Jump-starting Your Italian Research

Genealogical research is a lot like using blocks to build a tower.

Italian Genealogical research is a lot like using blocks to build a tower. Each piece of information or evidence about an ancestor provides a portion of the foundation for additional research. To put it another way: the evidence in one document can lead you to the next genealogical discovery. And by carefully tracing your steps and learning about the sources you’re researching, you can make the most of your research time and dig deep roots for your family tree.

While you might be chomping at the bit to research your Italian genealogy, it’s important to remind yourself of some key Italian genealogical principles before you dive into records. 


Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your family tree. Italian genealogy research requires patient, methodical work. For example, we could use one ancestor’s record to discover the names and birth information of their parents, then find the parents’ marriage record to learn the names and birth information of their parents (and so on). We’ll outline some of the first steps you should take in your Italian genealogy research. 

Start With Home Sources

Italian-Americans are all about family, and that’s exactly where Italian genealogy begins. Begin your research by taking stock of what information and records have already been preserved by family members.

We all have someone in our family who keeps photos, letters, documents, and other mementos, and these family files are where you start your research. Determine what you have and evaluate them for Italian genealogical clues. Ask your cousin, your second cousin, and your zie e zii (aunts and uncles). You may find photos, passports, letters to and from Italy, steamship tickets, military papers, journals, Italian birth records, bank books (many Italian immigrants kept a bank account back home), membership cards for fraternal organizations and unions, recipes, and other valuable clues about your ancestors. We will share how to best obtain and use this information in future blog posts.

If someone else in your family has done some Italian geological research, ask if they will share their findings and digitized copies of the documents and photographs in their collection. This is a great way to jump-start your Italian ancestral research (though, of course, the relative’s research might not be totally accurate). You don’t need to “recreate the wheel” if some of the work has already been done, but you do want to verify the accuracy of their findings. 

Determine Your Research Goals

Once you’ve established what you already know, you’ll need to decide upon some concrete goals for your research. What do you want to accomplish? Do you want to know everything about your Italian ancestors back to the start of written  records, or do you simply want to see if a long-told family story is true? Do you seek your ancestor’s hometown in Italy, or are you striving to find the documents necessary to reclaim Italian citizenship? Knowing what your goals are will help you build a clear research plan to achieve them. 

Once you’ve defined your goals, break them down into smaller chunks. By having more easily achievable goals, you can allow your research to gain momentum while you reap the rewards of having made concrete accomplishments.

A few examples of your sub-goals might be: 

  • Find your great-grandfather’s U.S. death certificate to see the names of his parents and if his Italian town of birth is listed.
  • Learn what year your great-great-grandmother immigrated to the United States.
  • Have a student in the Italian Studies program at the University translate the letters found in your mother’s cabinet that were sent from a relative in Italy.
  • Determine what documents are needed for you to apply at an Italian consulate to reclaim your Italian citizenship.

Don’t be too broad in your initial Italian ancestry research goals. A research goal of “trace the families of all Russo immigrants to the United States between 1880 and 1910 to determine whether any of them were relatives ” is too broad of a research objective or goal. A more defined goal might be “research the family of Eduardo Russo, who lived two houses away from Grandmother Russo on the 1910 US Census, and determine whether the two families were relatives.”

If you would like to hear Melanie talk about this topic of researching Italian genealogy, be sure to watch the recording of her November 26, 2021 Presto Italia on Facebook by clicking the image below:

Next month, we will take a look at general steps to creating a family tree and understanding Italian genealogical resources. For all the tips and resources we are sharing, purchase The Family Tree Italian Genealogy Guide – it is a complete and reference guide to support you on your journey of researching your Italian family history. Want to learn how to research your Italian ancestors? Want to learn about the history of your ancestors, find out where they were born, and explore where they came from? Do you want to learn how to find the Italian documents you need for your Italian dual citizenship application? All can be found in this book and more!



The Family Tree Italian Genealogy Guide
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