Indexes – how accurate are they and what to do if the name isnt there?

Let’s discuss first the indexing currently underway by Family Search and Antenati.  This indexing is being done by volunteers who may, or may not be familiar with the elaborate handwriting of our Italian ancestors.  You should try your search on both sites and on  I have a feeling Antenati is not sharing this project with Family Search. Using just a surname and location I got three different results from the three sites.

Civil Indexes

Indexing was important to the anagrafe staff as it enabled them to easily locate other records for that same person.  For example, a couple wants to get married and might not know their birthdate, but they do need a birth certificate.  Checking the indexes in the various years makes their job easier.  For some towns the index is in each book and for other a ‘master index was created separately.  Sometimes in addition to the one in the book and sometimes not!

In 1809 when record keeping began in Southern Italy the indexes were by first name, just as they were in the parish books.  Habits are hard to break but after a few years this changed and the indexes were then created by surname.

In a small town with few births the names were often entered into the index as the births occurred.  In the larger towns with many births this wasn’t so convenient.  A clerk would be assigned at the end of each year to put the names in alphabetical order. This involved rewriting all the names by first letter of the surname, then putting them in alpha order within the letters of the alphabet, then rewriting them neatly in the book.

THREE steps, THREE occasions for error. Interruptions, lunch breaks, etc. contributing the error factor.  I am constantly amazed by the accuracy of these indexes.

If you don’t find your ancestor in the index, and he/she should be there, what are your options?

  • He could have been missed from the index. Check the page for the date you have.
  • Be aware of the recording of ‘D’ Di, De’ and ‘L’, La’ etc. names by first letter of the main surname. Check both indexes to be sure.
  • Look at the actual records before and after the date you are searching for.
  • He could be in the index under a different name than you know him by, so check all the records with the right surname. (See ‘Finding Achille’ in the blog posts)
  • The birth, marriage or death may not have been registered. If it’s a birth or death check for several years after as it may have been a late registration. If it’s a marriage consider that the marriage may be only a religious one and not registered civilly.  The surnames of the children should give you a clue to this. (They will be the same as the father or that of the mother depending on who registered the birth.)
  • Consider that he may have been born or died or married in a different town and the record is in Parte II. Many ‘contadini’ families worked away from their town of residence during the growing season and often a baby would be born there. Occasionally the town of birth would forget to send the record back to the town of residence.  A clue to this is that he is not in the baptism records either.  A baptism took place within a day or so of the birth so they would not wait until they got ‘home’ to baptize the child. If you are looking for a marriage check also the Publications.

If you are lucky the town office will have some ‘Master Indexes’.  This is my name for them as the index also includes the names of both parents making a sibling search much easier.

Occasionally you will find a book in the anagrafe office which records each person in birthdate order, and then in columns, there is a birthdate, parents’ names, date or year of marriage and to whom, and finally date or year of death.

Parish indexes

In the early years indexes were by first name since the baptismal name was considered more important than the surname.

Be very careful to look up the Latin versions of the name you are searching for.  Giovanni = Joannes, Luigi = Aloysius, Giuseppe = Joseph or Josephus and Iacopo = Jacobus.  You may also find two letters of the alphabet together on one page.  Like this example where the priest put ‘I’ and ‘J’ together.  Watch also for the recording of D’, Di, De and ‘La’ names by first letter of the main surname.



Then there are indexes by ‘couple’ with just the page numbers for their children.  Be careful with this one as the couple may change if the man remarries.  You may also find ‘couple’ indexes with the names of the children.



Cresimi records are not actually indexes and are not usually productive for genealogy as they are often just lists of names, with the name of their sponsor.  No indication of age or parents.  This one includes both but dates of baptism.  Since ‘cresima’ only occurred during the Bishop’s infrequent pastoral visits, children of all ages were included.









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