Identifying Your Immigrant Ancestors – Part 1

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Inventory what you already have and access other resources

While researching records from the old country can be fun and exciting, Italian genealogy research doesn’t begin in Italy. Before your research jumps across the Atlantic, you’ll need to learn all you can about your immigrant ancestor after he came to the United States. By learning who your immigrant ancestor was and when he left his homeland, you’ll set concrete dates for your research and hopefully minimize the chance that you’ll waste time looking for records of the wrong person.

In this post, we’ll discuss how to discover your immigrant ancestor and his town of origin in U.S. records using various resources.

GATHERING WHAT YOU ALREADY KNOW

Gathering and recording the information you already know about your ancestors is key to having a solid foundation for your research, allowing you to focus your efforts on the type of Records most likely to provide information on your ancestors. This will make your research more efficient.

You should begin to research your Italian ancestors in three main ways: collecting oral histories or interviewing your Italian relatives, searching family documents and records, and documenting data you already know. 

INTERVIEWING YOUR ITALIAN RELATIVES

Your oldest Italian relatives are some of the best sources for information about your ancestors, and their stories can jump-start your research when you’re just getting started or have hit a roadblock.  Information gained through oral history is often key to creating a solid foundation for your genealogical research. With today’s technology advances, you don’t even have to take written notes, as you can simply turn on your smartphone and allow relatives to talk. Nowadays, distant relatives are just a click away through technology like Zoom or FaceTime. And the number of potential cousins you can connect with continues to grow as genealogy becomes more popular.

Rachel questions down ahead of time so you don’t forget to ask something important. Family tree magazine has some great questions and tips. I often like to ask specific questions that are designed to prompt memories, such as:

  • What was their Italian name?
  • Do you remember what town in Italy your ancestors came from?
  • When did they marry?
  • Where did they reside after they immigrated to the United States?
  • What challenges did they face?

Make sure you transcribe your interview once you’ve finished. You can choose from a variety of online transcription software. and also be sure to take notes about how your relative responded to various questions. For example, you might note that “Aunt Nel really didn’t want to talk about grandfather; she said he was a hard man to love.” Your impressions of the conversation can have great value in your research, providing Clues to genealogical Mysteries yet to be solved.

Once, before digital recorders, I turned on a tape recorder that was hidden in my purse when my grandmother and her sister began to talk about their parents and grandparents. My grandmother was a first-generation Italian-American and was too self-conscious to answer my questions when she knew the recorder was on. Now that both my grandmother and great-aunt have passed away, those 30 minutes or so of conversation between them are priceless. Their conversation revealed many pieces of information I had never heard before, including the name of our Italian immigrants grandfather (their great-grandfather) and details about the passing of their mother in the 1918 influenza epidemic 

Don’t limit yourself to direct line ancestors. It is surprising how much a second cousin might remember and how key documents and photographs tend to end up in the possession of the relatives you least expect. Stories of memories of more distant relatives can add depth to your family history and many provide key pieces of information that will allow you to turn the research to the Italian records. Also schedule more than one interview with each relative. The first interview will prompt more memories that they can then share with you during the conversation.

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Learn more about potential next steps to learn about your Italian history or pursuit of dual citizenship.