La genealogia è una parte importante del modo in cui un gran numero di italo americani si ritrova nelle proprie radici italiane, ma l’accrescersi della distanza temporale con la fase della emigrazione di massa tra il XIX e il XX secolo rende sempre più difficile risalire ai documenti necessari per conoscere la storia dell’arrivo dei propri antenati negli Stati Uniti. La tecnologia, tuttavia, è oggi uno strumento preziosissimo per avviare o condurre ricerche genealogiche giacché alcuni siti specifici offrono una collezione unica di documenti italiani on-line e su microfilm. In Italia è consigliabile condurre questo tipo di ricerche ampliandole ad atti catastali, registri parrocchiali, civili, cimiteriali e notarili finanche a pagelle scolastiche ed altro.
Recently, I helped Pam Kumer of Lowellville, OH discover where her great-grandfather was born. When Pam reached out to me, she had few details. She was curious about her maternal great-grandfather, Tony Carna, an Italian immigrant who lived in Hillsville, PA.
Searching U.S. Records First
The first step was to search all the potential U.S. records I’ve mentioned in previous columns. To start gathering U.S. records, I used www.familysearch.org and www.ancestry.com. I entered very basic facts about Tony into the search pages: name, that he was born in Italy and that he resided in Hillsville, PA. I found much pertinent information in the U.S. records such as: Tony’s name listed as Antonia Carna, his birthday listed as February 27, 1887 on multiple records, his father’s name as Vincenzo Carna, and his mother’s name listed as Theresa Palma and Theresa Nicifiori Carna. Multiple records also mentioned Gerace and Reggio Calabria in Italy as his residence and/or place of birth.
Searching Italian Civil Records Next
The information in these records provides clues such as: Tony’s name at birth, birth date and ancestral village. My ultimate goal was to find his civil birth record for Pam so she would know exactly where in Calabria the Carna family has its roots. I started my research for his Italian birth record using these assumptions:
Name at Birth: Antonio Carna
Date of Birth: February 27, 1887
Place of Birth: Reggio di Calabria, Calabria, Italy possibly in the village of Gerace.
Father’s Name: Vincenzo Carna
Mother’s Name: Teresa Palma or Teresa Nicifiori
A search for a birth record for Antonio Carna in Gerace for the years 1886-1888, yielded no results. While looking through records for Gerace, I noticed that there were no records with the surname Carna in that village. Typically, you would expect to see other Carna family members in the civil records since Gerace is a small village with few surnames. I was beginning to think that Antonio was born in a different village in Reggio di Calabria and was simply living in Gerace when he emigrated.
When trying to determine where a particular surname can be found in Italy, I use www.stevemorse.org and do a search on the surname using the input form for Ellis Island records 1892-1924. This results in a list of immigrants with that surname and the villages they came from. When I searched for Carna, only Antonio showed a residence of Gerace. There were several Carnas from Stignano and Riace, both of which are villages in Reggio di Calabria and only 5 kilometers apart and about 40 kilometers from Gerace. But, before I began to search through the records for Stignano and Riace, I wanted to see if there were any immigrants with the surname Nicifiori, which was the surname of Antonio’s mother in his obituary. If I found Nicifiori surnames in either Stignano or Riace, it could help narrow down Antonio’s birthplace. Records for Stignano listed the similarly sounding surname of Niceforo. With this information, I tried a search for Antonio’s civil birth record in the Ancestors Portal (http://www.antenati.san.beniculturali.it/?lang=en) for the village of Stignano. I got lucky and found his birth record showing he was born on February 27, 1887 to Vincenzo Carna and his wife Teresa Niceforo! Now Pam and her family know the name of their ancestral village and we have taken their family tree back one more generation to Pam’s second great-grandparents. We also discovered Great-Great-Grandmother Teresa’s Italian surname.