Now What?: Requesting Italian Records from Archives

By Sharon DeBartolo Carmack Premium

Q. I’m trying to obtain a certifi ed birth record from Italy. I mailed $20 to the town record office two years ago and never heard back. What can I do?

A. Many Italian birth, marriage and death records have been microfilmed and are available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and on loan through its Family History Centers. But if you’re after a certified copy, say, to apply for dual citizenship or for some other reason, the record needs to come directly from Italy.

Birth, marriage and death records are kept at the town level, so you’ll need to know the name of the town where your ancestor was born and his or her Italian name (many immigrants changed their names once in America).
Write to the town’s civil record office (Ufficio di Stato Civile). You’ll find tips for writing letters to Italy here  and in Lynn Nelson’s A Genealogist’s Guide to Discovering Your Italian Ancestors (Betterway Books, out of print). The Web site of Italy’s Washington, DC, embassy also has advice.
Along with your request, send an unstamped, self-addressed envelope and an international money order (send the equivalent of 10 euros for a certified record). Then be prepared to wait—a response can take weeks or months. If you send a follow-up letter and still don’t hear anything, it’s possible your correspondence never arrived. Some say Italy has one of the worst postal systems in the world. If your letter was in English, it’s possible no one could read it.
If all else fails, you can hire a researcher in Italy to obtain the document for you. Odds are the researcher won’t live in that specific town, so you’ll need to pay travel costs and the researcher’s hourly fee, as well as the cost of the record. Or try a research firm that specializes in acquiring certified copies of vital records for Italian citizenship; many charge a flat fee for their services. Do a Google search for Italian citizenship to find one.

A version of this article appeared in the July 2009 issue of Family Tree Magazine.