Category Archives: Gathering Documents and Records

Cost of Obtaining Italian Dual Citizenship

One question I am often asked is how much it costs to obtain Italian Citizenship jure sanguinis. The answer is, it really depends on several factors including how many records you need to order, which states you are going through, the price your translator charges and which consulate you are going through.

Number of records
Generally speaking, the more generations you have to go back to claim Italian citizenship, the higher the cost. The reason for this, of course, is you’ll have more people to order records for the further back you go. The number of records you are making corrections on can impact this as well.  When you request a correction, you’ll likely need to order and pay for a new copy of the corrected record.

States/Cities/Counties you are ordering records from
The cost of records and apostilles can vary greatly by state, city or county.  I’ve seen states charge anywhere from $15 to $25 per vital record. Similarly, apostilles can cost anywhere from $1 to $20 each depending on the state.  The cost of making corrections also varies.  I wrote about a strategy on collecting records in this article that could help you keep unnecessary costs down.

The Italian consulate
Requirements can vary greatly by consulate which will increase or decrease the cost. For example, the number of documents the consulate requires be translated or have apostilles for can differ significantly. In addition, some consulates are more understanding when there are minor discrepancies whereas others require everything match across documents.   Having to correct many records can add significantly to the cost.  I have not heard of any consulates charging to actually apply. In addition, most consulates require you apply in person.  The added cost to visit the consulate in person will vary based on your proximity to the consulate, accommodation needs, mode of transportation and the number of times you need to visit the consulate.

Translation price
Translators vary in their price. I’ve seen translators charge anywhere from $15-$50 per record.

Summary of costs
In general you can expect to pay :

  • Vital Records: $15-$25 each
  • Naturalization certificates and paperwork: $22 (for NARA documents), $35 (for USCIS certificate plus $20 if you need to do a search)
  • Corrections: $10-$50 per record
  • Apostilles: $1-$20 each
  • Translations: $15-$50 per record
  • Cost to visit consulate: varies
  • Postage and miscellaneous: $20-$40
Other potential expenses
Most people can do all the work and file on their own.  In certain situations people may need to hire outside help to collect records or for legal issues.  For example, if you are running into problems getting a record from Italy, there are agencies that have relationships with Italian governments and can help for a fee.  If you are running into problems with the consulate accepting your paperwork or want to challenge or get advice on a law, it may make sense to hire an Italian lawyer.  If you are having problems making corrections to your records, you may need to hire an American lawyer.  Of course, all of this would add to the cost.

Have you run into any unexpected expenses in your own journey to claim Italian citizenship?  Do you have advice for others on things you have learned to keep costs down?

Summary of Naturalization Record Requirements

I wrote a detailed article on naturalization requirements here.  That article turned out to be longer than originally anticipated, as a result, I wanted to write a Cliff notes version of it for those just wanting a summary.  To get tips and tricks and additional information, please refer to the original article.

1. Your Italian-born ascendant’s naturalization certificate.  If you have the original certified version of your ascendants naturalization certificate and there are no major discrepancies between this and your ascendant’s other records, this may be sufficient to prove naturalization.  Make sure to double-check with your consulate to confirm this is sufficient.  If you don’t have the original, you can order the certificate from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).  The USCIS does not issue certified copies (unless your relative is still alive and requests a replacement); therefore, you will likely need to get additional certified records (listed below) as proof.

2. Supporting records from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).  The NARA has records for naturalizations issued by federal courts, such as the U.S. District court, and has a few records for naturalizations issued by county and state courts.  The NARA does not have copies of the certificates themselves, but does have supporting records such as the petition for naturalization and the oath.   You can request the NARA send you certified copies.  If you are able to get certified records from the NARA and there are no major discrepancies between this and your ascendants other records, this and the certificate should be enough proof, otherwise you’ll need to go to the county or state courthouse where the naturalization took place (or where your ancestor lived). Note: a certified copy differs from a regular copy in that all the records are affixed by a red ribbon with a gold seal.  When the consulate requests records ‘with the red ribbon’ this is what they are referring to.

3.  Supporting records from state or county courts.  For naturalizations that were issued by a state or county court, you’ll need to go to the courthouse that issued it to get a certified copy.  If your relative did not naturalize, you may need to get a statement of no record from the county courts where your relative lived.  If you are able to get a certified copy from a courthouse, this, along with the certificate, should be sufficient.

4.  Supporting records from state or county historical societies or archive offices.  Some counties and states have released all of their naturalization records to local historical societies or archives offices.  If this happened to your relatives records, in most cases, you should be able to get certified copies.  Also request they send you a certified custodial agreement/letter (signed by a registrar of records, with appropriate letter head and notarization) stating that the county or state released the naturalization documents to them.

