by Cav. Anthony J.
Many, many years ago, the
only way one could research the genealogical records of Italy was to go
there and view them in person. For many, that was an impossible dream.
Then, thanks to a monumental effort by the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) everything changed.
In recent years, the crews
of LDS began microfilming the vital records of Italy, not only the civil
records but also parish ledgers. Today, as you read this article, the
cameras of several LDS crews are clicking away throughout the Italian
peninsula. How are they doing?
The Mormon Church requests
permission from the provincial (state) governments across Italy to send in
film crews to their respective record archives. Contrary to popular
belief, the metrical records of birth, marriage and death are not filmed
at each town hall. For decades, duplicate copies of all the town's records
have been sent to the record depository at the province level. The end
result is scores of individual town records are accumulated at one
location, allowing the microfilming of those records relatively easy.
Imagine going to every commune in Italy trying to film dozens of ledger
books at each one.
In some cases, where other records of genealogical value are also
available at the provincia tribunale (province courthouse) such as notary
or census/tax documents, they too are filmed.
It is estimated about 80%
of Italy's civil records have been filmed. For example, most of the civil
records from 1820 to 1910 in Sicily are finished. Also, the "foot" regions
of Italy; i.e., Calabria, Basilicata and Puglia are also mostly completed.
Further north in the Campania region, the Naples province is in the
process of being filmed, not at the state level, because permission was
not given, but town by town. Still further north, such areas as Genoa,
Como and Venice are being "wrapped up" presently. Around Rome, crews are
filming presently. In general, nearly 100% of the pre unification (1865)
civil records have been filmed for all of the Republic.
What does this mean for the
Italian genealogist? It means for most of you, your ancestral town's
birth, marriage and death records are either currently available for
ordering and viewing at you nearest LDS Family History Library or will be
in the near future.
It is estimated that once a
particular town's records have been filmed, it could take up to two years
before they become available on microfilm to the typical genealogist.
However, the average time frame is actually closer to six months.
The second category of
microfilming are the Catholic Church acts of baptism, marriage and death.
The process of filming these records take on a much different scenario.
For instance, each diocesan bishop must extend his specific permission to
allow those records to be filmed. The priority of the Mormon's has been,
heretofore, concentration on the civil records first. Now that most of
those records have been finished, the focus is shifting to the church
records. Although the Vatican has given the Mormon's a general permission
to film the records of the Italy's Catholic Churches, each bishop still
has the individual authority to approve or disapprove. Not surprisingly,
some, reportedly many, of the bishops have not granted permission to film
the records of the parishes within their respective dioceses. If a
bishop's permission is not granted, those records cannot be filmed. Many
genealogists will eventually be gravely disappointed to learn the data
they so desperately seek will never become available. What is so
unfortunate is church records cover a much greater span of history than
civil records, but are not as detailed as the civil ledgers.
Where the permission of the
hierarchy has been granted, the diocese sends a letter to each parish
within their jurisdiction requesting the church ledgers be brought to the
diocese. The LDS filming crews then photograph the ledger's pages at the
diocesan office. Unlike the civil records, in most cases the parish
records have not been duplicated with a second copy sent to the diocese.
Where an individual parish fails to comply with the diocesan request to
produce their ledgers for microfilming, the filming crews then travel to
that parish to film there. To date, only between 5 and 8% of all Catholic
Church records in Italy have been filmed.
In summary, great progress
has been made in filming the records of Italy. While much has been
accomplished, much remains to be done. A tremendous expression of
gratitude is extended to the Mormon Church. Bravissimo!!!