Thoughts and experiences

Best experiences of the month 2019


It’s been an amazing year, with many interesting research works that helped me improve my skills and allowed me to learn new things about this wonderful job.

Here are my “best experiences of the month” for 2019.

January 2019

Meeting a customer is always a thrill and it’s even more exciting when you managed to discover his unknown Italian cousins and they join the meeting. Being the witness of the reunion between the two long lost branches of the family was a touching experience!

February 2019

Genealogy is not only names and dates, it’s storytelling. This year’s winner for “gosh-looks-like-a-movie” research is a family from an ill-famed area in Milan, a honest business co-living with a tendency to be involved in thefts, with prison as a result. Researching on old newspapers was like reading a crime novel. The only problem was… how to tell it to my customer!

March 2019

… then my phone rings and the man the other side of the line has got the same surname I’ve been researching a few weeks ago. He sounds surprised and curious. I think: “it worked again!”

One of the several ways to find unknown relatives is leaving a message at the cemetery. This year it worked several times.

April 2019

The more ancient are the books, the harder it gets: the bad handwriting is not the only problem (try writing with a goose feather, at candle light and with no glasses!), the worst is when important data are missing, such as parents’ names. When it happens, every new ancestor found is a real joy. In one of the April research works I reached year 1603.

May 2019

The most important research in May was in a very nice mountain area close to Vicenza, some 400 kms far from where I live. In a 2-days research I could develop my customer’s family tree for many generations and for all branches, and – last but not least – I met very nice people who made of my travel and my research an unforgettable experience.

June 2019

Top of this month was finding the burying of a soldier died during WWII in Greece. The family had never been informed of the place where his remains had been buried, but thanks to very helpful people in Athens and in Italy the right cemetery was finally found, and a lost grave was given back to the prayers of the family.

July 2019

I met M., a wonderful woman from the USA, in Switzerland. In the 19th century her ancestors had travelled a lot across the border between Switzerland and Italy and together we followed the same path, visiting the villages where they had lived and stopping, finally, at the church that they had contributed to build with their own hard work.

It was a fascinating “tour in space and time”.

August 2019

OK, I admit, it was not the result of a single research, but adding the name of the 76th direct ancestor to my customer’s family tree was a big satisfaction! I did not take into account the many siblings of these ancestors and their families, ony direct lines. But the job is not over yet: an entire branch of this tree is still to discover!

September 2019

Surely the most complete researching experience of this year! It included a pre-job to make sure the town of origin was correct, an on-site research on the beautiful mountains of Tuscany, a visit to the now almost abandoned village and its cemetery, the issuing of birth certificates to obtain Italian citizenship and a transfer to Lucca to have the documents signed and stamped. For me it was a very interesting experience; for my customers, a chance to become Italian citizens.

October 2019

The October job was intriguing and challenging: discovering the family history of a famous American actor with Italian origins for the PBS TV serie “Finding Your Roots” by Henry Louis Gates jr. It was my first time working for a TV and I had to focus my mind on what could be suitable for a TV program rather than delving into the tiniest details of old records as I usually do. The hunt for interesting stories, the kind and helpful people that I met and the new places I travelled to, made this job one of the most exciting ever.

November 2019

When I was asked to search the birth acts of grandparents who were both abandoned children, I knew the research couldn’t go far. Well, I was wrong. The relevant archive stored the dossiers of all abandoned babies, and these dossiers include certificates, names of the foster parents, letters with the updates about the baby’s condition… a very deep insight into an ancestor’s life! And – as rare as a gold nugget – the name of the natural mother!

December 2019

The year ended with the easiest research ever: the parish repository stored a “register of population” written in year 1900 and listing all families that had lived in town since 1634. A single book contained all info of all people of all families. It was definitely too easy to search! The enourmous amount of data filled the previously empty family tree of my customer!

Which surname for grandma?

post women surnames

During my research I noticed that the surname of female ancestors is often an issue, especially for people from the USA.

In fact, in the US as well as in other countries, women take the husband’s surname when marrying. On the contrary, in Italy women keep using their maiden surname, with a mention of the husband’s one. But to make things more complicated this is not a general rule, especially when dealing with records: it depends from the place, the time, the circumstance and probably also from the clerk’s habit.

This post is thought for those of you who find this lack of a rule discouraging, for the ones who made mistakes with a grandmother’s surname and ended up following a wrong family branch and for the ones who faced a brick wall until they discovered the surname to search was another…

I will not tell you when and where women are recorded by which surname, but I will make you a list of (hopefully) all possible cases you may face during your research.

This can be used also for graves inscriptions, which follow no rule at all!

Your “grandmother and grandfather” in these examples will be MARIA ROSSI and GIUSEPPE FERRARI (two very common Italian names!)

Here is how Maria Rossi may be recorded after having married Giuseppe Ferrari.


This is the most common case

post 5 tab 1


post 5 tab 2


This is the worst case and a potential brick wall to find out Maria’s birth act

post 5 tab 3

And now, some cases that DID happen to my customers, and so they may happen again: watch out!

Case 1: husband emigrating first, wife emigrating later. At the arrival at Ellis Island she gives her maiden name and enters the US with that. My customer thought she arrived as a single and got crazy searching for the marriage record in the US. Actually, the woman had married before emigrating but the husband surname was not shown

Case 2: husband emigrating first, wife and children emigrating later. At the arrival at Ellis Island she is recorded with her maiden name. The clerk, assuming that this is the husband’s surname, register all children by the mother’s maiden name. Result: all children enter the US with a wrong surname. Passenger list records show wrong surnames too!