5.  Certified census and other records.  If there are discrepancies you are concerned about or you are unable to track down records from the above organizations, you’ll likely need to get a certified copy of the census record issued immediately after your first U.S. born ascendant was born from the NARA.  For example, if you are requesting citizenship through your great grandfather->grandfather where your great grandfather was born in Italy and your grandfather was born in the U.S. in, say 1915, you’ll want to get a copy of the 1920 census which lists both of them.  There may be other records you can provide as additional proof, such as World War I and World War II registration records, ship passenger lists, etc.  Basically, any record that still shows your Italian born ascendant as an Italian citizen after your U.S. born ascendant was born will help in this situation.

6. Statement of ‘No Record’ from the above organizations.  If the above organizations cannot find the naturalization record for your ascendant, request they send you a statement of no record that lists the search criteria they used.  The statement of no record should be certified, with the appropriate letter head, signed by a custodian of records (ask them to include their title) and notarized.  If there are are possible spelling variations for your relative’s name, be sure to let the organization know for their search.

Note: You do not need an apostille or translations done on any naturalization paperwork including ‘record not found’ letters.

Naturalization Certificate and Records

One of the first records you will want to get is your Italian-born ascendant’s naturalization record for several reasons.   First, as I wrote about here, proof that your relative was not naturalized before their kin was born is one of the key criteria the Italian consulate will look for.   It is a good idea to  get this confirmation before going through the expense and trouble of collecting all of the other required records.  Second,  it can take quite awhile, sometimes months, to get the record.  In this case, it is good to get the ball rolling sooner than later.  Finally, depending on where and when it was issued, the naturalization record can contain a lot of information about your relative.  If you have information you are missing which you need to be able to request other records, the data contained in the naturalization record may help fill some of the gaps.

I wrote a summary of the requirements mentioned in this article here for those just wanting a high level overview of what records they will need to collect.  This article contains tips and tricks and additional information that you may find helpful.

If you have your Italian-born ascendants original certificate and there are no major discrepancies between that and their other records, this will likely be good enough and you shouldn’t need to go through the steps outlined below.  Definitely double-check with your consulate though just to confirm they don’t need anything else.  An original naturalization certificate is the only record the Italian consulate will return to you.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has a record of all naturalization certificates (also called C-Files) issued after 1906.  If the naturalization certificate was issued on or before April 1, 1952, you can request a copy of the naturalization certificate from the USCIS genealogy program.  If the naturalization was issued prior to 1906, you’ll likely need to go to the local court which issued it.  If it was issued after April 1, 1952, you’ll need to request the certificate using the Freedom of Information Act form which can be found here.  If your relative is still alive and they do not have their naturalization certificate, you may need to have them submit a request, otherwise you’ll likely need to send the USCIS their death certificate.

Prior to submitting your request, if you do not currently have the naturalization certificate number (which is typically 7 digits long) on other documentation, do a little searching online to see if you can find your ancestors naturalization index.  If you can’t find this number, consider trying to get records through one of the other organizations listed below first as they will typically include this number on the records they send you.  Otherwise, you’ll need to submit a search request before you can request the actual certificate.  There is a  fee for this service and it can take several weeks to get this information so finding this number can save quite a bit of time and expense.   Once you have the certificate number, you can order the certificate online or via mail. It took them about 4 months to send my great grandfather’s naturalization certificate from the time I submitted the request.  About a month or so before receiving it, I received an email letting me know they had my request.  If you are requesting the certificate from the genealogy program, they include the date range of records (based on when they were submitted) they are currently working on at the bottom of their website.  Also, you cannot get a certified, true copy from the USCIS (unless your relative is still alive and requests it) therefore you will also likely need to request certified backup documentation from one of the other organizations that holds naturalization records as outlined below.

If you end up needing to do a search request, make sure you include alternate spellings of names and nick names as well as possible birth dates they may have used.  Ask them include any “declaration of intention” or “petition for naturalization” records in their search.  If you know your relative did not get naturalized or they cannot find the record, you can ask them to send you a statement of no record by following the instructions found here.  If they do find the record, submit a separate request for them to send you the record using the instructions they provide to you.  If they issue a “Record Not Found” because they either could not find the record or your relative was never naturalized, there are multiple other steps the Italian consulate requires you go through which I wrote about in the last paragraph here.  The cost of this along with additional information can be found on the USCIS website.

