Just for fun: worst parish archives

After writing a post about the most beautiful archive found so far, here is a selection of the WORST ARCHIVES I had the chance to work in.

It is just for a laugh, not to criticize. For this reason, I made the places not recognizable (I hope) with a strong post-processing and effects-addition on the original pictures, so that nobody would feel bad about it.

These three parish archives are in Piedmont.


I swear it was not my idea, it was the parish cooperator who pulled them out of the furniture and laid them on the carpet, because all other surfaces were covered with a variety of different stuff.

So, I mostly worked on my knees on the floor.

I can confirm that the carpet was very soft and the registers did not suffer any mishandling or damage!


When you are in a very small town with a very small parish and a very small priest’s house that hosts a parish archive, where is the archive?

In the kitchen? In the bathroom? Of course, neither of them is suitable.

It’s in the bedroom!

Fancy a nap?


OK, this was another archive without a table, without a chair, without a bed, without a surface to put the registers on. No carpet this time, and the floor was filthy.

The best solution was to use the windowsill, after having roughly cleaned it from dust, pieces of concrete, spider webs and dead stink bugs (and I was lucky that it had just stopped raining).

Best Italian Archives: Vigevano diocese

Genealogical research = registers, archives, folders, records, shelves…

Genealogical research in Italy = all the above, in an ancient baroque chapel!!!

This is the brand new Vigevano Diocese Archive, so far the most beautiful I ever visited.

Besides being pleasant for your soul and mood, working in this archive is also perfect in terms of efficiency: parish registers are at hand, there is no limit to the number of books which is possible to collect and – last but not least at all! – the staff is extremely nice and helpful! Thank you to everybody!

I will soon post a selection of the worst archives where I worked, so that you do not start thinking it’s always like this.

How to understand FIRST NAMES

I was inspired for this series of posts by the many requests for help that are posted on Facebook groups, where assistance in understanding handwritten records is asked.

Handwriting can be an issue, and not only for foreigners. Sometimes, even Italians struggle with unintelligible words and sentences.

Well, believe it or not, in some cases it is possible to by-pass the handwriting problem.

We could call it…


Here is my second post and it is dedicated to FIRST NAMES

(the previous one was dedicated to PLACE NAMES, here is the link, if you missed it:


I am not going to teach you how to read a particular calligraphy. I am going to give you some hints which may be helpful to interpretate the correct name.


  1. Italian names follow the grammar rules for the Italian language.

For example, the letter T is never preceded by M: it should be preceded by N.

The following transcription, for example, is wrong: the right name can only be Costantino.

Also, the letter Q is always followed by U. The below name cannot exist is Italy, and its correct spelling is Pasqua.

Some random rules, then: the letters C, D, F, G, L, R, S, T, V, Z are not preceded by M, they must be preceded by N.

Examples: Concetta, Sandro, Angelo, Enrico, Anselmo, Antonio, Enzo.

The name Amleto is an exception because it is imported from a foreign language.

The letters P and B are not preceded by N, they must be preceded by M (Ambrogio) except in the first names which are composed by Gian + another name: Gian+Piero = Gianpiero; Gian+Paolo = Gianpaolo.

2. The great majority of Italian given names are always the same. Inventing new names was very rare among our ancestors. So, do not crash your head for something new, as it is probably a very common name. In the following example: Feresa does not exist, the name is surely Teresa.

The same for this hard-to-believe Anibragio, which can only be Ambrogio

3. Check a list of Italian first names, for example


or other similar websites. I am sure you will find the mysterious one of your ancestor!

4. It was very common to honor relatives or godparents giving a newborn their same name, so a first name is often repeated in the family: check other relatives to figure out if the mystery name appears in other occurrences.

5. In some areas of Italy, though, the tendence to give a newborn a brand new, unique name was very common. In Toscana and Emilia Romagna, for example. In these regions you may actually stumble upon very strange first names. In the following case, the son was baptized as D’Artagnan (parents were eventually fans of the Three Musketeers!)

