Starting from the beginning, here are the basic steps required for claiming your Italian Citizenship:
1. Preliminary investigation and confirmation of eligibility.
Depending on how far back in your ancestry you have to go, this could be as simple as asking a living relative if the basic criteria were met. If you are going farther back, chances are you’ll need to do a bit of research. If your first U.S. born Italian American relative was born before 1940*, one of the easiest and first things to do is check the first U.S. census released after your first U.S. born relative was born. If you see an “al.” under the citizenship column for your Italian relative, this is a very good indication they hadn’t naturalized yet when your U.S. born Italian American relative was born. For example, my grandfather was born in the U.S. in 1915 so i checked the 1920 census, in which my great grandfather was still listed as “al.” If it is blank or shows that they naturalized, you’ll need to dig in further to find out the date they naturalized to determine if it was before or after your first U.S. born relative was born. FamilySearch.org is a good place to start your search. The site is a free resource and includes U.S. censuses and naturalization records.
*The U.S. government just released the 1940 census on April 2, 2012. It hasn’t released any censuses after 1940 to the public yet.
2. Gather basic information and reconfirm eligiblity
Once you have your initial confirmation, start gathering online documents and recording basic information including names and dates. Now is also a good time to send an email to your Italian consulate to reconfirm that you are indeed eligible. In fact, some consulates require this before they will send you a list of the documents they require. Plus, you don’t want to go through the time and expense to gather the necessary documents only to find out down the road that you aren’t eligible. It’s better to send a quick email to be certain you aren’t overlooking something and for peace of mind.
3. Gather the required documents
You can get a list of the required vital records and documents on each Italian consulates website or by emailing them. In general, you will need to get birth and marriage certificates for all of your relatives, starting with the Italian born relative. If you are divorced, you will also need your divorce decree and, depending on the consulate, you may also need divorce decrees for your Italian side relatives who divorced. Some consulates also require these records for their spouses. In addition, you may need death certificates for your Italian relatives and naturalization records (or statement of no record) for your Italian born relative. All of the documents on the Italian side will need to be certified, long-form copies. Some consulates allow photo copies for the documents related to their spouses. I wrote about a strategy for obtaining the needed records here.
4. Confirm names, places and dates match on all documents
Once you have gathered all of the documents, you will need to meticulously check all of the documents to make sure the information matches, particularly names, dates and places. All names, dates and locations on your records and those of your minor children need to match exactly. Minor discrepancies will not be accepted because these are the records that get registered in Italy. If there are discrepancies in your relative’s records, you may also need to correct them. Sometimes, if the discrepancy is minor, such as there is a middle initial in one document and not the other or the Italian document lists the name as Vincenzo and the U.S. document lists it as Vincent, the consulate may be okay with this. Before you go through the trouble of getting the documents corrected, email your Italian consulate to see if the discrepancies are acceptable. In most cases, you will be able to work directly with the vital records office for the state or city that issued the document to make corrections to vital records. Their website may list the steps required to make corrections. If it doesn’t, email or call the vital records office.
5. Obtain Apostille certification
Once you have all of your documents gathered and corrections made, you’ll need to send them in for Apostille certification. An Apostille is an international certificate recognized by countries who signed the Apostille treaty, including Italy and the U.S. The certificate is stapled to each document to verify that the document is a legitimate, certified copy. Check with the requirements of your Italian consulate, on which records will require an apostille.
6. Translate documents into Italian
Some documents will need to be translated into Italian. Check with your Italian consulate to determine which records require translation. Some consulates, such as the San Francisco consulate, only requires your records and those of your minor children be translated. Other consulates only require the records pertaining to the Italian side you are getting citizenship through, while still others require their spouses records also be translated. The Italian consulates websites provide links to people who can do this for you and the price can vary from $15 per page to $50 dollars or more.
7. Make an appointment with your Italian consulate
Before you make your appointment, it is a good idea to confirm with them through email if the documents you have gathered will meet their requirements and if there are any additional documents you need to gather. Also, keep in mind some consulates may not be able to schedule you in for 9 months or more so you may want to actually schedule the appointment earlier in the process, such as around the time you are ready to send off your documents for Apostille certification.
8. Fill out application and required paperwork
Each consulate has application paperwork you must fill out. This includes information such as your address and contact information as well as last known living locations for yourself and your Italian relatives. It also includes forms confirming that you or your Italian relatives never renounced Italian citizenship. Many of these forms must be signed in front of a witness at the Italian consulate, so do not sign them when you fill them out. Most consulates have these forms on their respective websites.
In addition to the application paperwork, some consulates require you include a list of discrepancies you were able to find across records. Pay close attention to everything the consulate requires and be sure to fill everything out several weeks before your appointment so there are no surprises.
9. Review and final preparation
One or two weeks before your appointment, double-check everything once again against the list of requirements from your consulate. Now is a good time to put your records in order too. Many consulates request you put the paperwork in chronological order, grouped by person. For example, put your oldest relative’s birth certificate, followed by marriage, naturalization and death certificates on the bottom, followed by their spouses paperwork. Your paperwork and those of your minor children would then be on top. This makes it easy for you to make sure you have everything in order and for the consulate to find and confirm the needed records.
After your appointment, be prepared for the possibility that the Italian consulate may ask you for additional documentation. In this case, you’ll need to gather the additional documentation and schedule a new appointment.
If you are just starting out, going through the steps required to claim your Italian citizenship may seem like climbing Mt. Everest. The important part is to stick with it and make a little bit of progress on a consistent basis. Come up with a plan of attack and set small goals such as sending off for certain number of documents per month. Do not get discouraged or let obstacles stop you from moving forward. It has taken people a range from many months to several years to go through all of the steps and, often times, there is a way around the obstacles if you think through them, research them or ask others who have gone through the process. Keep with it and, before you know it, you’ll be at the summit looking back on your journey with a sense of pride, your Italian citizenship in hand!