There are three primary organization types outside of the USCIS that may hold naturalization records: National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), courthouses and county or state archive offices or historical societies.  The organization you request them through will depend on where and when the naturalization certificate was issued.    If you have a copy of the naturalization certificate or were able to find the index file online, it should include the court it was issued in.  For example, U.S. District Court or District Court of “x” county or state.  If it was issued at a U.S. District Court, you can go through the NARA.  The NARA will occasionally have a few county and state records as well.  There is no cost for the NARA to do a search and let you know if they have any records.

I went through the NARA for my great grandfather’s naturalization record and found their customer service to be outstanding and the turn around to be quick.  Make sure you request a certified copy.  The cost for these through the NARA was $22.50 at the time of this writing.  The NARA takes requests via email (usually {city name}.archives@nara.gov). After sending my initial request to the boston.archives@nara.gov email box, I did not hear back for 2 weeks so I contacted them.  They were apologetic and I received a copy of the naturalization record within a week, free of charge.  The NARA does not have the actual naturalization certificates.  My packet included: a Certificate of Arrival, a Certificate of Loyalty, the Petition for Naturalization, an Affadavit of Witness and the Oath of Allegiance.  The certificate number needed for the USCIS is in the Oath of Allegiance section. The packet was bound with a red ribbon and had a gold seal holding it in place certifying it.

There are satellite National Archives offices scattered throughout the U.S. that serve different regions.  Contact the one that serves the location where the naturalization record was issued.   If you do not know where the naturalization record was issued or who issued it, asking one of the National Archives offices to do a search is a good place to start.   Make sure you let them know the different name variations the record could be under.  A listing of all of the National Archives offices with a link to their respective websites with contact information can be found here: http://www.archives.gov/locations/.

If the naturalization was issued by a municipal, county or state court, you will probably need to go to the appropriate court or, in some cases, the county or state archive office or historical society.  As with other search requests, if you don’t know how your ancestors name was spelled on the naturalization certificate, be sure to include multiple spelling variations if applicable.  If the records were sent to a historical society, request they also send you a custodial agreement or letter (signed by a registrar of records, with appropriate letter head and notarization) stating that the county or state released the naturalization documents to them.  As with the NARA, make sure to request any records be certified.

If any of the organizations cannot find the record, you will want to request a statement of no record, signed by a custodian of records (ask them to include their title or include a statement that they have access to the register of naturalizations), with appropriate letterhead and notarization to include in the packet you give to the consulate.  Also, if the NARA or county do not have the record, you may need to get a certified copy of the most recent census record after your first US-born relatives was born from the NARA.  This should list both your Italian born relative and US born relative and indicate your Italian-born relative was still an Italian citizen by showing an al. (for alien) in the status column.  For example, if your first US born relative was born in 1915, request a certified 1920 census listing them.  You should be able to find an electronic copy online first making the search quicker and easier for the NARA.  Other records that can help provide proof that your Italian born ascendant was still an Italian citizen when your U.S. born ascendant was born include World War I and World War II registrations, ship manifests, and voter list records.

As mentioned earlier, one thing which will make requesting a naturalization record easier is if you can find a copy of the naturalization record index online.  The two websites where I have found them for my relatives are: FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com.  Family Search is free.  Ancestry.com is subscription based, however, at the time of this writing, it offers a free two week trial.  If you find this for your Italian relative, include the petition number in the body of your email to the NARA, local court or archives office and attach a copy of the index.  This will help them locate the record quickly.  Also, don’t be shy about picking up the phone and calling these organizations if their website is not clear or you have questions.  I have found most of the people I have spoken with want to help and seem to enjoy this part of their job.

Standard disclaimer: It is always a good idea to check the requirements of your specific consulate.  The consulate occasionally changes the requirements and there may be variances between the consulates.

Records Required to Claim Italian Citizenship

In order to claim Italian citizenship, there are certain records the Italian consulate requires you provide them to prove your lineage.  Note: the Italian consulate will keep all of these documents.

Below is the list of documents and vital records you will need to present to the Italian consulate.   Remember, any relatives born before 1948 could only transmit citizenship through their male ancestors as described in this earlier post.  Start with your most recent Italian born relative and go down the list.  For example, if you are claiming Italian citizenship through your grandfather who was born in Italy, ignore the great grandparent section and skip down to the grandparent section on down.

For the purposes of this list, the Italian relative is the person in your lineage you will be using to claim your Italian citizenship.  To find out more about the steps required for Italian citizenship, including an overview of the Apostille, go here.  Note: certified vital records must be long form and include the city of birth and not just the county.