My suggestion: unless you are 100% sure that your female ancestor was recorder ALWAYS with her maiden surname or with her husband’s surname, take the effort of checking the other option, too: you may tear a brick wall down!

Last but not least, if you stumbled upon other forms or records, let me know so I can interpretate the meaning for you and add it to the list. Also, feel free to share any comment!

I hope this was useful


Last year this time I was starting my personal adventure: transforming a passion into a semi-pro activity.

Since then I had researched only for myself and for friends, but as I started E.G. Ancestry Research the challenge became more difficult: I was committing to give results, people were trusting me and I could not disappoint them.

These few words are for them, my first customers (the best I could ever find!

Dear all, you wrote me asking for help in researching your family history, but it was you who helped me, in the end!

A help made of encouragement, passion, enthusiasm, patience and gratitude.

You wanted to know more about your past, and now you do.

But thanks to you, I know more about my future: E.G. Ancestry Research will go on!

My endless gratitude to all of you!


What if you discover your ancestor was an outlaw?

Would you be interested to know what he did and whether he was proved guilty or not?

Would you be prepared to read the sentence?

In the web site of the State Archive of Torino (Turin) in North West Italy you can find the transcriptions of 28,786 trial sentences that were delivered by the Senate of Piedmont from 1724 to 1766.

Although the place and time are very limited, they are enough to get an idea about what was considered a crime and – most interesting of all – which sort of “fair” punishment was inflicted to the people.

Get ready to be shocked, here are a few examples:

  • Carlo Giuseppe M. in 1737 is sentenced to: being tortured to obtain the names of accomplices, paying trial expenses, refunding the victim and 10 (ten!) years of oaring on the royal ships. He had stolen 1 (one!) cow.
  • Giovanni Domenico M. in 1735 is proved guilty of the theft of a silver lamp from the church where he worked as sexton. The punishment is: sequestration of his ownings, refund of the church, payment of trial expenses and… public hanging!
  • Sebastiano B. in 1728 is proved guilty of armed robbery and offence and his sentence states: public hanging, the body cut in four pieces to be exposed in the usual places. Refund of victims, payment of trial expenses and a “tip” of 5 scudi (coins) to the judge.
  • Vitto P. in 1725 is punished for “producing false money and suiciding”. In fact, he had killed himself in jail, probably to escape a frightening punishment, and this is mentioned as part of his crime. The sentence pronounced after his deed is far from being merciful: his memory to be condemned, his body to be carried on a poor cart and transported to the usual places. At the arrival on the gallows platform, proceed with the formality of strangling and burning (the corpse) in public.
  • Giovanni Domenico T. is a soldier. In 1746 he is proved guilty to be an accomplice in the killing of another soldier and robbery of his clothes and sword. The sentence states: torture to acquire the names of the accomplices, public hanging after application of red-hot pincers, the body slaughtered and exposed in the usual places. Payment of trial expenses, refund of the heir of the victim, tip for the judge etc.

Ok, I think it’s enough for my stomach, today…

The transcriptions are only in Italian, unfortunately, but you can try the search option (ricerca libera) and see if you can find your ancestor’s surname. If you do and you are prepared to have a translation of the sentence, just ask and I will do it.


Post 3

I have been reading many posts and queries with the same subject: is it really possible to have access to the Italian parish records? Are they public? Can anyone have access to them? What if the priest says “no”? Is he allowed to refuse people to search into the books?

These were my questions, too.

Here is what I learnt by asking, reading… and also by experience.

The law states clearly that the records must be accessible to people who are asking to search their own family, or for any other kind of study. The Catholic Church is conscious of the inestimable historical value of the archives they are preserving, and they set rules to allow people to have access to their books unique content.

This means that no priest should refuse anyone to search their family history into the old record books. If he does, the reason might be:

  • Maybe he is not well aware of this rule. And actually, this is something that relates very little with his job: he should take care of the spirituality of people, he is not supposed to be an archivist!
  • Maybe he is timorous of having unknown people handling precious old records because if there’s a damage, he would be responsible. Rather than risking or wasting time helping, he might as well refuse the access with an excuse.
  • The following comes from my own experience: in the small villages that are so common in Italy, the parish archive might actually be… In the priest’s house!

The books might be public, but they are stored in a private place.

During my last research I went to a very small town, phoned the priest and went to him. He was very kind and lead me to the archive, that was in his studio/living room, but he told me he had a flu and needed to rest, so he disappeared in his bedroom.

While I was searching the records in his living room, I could hear him coughing and sneezing in the other room. Like an old, ill grandpa. But he was a stranger, instead… and I was in his house!

I did not feel comfortable at all! And he surely was annoyed and disturbed by my presence…

All this is to say: whichever priest you meet – aware or not of your right to sit on his sofa and scroll “his” books – you should approach him with gentleness and respect, making him feel sure that you are not the kind of person who could drip hot coffee on an ancient book, or tear a page apart to bring it home. Phone or visit him in advance, explain your needs and agree together for a date and time for the search that fits both of you, so you can be sure he will be there to unlock the door.

If you crash against the rudest priest ever and there is no way he will show you the books you are longing to read, do not desperate: many books should have a duplicate stored in the Diocese Archive. The procedure to get to them might be more formal and bureaucratic, but you will not depend from the priest’s mood.

P.S. there are limits to the accessibility of records if you are searching within 70 years back from now – for privacy reasons – and if you intend to publicize the records to make money out of it, for example if you are planning to write a book with family histories of a certain place.