Words by Pat Eggleton

1. Surnames can be a guide as to where your family came from. Rizzoli publishes the Dizionario Ragionato dei Cognomi Italiani or you can find help here.

2. Talk to all your relatives and be persistent. They may know some detail that they think is insignificant but which turns out to be a key! Maybe they know other people who can help, too.

3. Draw your family tree, going as far back as you can, so that you know where the gaps in information are.

4. Find out which comune [administrative area] your family came from. You need to know where they were born. You can then contact the Ufficio Anagrafe of that town for help. If your ancestors left Italy after 1880 you may be able to obtain a “certificate di stato di famiglia” with extensive family information.

5. Look through all family documents. Birth, marriage and death certificates, immigration, military and naturalisation documents can all be of help.

6. Try to find out the maiden names of the women in your family so that you can trace the family further back.

7. Parish records are a wonderful source of information. You can write to parishes for help, enclosing a small donation if possible.

8. Try to connect with other people who are looking for their roots in the same town or area. You can do this via social networking sites or via http://www.ancestry.it/

9. Contact the FamilySearch website [run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints]. If you are in the USA, you can find out where your nearest Family History Center is and you can use its resources.

10. Census information can also help you [see websites below].

11. You can search the Ellis Island records free.

12. Join ancestry.it and create a personal profile. You’ll be able to connect with others doing research on the same area and you may even hear from some of your Italian relatives!

13. We had to add this one. What is the most important thing you can do to ensure you get the most from some of the services on offer, write correctly to authorities in Italy and understand the documents you discover? Yes….. learn Italian!

Other helpful websites

Please note: we have concentrated on websites that do not charge for their services. There may, however, be charges at some of the sites they link to and for copies of certain documents.