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The Ellen Payne Odom Genealogy Library Family Tree
The Family Tree - February/March 2003
La Genealogia Italiana

by Cav. Anthony Lascio

"Italian Death Records"

There are those among the astute Italian genealogists who proclaim that death records are the most meaningless vital statistics.  They claim those records offer little, if anything significant, toward extending one's pedigree. While the preceding may hold some truth, those death documents are still an appealing record source sought by the average researcher.  So, rather than debate the pros and cons of this Italian record let's explore what they are and the data they provide, then you be the judge whether they are worthy of your pursuit.

Before we proceed, keep one very important fact in mind. Civil death documents will vary from province to province and region to region in Italy. For this reason, the specific data the record offers will be different from let's say, Padua and Bari. What I describe will be in general terms in order to encompass as many different types or formats of death records as possible.

The atto di morte or act of death indicates the date, time and place the witness or witnesses to the death appeared before the town official with the information and verification of an individuals death.  Also stated is the occupation and residency of the witness or witnesses.  Then the deceased ancestor's name, age, occupation, residence, marital status, parents; and the time, date and place of death.  This genealogical data is worthwhile information but remember it provides the least amount of new information regarding our ancestor.

Contrary to the belief of some, in rare cases is the cause of death provided. This lack of information will not please those who are pursuing genetic genealogy or in other words, trying to establish a link between themselves and a particular illness of an ancestor from the past.

Now that I have described the actual death notation recorded in the civil ledgers of the commune, let's take a look at the two types of death documents which are available to the genealogists who requests them from their ancestral town.  First there is the death certificate, certificate di morte and then the estratto, or extract.  The certificate provides a limited amount of information versus the extract which contains much more valuable information than the certificate.  Always request the extract when requesting an Italian civil death record.

Besides the civil death records described previously, you have one other option to obtain a death record for your ancestors and that is the death and burial record of the Catholic Church also known as the parish records found in your ancestor's Italian birthplace.  As with the civil death records, expect the parish death records to be the least valuable and most difficult and time consuming records to obtain.   Remember also, the difficulty in obtaining a specific death record when the ancestors' death data is unknown.  The ancestor could have died anytime over a period of many decades and to pinpoint the exact year of death within that  time frame will be an extraordinarily difficult process.

The important genealogical data provided on the church death ledger at the parish archives usually includes the name, age and occupation of the deceased ancestor.  Also, the name of the wife or husband of the deceased for each marriage, if more than one.  In addition, the names of the parents of the deceased are provided and generally their occupations.  Usually, the date of the deceased ancestors' baptism is also given.  Finally, the burial act, time and place, are provided.  Normally, per Italian law, the actual burial is within two days of the death and the place is almost always in the parish cemetery.

As stated in the description of civil records, the cause of death is absent from most parish death records.  There are exceptions in some northeastern regions of Italy, particularly Venice, Padua and Trieste.

In summary, it is important to remember that civil death records are recorded in Italian and Catholic Church parish death ledgers are recorded in Latin.  When pursuing these records via correspondence in the Italian language, be specific in your request and provide all the data you know concerning the deceased ancestor.  One final reminder.  Seek both the civil and church documents and when requesting the civil death records, specify the extract, not the certificate.

Although you may not always obtain everything you seek, death records have a way of "finalizing" your genealogical pursuit.  Let's just say as you go after the last of the Italian record sources, say to yourself, "till death (records) us part".    

Return to Feb/Mar 2003 Index


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