Got pasta in your past? Follow our 10-step guide to start tracing your Italian ancestors.
When you hear the word “Italian,” what does it bring to mind? I think of my grandmother and Sunday afternoon dinners with her fabulous spaghetti sauce. October is Italian-American heritage month, and there's no better way to celebrate your heritage than to gather around the Italian dinner table and begin recording information about your Italian family history. Italian-Americans, like other ethnic groups, risk losing their unique customs and traditions as they're assimilated into “American” culture. One way of keeping that ethnic culture alive is to trace your family history and study the lives of your Italian ancestors.
Northern Italians began arriving in America in small numbers during colonial times. Because Italy wasn't unified until the 1860s, its people considered themselves citizens of a village or region, rather than a nation. In the records you may find these early arrivals recorded by region — Genoese or Florentine, for example — rather than as “Italian.” Those who arrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were mostly Italian peasants and unskilled laborers from southern Italy — the regions of Abruzzi, Molise, Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria and Campania, parts of Latium, and the island of Sicily.