What you need to know in order to trace your family in Italy — and how to get microfilmed records at a local research center.
Before plunging into records of the old country, you need as much information as possible about your immigrant ancestors in America. Use home sources and census, vital and church records to find the immigrant's full name (his original Italian moniker, rather than a name he may have adopted in America), birth date (at least a year) and place, arrival date and family members' names. Learn women's maiden names, which Italian record-keepers used on civil records and other legal documents such as immigration passenger lists. (That means it won't be difficult to trace female ancestors or distinguish one Maria from another.) The more you know, the easier it'll be to make a positive ID in Italy.
Once you're ready to tackle Italian research, civil records (stato civile) of births, marriages and deaths are your best bet — they're the most readily available Italian record group on this side of the pond. And you may be able to reconstruct whole families in one fell swoop: One document often lists two or three generations. For example, birth records (atto di nascita) typically name the baby, father, mother and both grandfathers. Sometimes record-keepers added information in the margins about the child's marriage or death, including the date, volume and record number for the event.
Marriage records (atto di matrimonio) give the couple's names, ages and occupations; their parents' names; and the dates the banns were posted. Death records (atto di morto) name the deceased plus his spouse, parents and, possibly, minor children. Unfortunately, the records generally don't give causes of death.