In previous columns, we explored Italian civil, military and church records. This month, we are going to dig into Italian census records. An interesting aspect of Italian census records is their availability and contents vary based on the history of a region. The first true Italian census took place in 1871 after unification, but census-like records were compiled as far back as 1379 in Venice. Their original purpose was to facilitate the assessment of taxes. Due to their variety and uniqueness, we are going to focus on the major types of census-like records.
Riveli di Beni e Anime
Riveli di Beni e Anime are records that were created for the villages on the island of Sicily for the period 1548-1831. The documents are kept in the Archivio di Stato in Palermo. They contain the names of the heads of families, including data on the composition of the family and lists of assets such as houses, land and animals as well as debts. Fortunately, you may be able to find your Sicilian village’s riveli online at www.familysearch.org. You will need to create a free account at familysearch to search records. This you can do from home but to view the actual records you will need to visit your local family history center. To find if your village’s riveli are available, search the online catalog by entering the name of the village in the “place” field. Once the list of records pops up, look on the list for census. If you are not sure how to navigate FamilySearch.org, there are volunteers at your local Family History Center who can help you.
The first official Censimento (census) was completed in 1871 and was repeated every 10 years, except for 1941. Although Censimenti records are not available to the public, there were some villages and districts that conducted their own census for various reasons. These were done in random years and some of these records have been digitized and are available on the Portale Atenati (Ancestor’s Portale). Search the records on the portal at www.antenati.san.beniculturali.it, go to “browse registries” and look for your ancestral province. Because these censuses were taken at random intervals, you will need to search through both the Stato Civile Napoleonico and Stato Civile della Restaurazione record sets.
Status Animarium / Stato delle Anime (State of the Souls)
There is one additional census-like record that bears mentioning: the Status Animarium or Stato delle Anime. Beginning in the early 1600s, Catholic priests were instructed to create books to record family sacraments. These books will be found in the local parish and are extremely useful in building out your family tree when civil records are non-existent. How to find which parish to contact for copies was discussed in the April 2019 column and how to write for Italian records was the topic of the May 2019 column, refer to them for further guidance. Happy ancestor hunting!