Snail mail

As I have mentioned in other blog posts, the focus of my research has been on my maternal ancestry from Ireland, Germany, and Italy. While researching my Italian heritage, I have come across various places listed as my ancestors’ places of birth, from tiny frazioni (the equivalent of a parish) to various larger comuni (towns). To make researching my Italian ancestry harder is the fact that I am from the northern part of Italy, about 40 miles outside of Milan. When these families arrived is also a hindrance – the early 1880s. Passenger lists for this period provide little to no help in locating travelers’ origins; naturalization records from before 1906 provide no information about places of birth. In addition, none of the records for the commonly-reported places have been microfilmed, so I resigned myself to just accepting a general area that my family was from.

I finally got around to reaching out and inquiring about records when I was planning a trip to Italy. On a whim I searched the one reel of microfilm for a comune that was listed as my great-great-grandfather’s brother’s place of birth. In my search I found a birth record for a good match to their sister. The year of her birth was off by a few years. Usually, as it wasn’t a common surname but it also wasn’t a rare one, I would have made a note of the record and continued to research. But the wonderful thing about Italian records is that clerks will sometimes annotate records if they learn about a marriage or a death.

[The] wonderful thing about Italian records is that clerks will sometimes annotate records if they learn about a marriage or a death.

They don’t do it with everyone, but when you can decipher the handwriting this practice can be helpful. In one research services case, I was researching a common surname in a town in southern Italy and I did not know the parents of the person I was researching. Luckily, news of his marriage in Boston made its way back to the comune and the clerk added the date and place of the marriage to his birth record, which allowed me to identify the correct person. In my case, the marriage date and place of marriage in Italy matched what I found in an article about a fiftieth wedding anniversary in an American newspaper. This allowed me to at least identify a comune that my family lived in for a period.

I then did everything that is recommended when trying to obtain international records, but never heard from anyone. I followed up with emails inquiring about whether they had received my requests, but after not hearing anything I gave up and settled on at least visiting the comune that my great-great-great-grandparents had lived in, even if I didn’t know if any direct ancestors were born there.

Reaching out and obtaining international records can be challenging and rewarding. In fact, in Research Services we commonly joke that clerks in other countries operate on a completely different time, and my story here illustrates this point. It wasn’t until 2 ½ years after inquiring about additional records that I finally got a one-sentence response with the not-unexpected reply that they did not have any additional records about my family.

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About Jason Amos

Jason received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and his Master of Science from Simmons College’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science, focusing in archival management. He also received a certificate in Genealogical Research from Boston University. Jason began at NEHGS as a volunteer and then as an intern with the R. Stanton Avery Special Collections before moving into Research Services. Jason enjoys writing narrative reports and searching for every piece of information relating to an ancestor that helps reveal what their life was like.

5 thoughts on “Snail mail

  1. You are correct John, Marginal notes have helped me in my Italian genealogy, but I notice they appear with more frequency from the late 1800s on…and may even give American destinations!

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