The Anagrafe (Big Brother, Italian-style)

Italian civil records have to be the most informative I have ever encountered.  They are so detailed they practically tell the family story as a standalone.   The Anagrafe knows everything about all of its residents, where they live, who their parents are, their birth marriage and death dates and now even their divorce details.  They know their profession, their handicaps and their civil status.

Each office and each town follows the same basic rules but I have seen such a variation in the detail and how it is organized that I never cease to be amazed.

Between 1809-1815 in the Papal States civil records were kept as decreed by Napoleon.  After he was ousted from Italy, these States returned to having the church keep track of its residents.  Some towns burned or destroyed the civil records for this period, others were conserved and can be found in the State Archives.

In the rest of the south civil records continued to be kept as before until 1860-1865.  One copy kept in the town and a second copy sent to the State for conservation.

In 1870 the law was changed and all towns and cities were required to keep civil records in almost the same form as decreed by Napoleon.   Between 1860 and 1869 you will find record keeping in the former Papal States to be hit and miss, stabilizing in 1870. Around this time many of the Anagrafe offices took a census of residents.  This census took several forms.  In some towns it was a Register of the Population, in others a State of the Family.  Both forms were essentially a list of family members, their relationship to the Head of the Household, profession, date and place of birth and civil status.  In many cases these records were updated with births, marriages and deaths until around 1905.  Unfortunately not all survived.

Between 1905 and 1936 an index card system was begun.  Kept in alphabetical order with a personal record card for each resident, detailing all their personal information.  As people died or emigrated their cards were eliminated from the main file but not destroyed.  It is still possible in some towns to search these cards today.

Also in 1870 a system of notations on birth records was begun. Details of marriages and deaths were noted on the birth record along with recognition of abandoned or illegitimate children.  This information occasionally coming from other towns or countries.  In 1962 when divorce was legalized, divorce detail was also noted on the birth records.  You will find some of these notations occurring on civil records before 1870 but most are recorded on birth records after 1865.

You can imagine the anagrafical disaster when WW2 occupation destroyed some of the civil records.  In some towns where the civil records were destroyed, the old system of personal index cards survived because it was stored separately.  This means that while an actual birth record may not be found for your ancestor who emigrated prior to WW2, the personal detail on these cards may still be available if a competent researcher can convince the town to locate them.  In some towns (Cassino) nothing survived!

Local survivors were ordered to reconstruct their civil birth record by making a declaration, under oath, at the town anagrafe office.  Other records such as marriage and death were reconstructed on an ‘as needed’ basis. Records for those who had left before WW2 were reconstructed only if the person returned to the town to do so for some reason (claim an inheritance).

When I married my Italian husband in Toronto in 1998, he promptly registered the marriage with the Italian Consulate who forwarded the detail to his home town of Sora.  The anagrafe made the necessary notations on his birth record and in the Register!

Note:  A formal birth, marriage or death certificate is NOT Issued to a person when the act is registered.  If they need a copy for school, pension or passport purposes a certificate or extract is requested from the office and is valid for 6 months.


    • No, I don’t have actual records for 1825. I’m trying to find my gggrandfather’s birth certificate or any record of it. I also don’t know what his parent’s names are. I’m trying to pick up from where my 1st cousin left off (she has passed away) and I’m fairly new at this. Thank you.


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