Italian Passports – a good source of information?  Not always.

Anyone who is lucky enough to have their Grandfather’s Italian passport would expect that the name, parents’ names, date and place of birth would be as accurate as it could get.  And yet, in the past couple of years I have found this not to be the case.

From 1869, passports were required to leave Italy. This was so the Italian government could exert control over their male population and prevent men who had not served their required military duty from leaving the country and could also ensure that anyone who had been convicted of a crime there did not leave the country. From 1901 through 1904, men were also required to have written consent to leave the country, if married, from their wives; if unmarried, from their mothers. In 1901, Italy even passed a law requiring a medical certificate before a passport would be issued for transoceanic travel. This was to ensure that countries in North and South America, such as the U.S., did not reject emigrants for health reasons, or because they were likely to become public charges. This law remained in effect until 1967.

I omitted to give credit for the researching of the above information since I only know the person’s on-line pseudonym. Erudita74.  Erudita has since added the following interesting information. 

Post unification though, external passports were still issued, but upon request and with exceptions. A married woman, for example, could not request a passport to emigrate out of the country, even if her husband had left the country years before and had stopped supporting her and her children. She needed his authorization to emigrate and her passport request was denied. This was true until 1919.

Since the unification of Italy (1861), passport applications have been made at the local police station (questura). The records kept by the questura (in the archives of the headquarters of the internal police in each province) are not available to the public. Registri dell’Emigrazione e Passaporti from about 1800 through WWI are preserved in the archivi di stato (unfortunately not all survived), with those dated 1869 and later being among the records of the Polizia (police) or Prefettura (Prefect). Passport records since WWI are still in the custody of the questura, where the applications were made. (from John Colletta’s book; Italian Roots)

When applying for a passport, the Italian citizen had to submit a copy of his birth record and a penal certificate showing that he was in good standing with Italian law enforcement. Copies of the documents presented when applying were often brought with the emigrant and usually contain the name of the emigrant, town of birth, age or birth date, the date when applying to emigrate or the date when emigration would be permitted, the port of departure and destination.

So if you have a copy of your ancestor’s passport, your application for citizenship should be without issues, right?  You have all the names and dates you need to get the documents from the town of birth.  Let’s see what happened to these people.


When Fiorindo left for America with his uncle in 1901 he was just 16 years old.  His passport was valid for only 3 years (to ensure he returned for his military service).  It was also issued ‘free of charge’ indicating that the family were poor.

He never returned to Italy but when he married in 1918 the names of his parents on the American marriage certificate were the same as those on the passport.   Citizenship for his children should not be a problem.  Civil records for this area are on line but when William couldn’t locate his Grandfather’s birth record he turned to us for advice.

We were just as puzzled.  Fiorindo could not have been the child of this couple as they had registered a child ‘born dead’ just 4 months earlier. Fiorindo’s birth record just wasn’t there.  We contacted the town office and were told the same thing.

Our client and his family had a DNA test.  The results are interesting.

Giambattista and Maria Grazia gave birth to Ascenzo on 17 May, 1882.   Fiorindo’s passport lists the same two people as his parents and a birth date of 11 Jul 1890.  Giambattista’s brother also came to the United States after marrying Maria Grazia’s sister. Each had several children.

One of Fiorindo’s sons has DNA tested, as well as 2 grandsons, and 3 great grandsons.

Additionally 3 of Ascenzo’s great granddaughters have DNA tested

A total of 14 measurements between people on each side of the pair of brothers.  There are 3 possibilities.  (A few other options might be possible, but are substantially less likely)

1) Fiorindo and Ascenzo are full siblings

2) Fiorindo and Ascenzo are ½ siblings (Based on other matches, and historical prospects, I would say that if this is the case Giambatista is the common parent, and he had a child with a different woman. 12 of the 14 DNA measurements work with this possibility (marked *)

3) This is the same as #2, but the woman would have to be related to Maria Grazia (like a sister or near cousin) Most all of these measurements are higher than average, and a 2nd common thread for the families would account for the additional shared DNA.

Will William get his citizenship?

Domenico and Maria Teresa

Martin has an even bigger problem.  He has passports for BOTH His Grandparents, and neither of their birth records cannot be found on line and are probably not at the town office either.  His Grandfather’s passport was issued by the Consulate using the information from the original as he needed it for a temporary return to Italy.  Still, that shouldn’t change the information. Martin has found all the birth records for all the children of the parents of his Grandfather but not Domenico.  The birth records in the town show a birth record for Domenico born in 1844 and who died in 1850.  It is logical that the next child would be named Domenico and it appears he was since the one we are looking for was born in 1851.  Of course, we should write to the town in case he was registered late and is entered in another year.  (They don’t always remember to make a note in the index of the book of the correct year of birth 1851.  i.e. Domenico Valente  see anno 1867.  They wouldn’t have entered it the second copy that we look at on line either.

