—I just have to upload the ones dated after my last backup.
If you can get this organized, you will find it easier to gather more complete information on families, and your tree will be fortified by excellent sources.