6. If the name looks – or actually is – very peculiar, check the protector saint of the town, or the saint to whom the parish is dedicated: it can be a clue.

For names of saints – even the most unlikely – check: http://www.santiebeati.it/nomi/

In the following example, the name is Genesio: very peculiar, but absolutely common in the town of origin of this person. Saint Genesio (whoever he was) is the town protector.

7. Two names were often joined together to form a composed name:

Maria+Anna = Marianna

Giovanni+Luca = Gianluca

Michele+Angelo = Michelangelo

8. In handwritten records, names were often abbreviated:

M. or M.a for Maria

G.ppe for Giuseppe

Gio.Batta for Giovanni Battista

D.co for Domenico

Ant.o for Antonio

Vinc.o for Vincenzo

Cat.a for Caterina

9. Sometimes, calligraphy required the first, capital letter of a name to be written in a more sumptuous way, which is today hard to understand. If you can’t get a clue about the name, disregard the first letter and try to identify the name basing on the other letters.

10. In Italian, Don is no name: it is a title of respect for a noteworthy person in town, or for a priest. The same for Donna: it is the feminine version of the title Don.

11. Of course, if you can, check multiple records containing the same name, including signatures

Remember: the correct spelling is always Giuseppe!

The spelling Guiseppe is wrong!

The same for Giulio (correct spelling) who is not Guilio.

How to understand…


I was inspired for this series of posts by the many requests for help that are posted on Facebook groups, where assistance in understanding handwritten records is asked.

Handwriting can be an issue, and not only for foreigners. Sometimes, even Italians struggle with unintelligible words and sentences.

Well, believe it or not, in some cases it is possible to by-pass the handwriting problem.

We could call it…


Here is the first post dedicated to PLACE NAMES

In the above record, the writer was probably confident to be smart and to create something artistic in his bureaucratic job, thanks to this fancy calligraphy.

Just the opposite, 150 years later these words are hardly readable (and the fuzzy scan doesn’t help).

Now, I am not going to teach you how to read this particular calligraphy. I am going to explain you the


the most important info about places.


If you can’t understand a place mentioned in the record, start from what you know, i.e. the town of the record (if you have the record, you should know which is the municipality or church that issued it).

At first, try to isolate some letters composing the “mystery place”.

In the above record issued by the municipality of Castel San Giovanni (province of Piacenza, region Emilia Romagna) other two towns are mentioned.

The first “mystery place” starts with Borgo, but there are hundreds places starting with BORGO, in Italy. Which is the right one?

Second example from the same record: this place name is a long name, ending with “GO” and having a “O” as a second letter. Can you understand more? That’s even better!



Go to the Italian page of the known town – Castel San Giovanni, in this case – and check its hamlets under the section FRAZIONI (right column) as well as the neighboring towns in the section COMUNI CONFINANTI.

Very often, the mystery place falls into one of these two options.

Ok, the place from the first example is surely BORGONOVO, a neighboring town. Can you read it now?

Checking the hamlets of all neighboring towns is also very useful, if this first attempt fails.

The place from the second example does not look like anyone in this list, though. We must go further.


Use ELESH (http://www.elesh.it/storiacomuni/cercacomuni.asp)

This site provides info about all Italian towns and cities, both existing and no longer existing.

Digit some letters of the “mystery place”, the ones you understand, and you will get many records sorted out by region and province. Usually, the “mystery place” is close to the known place.

For example, by digiting simply “GO” and filtering by region Emilia Romagna and province Piacenza, you will get the following results

GOSSOLENGO is the town that matches with the place mentioned in the record. A quick check with Google Maps will help you discovering that it is very close to Castel San Giovanni.

You can use this site to search any town name in Italy, even if you don’t know where to start from.

For example, if you have a non-Italian record mentioning the town, without any clue about where it is situated, try with Elesh and you may find the correct town name.


If you can’t find a place which has been transcribed, try reading it on the original, handwritten record: it is better to search a place knowing only a few correct syllables than a full name which is wrong.



