Now What?: Finding a WWI Italian Soldier

By John Philip Colletta Premium

Q. While visiting a family hometown in Italy, I found my great-uncle Angelo Fossa on a monument for soldiers killed in World War I. I requested his military records from the provincial office and from Rome, but he wasn’t listed. Where do I go from here?

A. When Italian unification was completed in 1870, all 18-year-old men were subject to mandatory conscription. Each town (comune) maintains a record of locals who served in the military, so the easiest way to get a post-1870 record is from your uncle’s town government (municipio). But if the record no longer exists, or if officials prove unhelpful, you have two alternatives:

• For military service prior to World War I, contact the state archives (archivio di stato) in the capital of the province where your ancestor lived. State archives have custody of older military records, some of which predate unification by a century. Visit <> for state archives’ addresses.

• For service since World War I, contact the military district (distrctto militare) for your uncle’s town. Some libraries have gazetteers — such as the Nuovo Dizionario dei Comut e Fraziom di Comtmi — that name each town’s military district. (Typically, a province contains five or six military districts.)

Since 1870, each military district has kept Office of Conscription registers (registri degli Uffici di Leva) listing the town of birth, birth date, parents’ names, physical description and military status (called up, deserted, exempted and so forth) of men eligible for the draft. The registers are organized into annual conscription classes (classe di leva). Each class is indexed by the names of men who turned 18 since the previous class.

Once you’ve learned the facts of your great-uncle’s service, consult some history books to see what the Italian military was up to during that time, and how he may have participated.
From the April 2004 Family Tree Magazine