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Genealogical research in Italy

(Excerpt from GenAmi No 21)

by Micheline Gutmann, preliminary researches done by Francine Pallard

Complements from Jean-Marc Ovazza

Genealogical research in Italy could seem difficult but in reality what is unusual is not the number of sources but the number of genealogists who carry out research. For Italians, genealogy is only by succession, so it is necessary to speak about family history. By doing this it is possible to find a great number of sources which we will outline in this article.

A - Methodology

In GenAmi issue 20, article John Philip Coletta, a complete strategy for research in Italy. It is essential to read this document before going any further. Here is a brief overview of sources.

Libraries in Italy

The sources are mainly found in libraries: either a general bibliography where many Jews appear, or accounts concerning the Jews of a city or an area (Venice, Leghorn, Mantoue. Milan, Piedmont... etc), or of the family stories like that of Norsa (see GenAmi issue 12) and of Finzi or Colorni (Judaica Minore, of Vittore Colorni).
Avotaynu review contains many articles on research in Italy, GenAmi has a CD-Rom of the published articles.
Mario Modiano, of Athens, published two booklets on the families Modiano and Modigliano. The Saltiel family was also studied.

Florence - Piazza della Signoria (Sylvia Riveline document)

Civil archives

Civil records (BMD) started in 1866 in the boroughs. These acts are full of information. The registers are indexed. It is necessary to ask the town hall for an integral record B.M or D for historical purpose and to send a photocopy front & back of your identity card and the reference of the decree authorizing to deliver copy of these records.
The earlier acts, from 1806, sometimes incomplete, are at the State Archives. Coletta advises that Italy is divided into 20 administrative areas and that there are 96 State archives. There are guides concerning these archives. For the 18th century, military files can be very useful, as in Tuscany. Deeds drawn up by notaries exist from the Middle Ages. Censuses taken every ten years from 1861 to 1911 are accessible to the public.
It is necessary to add, as usual, that there are the registers of taxes and also files of emigration and passports as well as the files of the universities.
Verona has very old registers from1740, including a plan of the ghetto of 1760 showing each house and indicating the name of each landlord. Vérone was the town of origin of the Tedeschi families.
In the historical archives of Milan, Anna Rosa Campagnano found a list of Jewish families who lived Milan in first half of the 19th century, therefore before the Unification of Italy.

Other Sources

In the Jewish cemeteries, the tombs are well maintained many still remain some of which are very old, it is necessary to go there.
You can write to the local Rabbi, visit the community.
The book of the Italian Holocaust by Liliana Piciotto contains more than 8 000 names of those deported.
The Centre of Jewish studies on the Italian Judaism in Tel Aviv contains approximately 6,000 files.
We explored the list of LDS microfilms of the Jews of Italy, which is on the inventory CD of IAJGS. It is perhaps not complete but there are at least films for Mantoue, Cremone, Modena, Parma, Pesaro, Urbino, Reggio Emilia, Verone.
There is a list of name registration for the old Grand Duchy of Tuscany in 1809 found by entering key words Italy and Toscana.

B – "Our Italian ancestors"

Stamp to celebrate emancipation of Italian jews (given by Marc Margarit)

Association member of the French Federation of genealogy (FFG) in the same college as GenAmi. Then Micheline Gutmann represents this association on the FFG board.
A visit (in person or via Internet) is essential Marc Margarit created a reference of the existing works. Genealogical library of France, 3 street of Turbigo, 75001 Paris (it is best to make an appointment for Wednesday or Friday afternoon). Use Key word: ‘Juif’ to get access to a list of 460 works and what they cover along with where to consult them. Among them:

General works on the Jews of Italy

Dictionaries of the surnames, dictionaries of the authors, bibliographies, history from the Middle Ages to the present day, Inquisition, Jews during the second world war, history of the Jewish bankers, immigration, emigration.
Please note among the many works the census of 1841 by Michel Luzzati, Index of all the consultable Italian bibliographies in the national Library. As well as the alphabetical list of Italian families by Sergio Della Pergola (including Carmi from Carpentras and a line of Montel from Turino andAlessandro od Piedmont), several chapters on the lawsuits of Venice against the Jewslike from 1570 to 1681).

Files on the history of Communities

Towns : Ancone, Ascoli, Asti, Bitonto, Catagne, Chieri, Citta di Castello, Cremone, Cuneo, Este, Ferrare, Florence, Fossano, Genoa, Gorizia, Gradisca d'Isonzo, Lanciano, Livorno (several works), Lugo, Mantoue, Milan, Modene, Monferrato, Padova, Palermo, Perugia, Pisa, Pitigliano, Reggio di Calabre, Reggio Emilia and Scandiano, Soncino, Syracusa, Rodi, Rome, Riva del Garda, Terni, Trieste, Turin, Udine, Venice, Vercelli, Verone

Regions : Frioul, Lazio, Lombardie, Malte, Naples, Ombrie, Piedmont, Puglia, Sardaigne, Sicilia, Toscane, Venetia,

Genealogies already:

Families : Almansi, Ascarelli, Bassani de Parme et ceux de Vérone, Bassevi, Besso de Trieste, Carcassona de Sardaigne, Citone, Civitalli, Colorni, Contini, Corcos, Corinaldi, Curiel, Da Pisa, Della Pergola, Di Cori, Foa, Forti, Grassini, Guastalla et Lonzana-Formiggini de Modène, Montcalvo, Morpurgo et Moscati, Orvieto, Salmoni, Funaro et Bonaventura, Reichenbach, Senigalia, arbres de familles de Soncino, Traboti, Vitta de Lyon, descendance du couple Allessandro Vitale et Emma Del Vecchio, Terracina-Zarfati de Rome, Volterra, Zamorani.

