When the town doesn’t answer your request for records…

I often begin a search with a written request for the starting record.  Usually the birth of the last person born in Italy.  This ensures that I am starting the search in the right place.

The town clerk has the right to respond to a letter, fax or email within a ‘reasonable’ time frame.  This translates to 30 days.

I usually wait 30 days before following up my request.  The responses to my follow up phone call are varied.

  • I didn’t receive your request.
  • We are really busy , I’ll try to do it next week (or month)
  • You have to pay the ‘diritti’ (cost of issuing the certificate usually 26 cents)
  • You didn’t provide an exact date.
  • That name is not a name from this town (it was a foundling name so of course not!)
  • You are not allowed to have a photocopy

Those are the excuses.  The reasons are actually much more acceptable.

  • There is no date and the books have no indexes and I don’t have time to do research
  • The books are inaccessible (in another building, in the basement)
  • The books are in the archive (which is very dirty, has mice or spiders or snakes)
  • You didn’t include any identification
  • I don’t have records for this period
  • The records were destroyed (in the war, fire, earthquake, flood etc.)
  • We charge a fee for research when no date is supplied
  • No return envelope was supplied

And for written requests from outside the country…in addition to the above

  • Your letter/email wasn’t in Italian
  • Your request was unclear

I drove 53 kilometers to Fiuggi to pay the ‘diritti’ of 26 cents and make the application.  I had sent a fax with the authorization of the client along with my photo ID.  During my follow up phone call I asked permission to mail the 26 cents, but was told that wasn’t enough as I would have to come in person to make the application.  Assuming she had found the record I needed I made arrangements to make the trip.

I made sure to arrive during their afternoon opening hours when there are typically less people around.  Of the three persons working in the office the one I needed was suffering from toothache and not in good humor.  I presented the new application but when she realized that I didn’t have an exact date and the date range was 10 years (maybe more) the torrent began.  The books are UP THERE she said, pointing at the ceiling height (12 feet) cupboard doors.  The books are heavy, how can I keep going up and down if you don’t know which book you need? She said.

I knew I couldn’t go up the ladder; I wouldn’t be covered by the insurance if I fell.  The other clerks kept their heads down while I cajoled and offered to go through the books myself if she would just get them down.  Eventually she broke down and pulled out the ladder.  She was too short to reach without stretching on tiptoe and I hurried to take the heavy book from her since no one else moved.  At the end she had to pull down 5 of these books before we found the marriage act.  Fortunately each year had an index except one. (Sometimes they are not indexed, like in Luco dei Marsi where we had no luck convincing the clerk to bring down the books)

Once we found the record I suggested that I photograph the page to save her from photocopying it.  “No, no, you can’t have a photo OR a photocopy”, she quickly said. “I’ll do an extract for you”.

“No. no”, I replied, “I need a photocopy and I have the right to one”. Five minutes elapsed while she searched her rule book.  At the end she agreed I could have a photocopy so why didn’t I just take a photo.  I did.  “Here is the 26 cents” I said.  “Not needed”, she replied, “I didn’t have to do a certificate!”

So I got my photograph of a marriage document I needed but not the death records (no dates known) that I would have loved to ask for but knew I would never be received again if I did.  I didn’t have to pay the ‘diritti’ and I had driven 53 kilometers for just one record due to her lack of communication.

How do I justify the cost of this trip to the client?  I don’t. The client will pay the fee as if I obtained the record by mail.  That’s fair!  It was a nice drive, and I learned something about the town records that will be useful for future clients.

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