Italian great grandparent

  • Birth certificate
  • Marriage certificate

Great grandparent spouse

  • Birth certificate

Italian grandparent

  • Birth certificate
  • Marriage certificate

Grandparent spouse

  • Birth certificate (photocopy)

Italian parent

  • Birth certificate
  • Marriage certificate

Parent spouse

  • Birth certificate

You

  • Birth certificate (certified, apostilled, Italian translation)
  • Marriage certificate (if applicable) (certified, apostilled, Italian translation)
  • Marriage application (only required if your marriage certificate is missing information such as your date and place of birth) (certified, apostilled, Italian translation)
  • Divorce decree of all previous marriages (if applicable)  (certified, apostilled, Italian translation) (In the case of a previous divorce, you must also include a “certificate of no appeal”)
  • Death record of spouse if widowed
Your spouse (if applicable)
  • Birth certificate
Your minor children (under the age of 18)
  • Birth certificate(s) (certified, apostilled, Italian translation)
  • Adult children over 18 will need to apply for Italian citizenship themselves
*Note: some consulates also require a death certificate for your Italian lineage ancestors as applicable.   All consulates require your records and those of your minor children be apostilled and translated; however, the requirements for apostilles and translations for the other records vary by consulates with some not requiring them, many requiring them for just the Italian lineage side and a few requiring them for all records including those of the spouses.
In addition, you’ll need to present a certified copy of your Italian born ancestor’s naturalization records.  This post contains additional information on obtaining naturalization records.
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Make sure to check the posted requirements of your specific consulate regularly and, in particular, before you begin another major phase such as getting translations and apostilles.  They will periodically update requirements.  I didn’t do this at first and ended up getting apostilles I didn’t need after my consulate updated the requirements for the Italian ancestor’s records.  Fortunately I checked before sending them off for translation which saved quite a bit of time and expense.

Requesting Records from Italy

Requesting records such as birth certificates from Italy is a pretty straight forward process if you know the name of the commune where the event took place.  It is first important to understand how geographic areas are organized in Italy.  Italy has regions, provinces and communes.  Regions are akin to states in the U.S., provinces are similar to counties or parishes and communes are comparative to towns or cities.  In many provinces, there is a commune with the same name. For example, the region of Sicily includes the province of Palermo which has the commune (town) of Palermo within it.  This site lists all of the regions, provinces and communes in Italy (you can drill down starting with the region):  http://www.italyworldclub.com/

Here are the basic steps you will need to follow when requesting records from Italy.  This assumes you have the Italian name of the person you are requesting the documents for as well as the date (at least a reasonable date range) on when the event occurred :

1.  Make sure you know the actual name of the commune where the event took place.  You can usually determine this from online records including ship manifests, world war I/II registration documents, sometimes census records and naturalization records.  Also, pay special attention to the notes in the ship manifests.  They often indicate where they are coming from.  FamilySearch.org (free), Ancestry.com (paid but (at the time of this writing) offers free 2 week trial) and EllisIsland.org (obviously only includes ships that arrived through Ellis Island) are good sites to help with this.  In my situation, all of the ship manifests and documents I found online on my great grandfather listed Palermo as his place of birth.  I was certain this meant he was born in the commune of Palermo.  It wasn’t until I found the birth records for Palermo online and did not find him listed that I started to question this.  I started to scrutinize the ship manifests and found one for my great grandmother where the notes indicated she went to visit her mother-in-law in Roccapalumba, which is a small commune in the province of Palermo.  Ultimately, I ordered my great grandfathers naturalization application from the National Archives office which, sure enough, listed his town of birth as Roccapalumba.  (On an aside: the naturalization application contained an array of information including information about his wife, my great grandmother.  If you are missing information but know your ancestor got naturalized in a U.S. court (not county or state) I highly recommend ordering their naturalization application from the National Archives office. )

2.  My experience brings me to my next recommended step.  To avoid lost time, it is a good idea to attempt to confirm you have the right location of where the event took place .   People have digitized birth and marriage records for several communes and loaded them online.  They vary on completeness.   This website has a list of the various communes that have some level of records online:  http://www.sersale.org/comunes.htm.

3.  Find the contact information for the commune online.  This is often as easy as Googling the name of it.   If you cannot find the contact information, try posting a request for help on this forum: http://www.italiangenealogy.com/forum/ .  There are many very knowledgeable people on this forum that are more than willing to help.

