Common Problems When Determining Town of Origin

One common challenge is having trouble determining an Italian ancestor’s place of origin using passenger list for three main reasons:

  • The town name is abbreviated or eligible:  the box on a passenger manifest, used to insert the town name, was often not large enough for those long Italian town names. and even if the whole town name is printed, you may not be able to decipher the official’s messy or archaic writing.
  • Multiple towns have the same name: Your ancestor is from Santa Maria. But which of the 120 Italian names and hamlets that begin with those very two words did he call home? Some town names are based around their patron saint, so multiple towns could have the same names. You’ll have to use clues from other records to help narrow down the list of possible matches for popular place names.
  • Immediate family members have different towns of origin: This problem likely has an interesting backstory that will explain the inconsistencies. For example, a husband often immigrated first to find work and then, if he intended to stay in the United States, he would send for his family later. Between his departure from Italy and the rest of the family’s emigration, his wife and children may have moved in with other relatives and so listed this new locale – which may or may not be the place where the wife and children were born or lived previously. 

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