Some examples

  • Annuario generale comuni e frazioni d’Italia, published every five years, gives detailed lists of all the communes and villages of Italy. It is essential for locating the commune of your ancestors.

  • Guida all'Italia ebraica, Annie Sacerdoti, Fiorentino, Luca Genova, Marietti, 1986, 384 p., ill.
    (2° rist. 1988) , ISBN 88-21-18955-4 , Bibliogr. per regioni p. 355-366. Glossario p. 377-383. Indice delle località p. 371-375

  • Cognomi degli Ebrei d’Italia, by Samuel Schaert, Casa Editrice, 1925.

  • Jews of Piedmont (3 volumes) by Renata Segre, commercial documents between the authorities, the duke of Piedmont and the Jewish bankers, (list of the names of Comtat, such: Lattes, Valenzi, Segre, Cavaglion, Lunello, Bedarrides…etc.) These works contain many bibliographies.

  • The Jews in the duchy of Milan, by Shlomo Simonsohn, Jerusalem, The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1986, 4 vol , ISBN 965-208-043-8, Text in english, latin, italian and hebrew. Index of the people, Jewish, non-Jewish, geographical Index, Index by subject, ENG-HEB

  • Il porto di Livorno e la Toscana, par J.L. Filipini, Ed. scientifiche italiane, 1998.
    by J.L. Filipini, ED scientifiche italiane, 1998. Three very important volumes for these communities for one period being spread out between 1676 to 1814, with many lists of names. It is essential to consult it for Tuscany.

  • Brief guide of the communal records of Venice ; ; in the first part questions the role of surnames and nicknames. The second part deals with historical files starting from 1.10.1871. A census by district including the marital status of its inhabitants.

  • Inventario dell’archivio della Communauta israelitica di Venizia, 16th to 20th century. Register of the births and the deaths, cemeteries records... etc.

  • La communita ebraica di Venezia, il suo antico cemetario, by Aldo Luzzato, Edition il Polifilo.
    Many lists of names in these two splendid volumes, 865 names in the old cemetery with famous tombs, family lists, symbols on the tombs for each family. The handwritten sources are numerous: ""il Divan " by Leon de Modène, manuscript of Adolpho Ottolenghi. General index of names.

  • Independantly of these works, notice the work of our member John-Patrick Fano who created an index for the years 1713, 1739, 1771, 1810, for Venice and which sites the Jews, where they were living and their address: "Il ghetto veneziano in the 18th century" Carucci editor, Rome, 1981.

Other services proposed by Marc Margarit

Addresses of libraries in Italy (see on his site), addresses of the communities, contact historians, the museums, research list of the names. The library also contains works concerning other Mediterranean countries.

C- Internet Sites

Old map of the city of Venice (Gérard Silvain collection)

  • Genealogical association of the Republic of San Marino (A.G.S.M)
    Michael Gasperoni prepare a thesis on the Jews of San Marino

  • Two Italian genealogists who have interesting sites:
    Marco R. Soria
    Ugo G. Luzzati

  • The bookshop "Menorah" in Rome, via del Tempo, 2 00186 Roma

D- GenAmi Library

We suggest you refer to our library contents list.
However the main works are:

  • La Comunità ebraica di Firenze nel censimento del 1841, Lionella Viterbo
    (1841 census in Florence)

  • The Portuguese Jewish nation, Livorno, Amsterdam, Tunis 1591-1951 by Lionel Levy

E- Invaluable works of our member Jean-Marc Ovazza

The Italian Jewish communities were certainly very sedentary. The members knew each other, their parents, cousins and their lineage, over very long periods. Whilst that is a very interesting part it also makes obtaining information very difficult. The mistrust of foreigners is very important. This reflex is all the more present as the community feels in danger. Anti-Semitism is also present in Italy.
According to my very small experiment the best genealogical approach is to be presented as or by a member of a family or with a name known in the community, but it is not always sufficient. A lineage is also a history and culture and to be able to research it requires an attitude of understanding accompanied by a will to adapt to the culture and the history of the community. That requires it to be impregnated, to re-find a past which sometimes has escaped us.

Venice Ghetto today (photo Caroline Guillot)

The civil files

I used three files:
- Archivio comunale, which holds the recent civil records
- Archivio di Stato, which holds, a very rich source: minutes and notarial deeds (atti notarii) which are over 100 years old. This source is all the more important as it makes it possible to find Jewish records going back before the introduction of civil records.
- Archivio di Stato Civile where one can find the "certificati di stato storico di famiglia" in other words a photograph of the family structure at a given time.

Depending on the dates, the first two files can hold the "registri degli uffuci di raised" or registers of the acts of conscriptions which are also a source of important information.

Genealogies already carried out as they are rather rare, they should be mentioned.
With regard to the Jews of Piedmont it is important to mention the impressive work of Elena Rossi Artom on the famous family of her husband. This genealogy is also interesting because it crosses many other Piedmontese Jewish families.
- Gli Artom, Elena Rossi-Artom, 1997, 261p, Ed Silvio Zamorani, ISBN 88-7158-063-X

General works

As I said, to know the history of the Jews of Italy it is an essential precondition to know them, for this I can only advise reading:
- The Jews in fascist Italy, by Renzo De Felice, 2001, New York, Ed.Enigma Books, 777p
- Benevolence and Betrayal, by Alexander Stille, 1991, New York, Ed Picador, 365p


Research on the Italian Jewish communities can be compared with walking on razer wire.
The Jews of Italy are very proud of their omnipresence in their community and within its young history. But this same nationalistic militancy and republican attitude is so thorough that it caused many of them to become fascistic at the start of the party and not by obligation, but by conviction. The communities must thus assume the pride of builders and at the same time accept the expensive cost.
To arrive as a foreigner in such a context and to question people on their past needs enormous diplomacy.