Requesting Records from Italy

ItalianGal/ Gathering Documents and Records/ 4 comments

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!

4 Comments

  1. How Can you get an apostile from Italy on a Birth Certificate (Poggioreale, Trapani, Sicily)? Here in TX it is at the Secretary of State of the state in question. THANKS, RLS

  2. On June 4, 2013 I applied at the Italian Consulate in Miami, Florida USA to be recognized Italian through Jure Sanguini (Mother born in Palermo, Sicily) As of today 5/9/15 I have not received any notification from the Italian Consulate as to the status of my application, neither have I been able to get in touch with someone there to help me. I will like to know who can I contact to find out if indeed I have been recognized.

    1. I feel your pain. I hope by this time you have gotten a reply. If not, please see the FB group called Dual Italian Citizenship. It is a closed group so you must ask permission to join. This has been a great help to me as I also have to apply in Miami. There are a few people going through what you are going through.
      Good Luck!

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