4.  Write the request letter in Italian.  The record must include the names of their mother and father so make sure to include this in the letter.  The Italian consulate states: “request a birth  certificate in “formato internazionale”, or in “estratto per riassunto” (showing his {or her} father’s and mother’s names”.  If you don’t know Italian, this website has some good templates as a starting point:  http://www.angelfire.com/ok3/pearlsofwisdom/Davids_form_letters.html

You can augment using Google’s translator tool: http://translate.google.com/ (Warning: this tool does a good job of translating words, but not sentences where translations are not literal.)

5.  Fax or send the letter to the commune.   Many people have had good luck with simply faxing the letter to commune and receiving the requested documents within weeks.  If you send a letter, make sure you use stamps that have the dollar amount on the front of them.  Don’t use the forever stamps.  International mail agencies require the actual postage amount be displayed on the stamp.  Address the letter in this format:

COMUNE DI

Ufficio Anagrafe – Stato Civile

(zip code)  (City) (province of)

ITALY

Include a self addressed envelope for their convenience; however, I would not bother with including an International Reply Coupon as some other websites recommend.  This requires the sender to actually make a trip to their post office to redeem it and this inconvenience is often more trouble than it is worth.  In fact, many post offices in the U.S. have stopped selling these because they are not seen as cost effective for the recipient so people are simply not buying them.  You can include a few dollars for postage in the letter if you like, but I would not recommend including more than this.  Most documents from Italy are free; however, you can ask them to bill you if there is a cost.

6.  If you haven’t heard back in 30 days send a follow-up letter.  The site I linked to above includes a template for an effective follow-up letter.  According to this site, by law, the commune is supposed to send a response within 30 days.  The template follow-up letter refers to this law.

Your experience and turn around will vary by commune.  Some are quick to respond while others may require prodding.  If you do run into a situation where you are simply not getting a response from the commune, you may consider hiring someone.  There are companies you can find online who have connections to Italy and will get the document for you for around $50.  As always, do your due diligence in checking out the company before hiring them.  Buona fortuna!

Strategy for Collecting Required Records

I wrote about the records required by the Italian consulate to prove your Italian citizenship here.  As a part of my journey in collecting the necessary records through 6 different states and talking with others who have gone through the process, I’ve learned some valuable tips, tricks and strategies I wanted to share.

  • One of the first documents you should collect is a certified copy of the naturalization record for your Italian relative.  This is one of the key records for proving your eligibility and you don’t want to go through the time and expense of collecting all of your other documents only to find out you aren’t eligible.  The census record is not enough as they are often not accurate.  Plus, some have reported long delays in getting this document from the USCIS.
  • The next set of records you should consider collecting are those that provide missing information you were not able to find in your research.  For example, I did not know my great grandmother’s maiden name.  I was able to find it through my grandfather’s birth certificate.
  • As soon as you have your Italian relative’s birth name and the date and town in Italy where the event took place, it’s a good idea to go ahead and request the records from Italy.   A couple of sites that may help you with this (especially if you don’t speak Italian) can be found here and here.
  • When you know the name of the town where the event took place, most of the time it is better to go to the local city or county vital records or clerk’s office where the event took place rather than the state.  It is often much less expensive and the local office is more likely to return your check if they cannot find the record.  On a related note, write separate checks for each record you are requesting in case they cannot find one of the records.  I’ve gone through the state when I didn’t know the town where the event took place, when it was the only way I could get a long form or when it was the only option (such as with the state of Hawaii).
  • Speaking of the long form, the Italian consulate requires the records be in long form.  They will not accept short form records.  Long form records have more information but mainly they include the city and not just the county where the event took place.  One state I requested records from (New Mexico) only issues short forms unless you provide documentation verifying a long form is required.
  • Prior to submitting your request for vital records through the city, county or state, find out what the Apostille process for that state is.  This can usually be found through the state’s Secretary of State site.  In some states you can get the Apostille at the same time you request the vital record.  In addition, you want to make sure you know if there is something specific you need to request from the Vital Records office to make sure the record can be apostilled.
  • When requesting the records, make sure you follow the instructions on the respective Vital Records or Clerk’s office website and provide everything they request.  For example, many offices request you fill out an application and send a self addressed stamped envelope (SASE).  Some require you also submit a copy of your ID and other proof.
  • If you don’t have all of the information they are requesting, this is often okay as they will do a search if you have ball park information (for example, a date range).  Also, if your relative’s name can be spelled differently, include that in the request.  For example, my relative’s last name starts with a “De” but on one record it was misspelled to start with a “Di”.  As a result, the office could not find the record the first time around.

If you have any questions, do not hesitate to call or email the Vital Records or Clerk’s office.  I spoke with personnel in quite a few offices and found everyone I talked with to be accessible, friendly and helpful.