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Italian Vital Records Translations Blog
It's blog post #4 in my series Get Italian Citizenship in 2020. Today it's all about obtaining documents from an Italian comune - not an easy feat, right?
If you don't have much time to read the full article, just know that you'll have to request documents preferably via snail mail or fax. Or even better, if you know someone who can go to the comune you need, just send them over to the Ufficio Anagrafe and let them do the trick.
In Italy, everything still works better if you do it in person, especially in smaller cities.
Now, let's go on to the main article, which I've taken from the Tapatalk forum.
Obtain documents (generally, vital records) from Italy for your ancestor(s) (or yourself, if applicable) who were born there.
You will need a birth or baptismal certificate for at least one ancestor from Italy (your LIRA), which could be yourself. You may also need a birth certificate for that person's spouse, if he or she was born in Italy and your consulate requires it, as well as a marriage certificate for your LIRA if the marriage occurred in Italy. Occasionally, you may need a death certificate from there if your ancestor returned to Italy and died there or if the 1st spouse of your LIRA died in Italy before your LIRA immigrated. These birth, marriage, and death records can be obtained from the Stato Civile of the comune at which these events occurred. One can obtain these certificates by writing to the comune (in Italian, of course) and requesting them; one does not need to demonstrate a need or prove that one is related to a person named on the certificate. See below on how to contact your comune.
Some consulates also require that you submit a certificate of citizenship or a certificate of residence. The former states that someone was a citizen of Italy; it is necessary (in the cases where it is requested) because mere birth in Italy is usually not sufficient to confer citizenship - one must have an Italian parent. The certificate of residence may be requested by a consulate because you are to have your documents registered in the last comune in which your LIRA lived, which is not necessarily the comune in which he or she was born. To date the only consulates that have been known to ask for these certificates are Montreal, which demands both, and Miami, which used to ask for a certificate of citizenship but apparently no longer does.
When one requests a vital record from a comune, one usually receives an extract of the original record. The extract will be a form filled in by hand by a clerk based on the original record that they have on file. Only basic information is included - e.g., name, name of parents', date of birth - much less information than is found in the original record. At the bottom of the certificate will be a signature and seal of the comune. Some certificates are in "international format," with everything written in several different languages, including English and French. Occasionally someone may receive an image of the original record in the books of the comune. Either type of certificate is perfectly acceptable at a consulate - unlike vital records from outside Italy, Italian records do not have to be in long form.
Birth certificates will often have marriage details of the person in question at the bottom. If the person had more than one marriage (say, because of the death of the first spouse), only one marriage will be listed, and it could be either one. Despite having this notation on the birth certificate, a separate marriage certificate is usually required by the consulates. Moreover, such a notation can potentially cause problems for you if the person listed is different from the spouse on the marriage certificate that you submit, requiring you to explain the discrepancy and produce further documentation about a previous or later spouse who is not your ancestor and has nothing to do with your claim. But even in the case where such a discrepancy is present, consulates sometimes ignore it, so it wouldn't necessarily cause such difficulties.
In order to request such a certificate, one should contact the comune, by letter, email, fax, or phone. The comuni have generally responded better to fax or snail mail than to email, but it varies by comune. There are templates on this board for constructing such a letter. Generally you will need to know your ancestor's name, approximate birth date or at least year, and parents' names. If you are unsure of some of this information you can give them your guesses or date ranges, or just leave the information out. However, if your request is not specific enough, they may tell you they can find no records even when the records are there, so it pays to have as much information as possible about your ancestor before requesting a certificate.
It may take weeks or even months to receive a response from a comune, by email or post, or you may not receive a reply at all. If one method of contact fails, it usually is a good idea to try again with a different one. If you know someone, such as relative, in the comune, it often is easier if that person goes to stato civile and orders the certificate in person. The certificates themselves are free, but some comuni require payment for the sending of the certificate, which is generally done by snail mail. This cost is usually no more than a few euros, which you can pay by International Reply Coupons or just euro cash. It usually is best to wait until receiving a request for payment before sending it, although some members have reported not receiving any response until they included such a payment while others have reported sending money and having it returned to them.
If the comune does not have a civil record, it is possible that a Catholic church there has an ecclesiastical one. For births, this would be a baptismal record, whereas for marriages it would be a church marriage certificate. These are acceptable to consulates as substitutes for the civil records. You may also want to submit to the consulate a letter from the stato civile stating that they do not have the record in question, but (unlike in the case of foreign certificates) this doesn't seem to be strictly necessary. One can search for churches by comune here.
Some records are also available from state archives (Archivio di Stato). One would contact them as one would a comune. Some comuni were badly damaged during WWII and their records destroyed. For these one may be forced to rely on archives or church records. If the person for whom you need this certificate is not actually in your line (such as the spouse of your LIRA), a consulate is more likely to be understanding if you can't locate this record from such a comune - in this case just get a letter from the comune explaining why they have no such records.
The LDS church has records, both civil and ecclesiastical, copied from Italian comuni. Some of these records are online, at http://www.familysearch.org, but they have many more records on microfilm that you can view at one of their Family History Centers. (Look at posts linked to in the Index of Topics for more information in how to view these records.) These are the actual original records, which contain a lot more information than the extracts, although they can be hard to read. Generally such LDS records cannot be used for your application, except in rare cases when the certificate in question wasn't really that important to begin with, but they can be used to verify that a comune has a record for an ancestor, to find information that one would need in order to request a certificate, or to determine whether a certificate that one has obtained from a comune has an error.
If you find that a certificate that you have received from Italy may contain an error, or may be for the wrong person, you can contact the comune, point out the error, and request a new one. It is not that common to find that information was mistranscribed when creating the extract. If you have access to LDS records, this can be a good way to verify whether the information in the extract that you've received reflects the original record. It also sometimes happens that information in a marriage record differs from that in a birth record - in this case one can point it out to the comune, and they can perhaps write you a letter acknowledging the discrepancy in their records, which you can then show to the consulate. Be warned, though, that we have never had a member who was able to amend a record in a comune.
Another type of document that you may need from a comune is a so-called (on this board at least) positivo/negativo. Look at this post for more details.
For tips on how to identify the comune of an ancestor or determine his or her parents' names, see this post.
If you already have the documents and just need a quote for their translation, shoot me an email!
I'm Natalia Bertelli, an English/Spanish to Italian legal translator. Since 2008 I have been working on contracts, judicial deeds, certificates, corporate translations for foreign clients who want to do business in Italy, get a dual citizenship or simply settle in my beautiful country.