Italian civil records explained

A birth certificate will give you the names and ages of each parent, their professions, their town of residence and occasionally the name of the Grandfather. This would only happen if there were several men in town with the same first name and surname (maybe even married to a women with similar names). From the ages given you should be able to calculate the approximate age of the parents. They had a habit of “rounding out” to the nearest 5 years so don’t depend too heavily on the ‘age’. The person who declared the birth was usually the father or the midwife but occasionally a Grandfather would do this chore if his son was working out of town or overseas. This will often be stated in the lower part of the act just above the signatures.
Most emigrant ancestors were illiterate and did not sign the various birth or marriage documents and this is stated. When they did sign you will have a precious sample of their signature.
A birth certificate will often have ‘notations’ in the margin providing details of a marriage, death, even divorce and loss of Italian nationality. These notations were often not included in the microfilmed copy as the events took place after the copy was sent to the State. These notations would also include marriages and deaths that took place in other towns or countries if the notice was received by the birth town.

A marriage certificate will tell you where the bride and groom were born, how old they were, and give the names of both sets of parents stating “fu” (already deceased) or “di” (still alive). It will also give the town of residence. The bride and groom had to provide their birth certificates so the age given will be more accurate than on the birth records of their children, and the death certificates of any deceased parent. If the father was deceased at the time of the marriage they also had to produce the grandfather’s death certificate.
A civil marriage that took place AFTER the birth of one or more (still living) children will also include the children’s names and dates of birth, in effect, legitimising them. You will find this phenomenon most often in the former Vatican States between 1870 and 1920 where religious marriages that took place before 1870 or even after and were often not registered civilly until many years later.

Death certificates provide the names of the persons making the declaration; these persons were not always relatives but often the ‘funeral service’ persons with a profession of ‘becchino’.
The name and approximate age of the deceased and the location of death will also be given along with the names of their parents (if known). The parent’s names may be omitted if they were very old at the time of death, or were not born in the town where they died. Italian death records do not usually provide the cause of death except in very unusual cases. This might be suicide, drowning or murder. I have also seen ‘shot by firing squad’. Many women died in childbirth so look also for a birth during the months prior or even the death of a baby for a woman of childbearing age.

Witnesses as a general rule were educated men who provided the service of witnessing (signing) official documents. They are not usually related to the declarant except in very small towns where a literate person might not be available. If your ancestor actually signed the act, then the witnesses may well be relatives or friends.

Processetti are the documents listed on the marriage record and attached to the State copy of the marriage record. They include the birth certificates of the bride and groom, the death certificates of any deceased parent and Grandparent. They are not available for all years or even all towns.

Indexes are usually supplied for each year and occasionally a 10 year index will be offered. When searching a film first check if there is an annual index often located at the end of the reel. Births are written in the book in the order they were registered so a late December birth might be located at the beginning of the following year. A very late registration might be listed in Parte II along with the birth registration for children born in other towns but resident of this town. The index is usually in alphabetical order but occasionally in order of birth, marriage or death. The number of the ‘act’ will always be noted making it easier for you to find. A child whose birth was registered after several months or even years will again be found in the index and year that the birth was actually registered, NOT the year the birth took place.
If you are very lucky the index will also include the names of the parents making it possible to quickly locate all the children of a couple. There was no standard format for indexes or even a requirement to include one.

Calculating ages may be made easier if you understand that Italians will typically tell you how old they are based on the year they are completing. For example, if you are born in 1870 and marry in 1890 BEFORE your 20th birthday occurs you are shown as 20 years old. If your birthday has happened then you are 21 years old (or in your 21st year).


  1. hi ann woundered if you could shed some light, im trying to trace my dads side of the family i understand my great grandad was abandoned at birth in the town of picinisco and was raised by a man i believe to be called raffaele randolfi and when he was baptised they gave him the name Esposito as they did to foundlings,also the names Antonio and Antonia palladini were mentioned as well, i have his baptism record as his marrige cerificate too, its a bit confusing as he went by two names stefano and luigi i would very much like to know if you have any information on the randolfi family around the time of 1880 or give my any glues how to continue my search many thanks nicki.


  2. Hello, I’m trying to trace my dads side of the family from Supino Frosinone.
    His sister was Costantini and had 3 children Luigi-Cataldo-Maria. There father was Piedro and surname is not known. They lived at via polvino.
    Any info would be appreciated.


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