I’m looking for my family’s documents from Calabria, but I can’t find them … why?

LENS

Online genealogy webpages and forums are great to find family documents (birth, death certificates, etc …) of our ancestors, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc … who emigrated to the USA, Australia, Brazil, Argentina, etc … or in any other countries of the world, they often allow you to reconstruct your family tree, perhaps paying a small sum to subscribe to the page or in many cases without paying anything!

But unfortunately it happens very often that an online subscription to a genealogy website, even a paid one, won’t be enough to find your documents, especially when you are looking for certificates in Calabria…. why? The reasons may be different, we will try to list the most important:

1. Many local administrations have not yet digitized all documents and archives, for various reasons, and very often family documents are available exclusively in paper format at the respective registry offices of the municipality of residence of your ancestors. Therefore, the only possible solution to obtain such documents and certificates useful for the reconstruction of one’s family tree or to apply for Italian citizenship, is to request these documents directly to the local administration or registry office (any online research would probably be useless!).

2. Regardless of its thousands of years of history and culture, Italy as a nation exists “only” since 1861 and over time, the personal archives have often been moved, for the most disparate reasons, from one place to another, with probable loss of documents and certificates.

3. Italy is a country with more or less seismic areas, for example Calabria was devastated and characterized by earthquakes on various occasions over the centuries, some of the worst dates will be remembered: the earthquake that destroyed the cities of Reggio Calabria and Messina in 1908. The earthquake that hit Southern Calabria in 1783. The earthquake that hit Central Calabria in 1638, and the list could go on and on!

Why?

These earthquakes caused the total destruction of ancient buildings, monuments etc … which were lost forever, often together with many documents from the past. This explains why, sometimes, some family documents are not available in the registry office, parish, cemeteries, etc … even when we know the country of origin of our ancestors and we know in which municipality we have to do the research.

We should not forget that Europe and Italy were devastated by two world wars, that of 1915-1918 (First World War!) and above all, the one of 1939-1945 (Second World War!), during which Italy and Calabria were heavily bombed. It is therefore easy to imagine how with the passing of time and all these catastophic events, many documents were lost forever, or at best they have been taken elsewhere, from one municipality to another, for example, and therefore their retrieval at registry offices, churches or cemeteries turns out being extremely complex, if not impossible, and at best it could result in a long, exhausting and expensive genealogy research.

So, the advice is, if you can’t find your family documents online, do not be relentless looking for them on all possible webpages, often wasting time and money in useless and often expensive online research, but if you know exactly the village or town in Calabria where your ancestor was born and the date of birth, albeit approximate, do the genealogical research directly at the municipality where your ancestor was born(unless you have additional information!), go directly to the source and the chances of success are guaranteed to be very high! (In 20 years doing genealogy research, we could say that in 95% or so we were successful in finding documents. Bottom line, if your documents are there you will get them, if you can’t find them in your family’s town or village, then it may not be so useful to continue researching elsewhere, as simple as that!

Pasquale

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