The same applies to the Grandmother; the birth record is simply not there.  Her passport was also re-issued in 1930 and the year of birth and town of birth are in faded ink compared to the rest.


Antonio was born in Calabria and emigrated to Argentina. According to the rules above he must have has a passport in order to travel.  The client no longer has it and we haven’t found it.  Now his granddaughter wants her Italian citizenship.  She has a letter of citizenship for Antonio from 1916 and she believed he was from San Lucia in the Province of Cosenza.  Since there is no town named San Lucia in Cosenza we pulled up a list of towns for the Province and decided that San Lucido was the best match since it also has a ‘frazione’ named Santa Lucia.  However, there was no birth record in the on line records.  Next step was a search of the military records in the State Archives.  A foglio matricolare was found, with the right name, right parents, matched birthdate and the town was San Lucido.  Back to the on line records, the birth record HAD to be there, but it wasn’t.  His father’s death record was found but the birth record eluded us. Even a call to the local priest couldn’t produce a baptism record!

Chiara is lucky, we can get a certified copy of the military record and a letter from the town saying the record was not found.  Hopefully that will get her citizenship.

So, are these clerical errors?  Did the parents’ ‘forget’ to register the birth of their child? Maybe, in the case of Antonio and Domenico.

Were these passports issued with a ‘busta’ under the table or issued so that these people could emigrate and cease to be a burden on the town.  We may never know.


  1. Thank you for this interesting information. May I assume the local Civil Records Office that issued passports are on file and information is available? Some Italian’s traveled into and out or Italy several times, are these travels recorded? Thank you for your response.


    • I have found very few passport files in my research. There are a few years available in Naples. There are lists of passports issued in the Archivio di Stato di Frosinone for a small span of years. It’s very hit and miss!
      I don’t believe I have ever seen travels recorded excpt in the Comune (after 1921/1936) where the person actualy notified the anagrafe he was leaving and than re registered on his return. Not everyone notified the anagrafe office!


  2. Hello Ann,Thank you for this information regarding how the passport document was generated and it’s importance. I always look forward to your blog stories. I have seen passports for a few friends of family and have been aware of their existence, in this case for Bari and Serracapriola, Puglia.  However my search has been conducted by direct contact assceesing  files in the Commune Di Serracapriola (Province of Foggia) located in the town of Serracapriola. I have wanted to access passports that would clear up some of the many visits to Argentina and America. You suggest additional records are available from the local police department who issued passports. Are these records readily available? Thank you for any recommendations or direct support you may provide. Kind regards, Dan

    Daniel T. Cotton

    860-227-3797 (C)

    P. O. Box 1000

    Old Lyme, CT 06371 USA


    • Although I have found some passport application files for a small number of years in Naples and a register of names for a couple of years in Frosinone both at the Archivio di Stato I have never been able to access any at the Questure or local police stations.


  3. Would there be a passport of Joseph (Giuseppe) Podesta. He lived in the town of Moneglia, Genoa, Italy and arrived in England with his son, my greatgrandfather Nicholas (Nicola) Podesta born 1849 or 1850. He was a young 13 year old arriving in England in about 1863. As there are no passenger lists going to England. Would the father have to sign a form to say he was inmigrating and if so who would have theses records.
    John PODESTA.


    • It wasn’t until 1869 that Italy began requiring passports for travel but I am not sure you would have needed one for passage to England. At 13 years of age he would have been considered an adult. It is also possible his parents were deceased leaving him to seek his fortune where he pleased.
      The Archivio di Stato di Genoa does have some passport documents from 1858-1872.
      There are also documents from 1814-1873 concerning emigration and these also include files and passport folders.
      Lastly there are passport files for 1910-1925.


  4. Ann, my great-grandfather left Rende in 1901 at the age of 17 for Ellis Island. Any thoughts on if a passport exists (and how I might obtain a copy)? Thanks!


    • Copies of passports are not available. The application for the passport sometimes exists in the town office archives or the State Archives. State Archives inventory is often on line.


  5. Great grandfather Nicholas (Nicola) Podesta came to england aged 13 in abt. 1862 born 1850. He lived his whole life in Southampton and dying in Surrey in 1935. He mentioned his father was Joe (Joseph) a Mason by trade. It is not clear if he came to england with Nicholas or if he returned to Italy as nothing matches with a death in england. Nicholas on the 1871 census states he came from the town of Moneglia in Sestri Levante Genoa. A search of the 4 parish in the area found nothing. I would like to think that his father has a passport to reveal who he was.
    Thank you. John.


  6. My uncle Francesco Saverio Sammarco traveled on an Italian Passport # 5550 to the United States ,,,New York 1921. Is it possible to access a copy?
    Thank you


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