La Genealogica Italiana
( Italian Pedigree)
Cav. Anthony Lascio
Nobility in Italy has a
glamorous and glorious past. It is so grandiose, space allowances for
this article will not do justice to a complete or detailed history.
Therefore, my mission will be to summarize as briefly as possible to
provide you, the genealogy reader, with only the highlights.
The beginnings of
nobility in Italy coincided with the crusades in the thirteenth century,
not unlike much of the rest of Europe. Because Italy in those days was
not one unified nation, it's separate states, duchies and principalities
each conferred it's own titles. Basically, a title was granted to those
who owned land, conducted service for the royal family and provided
military assistance to the church or the sovereign rulers. The origins
of titles began in Sicily and Sardinia. It then spread to the Italian
The title noble stems
from the Latin word nobilis whose literal meaning is defined as one who
has a high birth or rank, i.e., well known in public. Because Italy was
not one specific entity like Spain, France or England, there were many
titled families. This increases the possibility of one's chances to
connect with a legitimate blood line. But, bear in mind, the percentage
of any one of us laying claim to authentic "blue blood" is
infinitesimally small, less than 1%. Most of us who are
Italian-Americans descend from Italy's common agricultural forebearers,
therefore more than 99% of us will have no reason to pursue Italian
aristocracy or nobility which simply does not exist.
The first honored were
knights (Cavaliere). Along with a titled came a crest, i.e., coat of
arms. This insignia first appeared on the knights armor. These are
honored and legitimate forms of identification. Therefore no one should
claim a coat of arms unless genealogical research verifies a legitimate
right to the crest. Anyone who displays or claims a coat of arms
produced by one of several American heraldry companies is not only
fooling the public but kidding themselves.
While knighthood was the
first and most common of Italy's entitlements, it is not hereditary as
are the royal titles. Knighthood was and still is an individual title
conferred only by members of an Italian royal family for one's
outstanding or meritorious service.
Royal titles are prince,
count, viscount, baron, duke or marchese. After a title was conferred,
it was passed down to the next generation via the first born male son.
His siblings were legitimately noble as well, but could not bear the
title. This process continued down the line, generation by generation
even to the present day. Although royal families do not rule in Italy
today, descendants of the House of Bourbon or the House of Savoy, as
examples, still carry their honored titles.
How does one track down
the validity of nobility within one's family? There are several methods
of research including notary and university records. Italian libraries
may also contain published family histories and genealogies. However,
for the typical Italian genealogist, the normal process of tracing one's
pedigree should uncover noble connections, if it exists. Italian
church or civil ledgers should contain reference to a noble with a
notation "Nob." In Latin, the term "nobil homo" or noble man in
English, would precede the ledger's notation. Sometimes, the term "illustrus"
could be used in lieu of nobilis. In any case, as normal research is
conducted, some special notation before an individual's name will jump
out at you signaling you've got something special to pursue.
Another clue to consider
is the ancestral town itself. Since land ownership is the most common
link between being noble or not, once you have identified the home of
your ancestors, chances are there will exist a continuos flow of
ancestors generation by generation through the centuries in the same
Finally there are
publications, i.e., namely encyclopedias, produced in Italy, which can
provide a wealth of valuable data as a starting pont for anyone who
believes their family has aristocratic or noble links.
While the fascination
with importance can be fun and exciting for the average Italian American
genealogist, the pursuit of such pipe dreams will only result in
frustration and disappointment. Since so few of us are really someone
special, genealogically speaking, remember we are all special because of
who and what we are, not because some ancestor in the distant past made
a mark in history.