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Viva Italia! How to Use Italian Records
6/1/2005
Follow these research tips for interpreting the documents you find to trace Italian ancestors.
You may encounter obstacles in the records such as gaps, ink bleed-through, water damage and sporadic (or absent) indexes. The records for Terlizzi, my family's village, suffered a worm infestation — their little carcasses and nibbled page corners show up on the microfilm. Don't expect to find the index in the same place on every film: Sometimes it's at the beginning of the volume; other times, it's at the end. And when volumes were divided into two parts because of a large number of births (or whatever), it's in the middle. To add to the inconsistency, most indexes are arranged alphabetically by last name — but some are organized by first name. Here's where you really see how popular the names Francesco and Maria were. Another quirk: Some indexes ignore the prefix for names such as DeBartolo or DeFrancesco, so DeBartolo might be grouped with the B's, and DeFrancesco under the F's.

The index may record the date of the event, a page number or the record number. If it lists the date, you'll scroll the film to that date, which is written at the beginning of the record. When there's just a number, you'll have to figure out from looking at the records whether it's a page number or record number. If you don't find your ancestor in the index, search the records page by page. Usually, the name is easy to spot — often it will appear in the margin. If you don't read Italian, how can you decipher what the records say? Arm yourself with:

• an Italian-English translation dictionary

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