World wide Italian immigration

museo nazionale emigrazione italiana
The Museo Nazionale Emigrazione Italiana in Rome

When we think about Italian immigration here at NEHGS, it is often because the patron we are helping is looking for ancestors who arrived here in the late 1800s or early 1900s. However, Italians immigrated to many different countries, including other European countries as well as countries in South America and other continents such as Australia.

Upon my arrival to Italy in the fall of 2011 to undertake genealogical research, I discovered that there was a relatively new museum in Rome. In fact, it was so new that the people at my hotel had no idea that it even existed. Had my taxi taken a different route I might have missed out on a major resource in regard to Italian emigration and had a much lighter suitcase on my way home.

My local friends had the impression that the Museo Nazionale Emigrazione Italiana had opened sometime during that year. The Museo is located in the bottom of the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument: inside, you will be treated to a wealth of images in video format and in encased collections documenting emigration from Italy as well as those who returned home to Italy after trying their luck elsewhere.

As I walked through the collections I took picture after picture. I kept expecting one of the volunteers or the curators to tell me to stop, but they didn’t. In my three days walking through the museum, I took pictures of everything they had there (more than 400 images). And one of the volunteers offered to help me find my immigrant to the United States using the EllisIslandRecords.org web site, which was on a computer in a small alcove. That same volunteer on day number three offered to take my picture amongst an array of musical instruments which included an elaborate street organ.

By the second day I knew I had to find books from the Italian viewpoint of emigration. Most of what I knew, though coming from many scholarly resources, was written from the American point of view. This would be an excellent opportunity to see the other side. When I asked about such a book at the Museo they shook their head and said there wasn’t one. Undaunted, I headed off to La Feltrinelli — one of the larger bookstores in Rome — and proceeded to pick out three different books on emigration (including one that was a 2-volume boxed set). I figured I was set.

mei bookHowever, on my return the third day, someone else asked about a book and the lady who was manning the counter that day unlocked a closet and brought out an enormous volume. The cost seemed to dissuade the other person, and the lady returned the book to its shelf. When I finished going through the museum, assuring myself I had seen everything there was to see, I also asked the lady about the book. She again brought it out and explained to me that it was €50. As a genealogist and book fanatic, and after looking at the book with its heavy paper, beautiful pictures, and tons of statistics, I knew that it was going home with me. By the way, the book weighs about eight to ten pounds.

Upon my return to NEHGS, I showed the book to our Tech Services people and they set about determining how to purchase a copy for the library — which they did. They also added a couple of the other books I had found to the NEHGS collection. Currently the book about the Museo sits on my desk as I complete an Italian project.

I was reminded of the many statistics in it detailing immigration to other countries when a Tweet appeared on my phone from @OriginsItaly that mentioned a new virtual museum of Italian immigration. Of course I immediately had to check it out.

vmiiiThe Virtual Museum of Italian Immigration in the Illawarra is devoted to those Italians who came to the Illawarra region outside of Sydney, Australia. Like the Museo in Rome, there are many artifacts that you can view in the virtual museum while also looking at and telling stories of Italian families in Australia. In the research project I have been working on, there was one relative who did emigrate to Australia in the 1900s.

I’m always thrilled when I find new avenues of information, especially when they deal with an aspect of immigration that I previously had not known much about or about which I had hoped to find more information. The Internet offers genealogists, historians, and people just interested in a variety of subjects a great place to look for information. And the use of virtual museums, while not new, keeps reminding me that there is never a time when I can’t continue to learn about subjects of interest to me.

What sites do you find the most useful about the history or migration of your ancestors?

About Rhonda McClure

Rhonda R. McClure, Genealogist, is a nationally recognized professional genealogist and lecturer specializing in New England and celebrity research as well as computerized genealogy; is compiler of more than 120 celebrity family trees; has been a contributing editor for Heritage Quest Magazine, Biography magazine and was a contributor to The History Channel Magazine and American History Magazine. In addition to numerous articles, she is the author of ten books, including the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition, Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors, and Digitizing Your Family History.

2 thoughts on “World wide Italian immigration

  1. Hello Rhonda, how exciting it was for me to see that halfway around the world someone had tweeted about our project – Virtual Museum of Italian Immigration in the Illawarra! I also went to the Museo Nazionale Emigrazione Italiana in Rome just over a year ago and I found it very moving and told all my work colleagues and friends when I returned home. However, I found that there was very little about immigration to Australia and that’s what planted the seed in my mind that we had to begin to do something. The Museo Nazionale Emigrazione Italiana already has one of our projects – “My Backyard, Your Backyard” – a documentary about Italians and their backyard. This project won a national government award last year. We will also be promoting the Virtual Museum site to the Museo Nazionale Emigrazione Italiana in Rome. The website is not complete as yet, we have just completed the subtitles for the videos and we have a lot more material to upload, so keep on watching throughout the next 12 months. We also have a facebook page for the project, which has also attracted a lot of attention from Italians in America – in fact some of the material on the site belongs to Italians who lived in the Illawarra and then migrated to the USA. Join us on facebook as we keep everyone updated as to where we are at with the website. Regards, Giovanna Cardamone, Executive Officer, ItSoWel, 5 July 2014

  2. Hi, Rhonda,

    I’m wondering if you have any information about why so many northern Italian emigrants left from Le Havre, France to go to Ellis Island, rather than Genoa, which was closer to them, in the early 1900s. Almost all of my family left from France on the CGT–Companie Generale Transatlantique.

    From local lore, I’m assuming that there were local representatives who offered a package deal with train to Le Havre and overnight accommodations. My grandmother, from the Piacenza/Bobbio area, bought her ticket in Bettola.

    Also, I have read that there is an maritime museum in Genoa that has immigration records, but I haven’t been to it. MUMA – Istituzione Musei del Mare e delle Migrazionhttp://www.galatamuseodelmare.it/jsp/index.jspi

    Linda Stevens

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