We The Italians | ICA: My ancestor was born in Italy, where do I start?

ICA: My ancestor was born in Italy, where do I start?

ICA: My ancestor was born in Italy, where do I start?

  • WTI Magazine #150 Apr 23, 2022
  • 780

If you have Italian ancestry and are wondering whether you are eligible to apply for Italian citizenship by descent, this article will provide you with a few pieces of information and tips to get you started and help you gain a general understanding of the requirements and the documents needed to apply.

Firstly, if you would like to apply for Italian citizenship you will need to know your Italian ancestor’s date and place of birth as well as the dates of birth, marriage and death of the individuals in your direct line of descent. It is not crucial that you know the exact date and place of all the vital events, but you should at least know the year in which they occurred. Secondly, you should know whether your Italian ancestor who emigrated to the United States was ever naturalized, and if so, when.

As a matter of fact, whether your ancestor naturalized or not, and when the naturalization occurred, if applicable, will be crucial to determine your eligibility to apply for Italian citizenship together with other factors we will explain below. 

As a general rule, you can apply for Italian citizenship by descent if your ancestor who was born in Italy was either alive on March 17, 1861 or was born after that date as that is when Italy achieved unification. Furthermore, you can apply if your ancestor was never naturalized or was naturalized after the birth of the child who was born abroad, and after June 14, 1912, and if none of your ascendants in your direct line of descent ever formally renounced their right to Italian citizenship. Please note that there are exceptions to these rules, more information about these can be found here. Please also bear in mind that if there is a woman in your Italian lineage who gave birth to her child prior to January 1, 1948, you might not be able to apply for Italian citizenship via an Italian consulate or a municipality in Italy, but you might be able to claim citizenship retroactively via a court case. This is because on January 1, 1948 Italy’s constitution came into effect and it granted women and men equal rights, and therefore, women were able to pass their citizenship on to their children. Prior to that date, in fact, women were not able to pass on their citizenship, which is now considered to be unlawful and discriminatory against women, and this is why it is possible to file a lawsuit in Italy and apply for Italian citizenship retroactively.  

Having said this, if you meet the eligibility requirements to apply for Italian citizenship, regardless of whether you will be applying via an Italian consulate abroad, a municipality or via a judicial proceeding, you will need to provide the relevant authorities with certified copies of your family’s vital records, which include birth, marriage, divorce (if applicable) and death certificates, including the ones pertaining to the Italian ancestor through whom you are claiming citizenship, as well as your Italian ancestor’s naturalization records, or proof that your ancestor was never naturalized. 

How do you retrieve your ancestor’s vital records from Italy? 

Birth, marriage and death certificates in Italy must be retrieved from the municipality in which the event occurred. A municipality (in Italian comune) is the smallest administrative unit in Italy, and each town in Italy has its own municipality. There are also cases in which a number of villages might be grouped under one municipality. More specifically, vital records are held by the municipality’s registry office (Ufficio di Stato Civile or Anagrafe), which is responsible for providing certified copies of vital records. You will need to provide the office with your ancestor’s name, potentially his or her parents’ names, and the date on which the event occurred. If birth records were destroyed or lost you may be able to retrieve a copy of the birth registries from the State Archives which cover the area in which the birth occurred. If you hold very little information regarding your ancestor’s date and place of birth, below is a list of some documents that are worth investigating in order to narrow down your research. 

Passenger lists can be found on genealogy websites such as ancestry.com, familysearch.org or statueofliberty.org, which has a database which will allow you to look for passenger lists for individuals who arrived at the Port of New York from 1820 to 1957. A passenger list will typically show name, age, port of departure and arrival, ship name, nationality, occupation, last residence overseas, but also your ancestor’s hometown and destination. Therefore, if you do not hold many details regarding your Italian ancestor’s date and place of birth, a passenger list can potentially provide you with that information. 

Censuses can be retrieved from the National Archives and records Administration (NARA), which hold government and historical records. A census will show details regarding where a family lived, their names, age, level of education, year of marriage, profession and citizenship status, which is divided as “na” (naturalized), “al” (alien), “pa” (first papers), which means that the alien had filed his or her declaration of intention and was in the process of naturalizing but had not yet fully naturalized. If naturalized, the census will also list the year of naturalization. A census will also state the country or town of birth of your ancestors and the date of emigration. As with passenger lists, censuses can be found on genealogy websites such as ancestry.com and familysearch.org

Naturalization records comprise the following: Declaration of Intentions, Petition for Naturalization and the Certificate of Naturalization. These documents can be retrieved from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), or the County in which naturalization took place. These documents generally list the immigrant’s name at time of entry to the U.S., date and place of birth, marital status, spouse and children’s names, dates and places of birth, date of first arrival to the U.S. and occupation. 

Draft cards are other useful documents that provide information regarding who was eligible for service in times of war. Draft cards typically show the registrant’s name, residence, age, date and place of birth, race, US citizenship and occupation. Some draft cards also show the individual’s marital status and the name and address of a contact person. These records can be found on ancestry.com and familysearch.org

Finally, among other records that are worth checking for genealogical information are Italian military records which are held by the State Archives, U.S. marriage records which often have information regarding the exact place of birth and the spouses’ parents’ names, and church records, such as certificates of baptism which can be used to file an application for Italian citizenship by descent only if the birth registries did not exist when the birth occurred. As a matter of fact, most municipalities sin Italy only started registering births between 1861 and 1871. 

In conclusion, there are several sources one can use to research information regarding an individual’s vital records. If you would like further information about the process of applying for Italian citizenship or a free eligibility assessment, do not hesitate to contact us at info@italiancitizenshipassistance.com or at +1 (951) 742 5830.