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The Ellen Payne Odom Genealogy Library Family Tree
La Genealogica Italiana

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 mainland.

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 town.

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.

Return to Oct/Nov 2002 Index Page


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