Perhaps the place mentioned in a record was a very small area within a town.

Especially in rural areas, Italian towns were often made by several scattered hamlets or areas that were called Località XXX, or Contrada XXX, or Regione XXX.

Search the known town followed by Via (street) and the mysterious toponym: usually, the old area was re-named as a street and it is now called Via XXX.

In the following map, the ancient Località Cabella is today Via Cabella.


In Italy, very often people were not travelling far. They usually moved to nearby towns in search of better working conditions, so your mystery town is probably situated close to the area you already know.

If a person mentioned in a record was coming from very far, its place of origin was often described with more precision.

So, do not wear your eyes out by trying to read difficult handwritings, and do not invent town names basing of what you think to interpretate, but investigate among existing towns and toponyms.

I hope you found this post useful.

I will be back soon with the second post of this series:


Ricercare informazioni genealogiche nei documenti delle visite pastorali

Cosa sono le visite pastorali?

Sono i viaggi che ogni vescovo organizzava periodicamente per visitare tutte le parrocchie della diocesi al fine di controllare lo stato dei beni ecclesiastici (luoghi di culto, opere d’arte, reliquie), per accertarsi che la situazione contabile fosse ben gestita ecc.

Quando si effettuavano le visite pastorali?

La frequenza è variabile, solitamente l’intervallo tra una visita e la successiva è di qualche anno.

L’obbligo per il vescovo di visitare le parrocchie a lui sottoposte è stato sancito con il Concilio di Trento, quindi i primi documenti risalgono alla fine del 1500 circa.

Che cosa sono i documenti delle visite pastorali?

Tra i documenti si trovano i rapporti stilati dai cancellieri, che riportano i dettagli della visita (l’itinerario, le parrocchie visitate, i beni e le reliquie che il vescovo ha controllato ecc.), le schede biografiche di tutti i preti e gli altri ecclesiastici, nonchè i rapporti che i parroci erano obbligati a redigere con l’indicazione dei beni, dei debiti e crediti, e delle eventuali problematiche concernenti la parrocchia.

Dove sono conservati questi documenti?

Presso gli archivi storici delle diocesi e arcidiocesi


Le finalità per cui questi rapporti venivano stilati non avevano nulla a che fare con la genealogia o con le famiglie in generale, pur tuttavia vi si trovano elenchi di persone e questo potrebbe permettere, con un po’ di fortuna, di trovare informazioni preziose su un antenato.

In pratica, i documenti delle visite pastorali potrebbero essere una fonte alternativa dove cercare informazioni quando si è di fronte ad un ostacolo, oppure quando si desidera approfondire la conoscenza del proprio antenato.

Le informazioni più consistenti sono ovviamente quelle relative ai religiosi, che possono rivelarsi utili nel caso in cui il religioso facesse parte della famiglia che stiamo cercando.

Inoltre, la ricerca in questi documenti può essere un valido aiuto per capire qual era la parrocchia di riferimento, che in caso di paesi molto piccoli poteva anche non trovarsi in loco: nei documenti si potrebbe quindi scoprire che l’oratorio del paese A si appoggiava alla parrocchia del paese B, e risalire quindi al luogo dove sono conservati i registri parrocchiali relativi agli abitanti di A.

Qui di seguito ecco alcuni esempi.

Introduzione agli atti della visita pastorale del Vescovo di Novara, Ignazio Rotario
Sanseverino, in data 5 maggio 1752 con l’indicazione dei comuni visitati

Elenco dei documenti richiesti dal Vescovo, che i parroci della diocesi erano tenuti a presentare durante la visita del 1752

Esempio di tomi delle visite pastorali (non voglio scoraggiare nessuno, ma è meglio essere preparati…)

Elenco delle religiose presso il Monastero di S. Antonio Abate in Intra (anno 1752)

Prima pagina della scheda personale del parroco don Angelo Francesco Scaramuzzi, città di Intra

Inventario dei crediti spettanti all’oratorio di Cambiasca (derivanti da affitti) con i nomi degli affittuari

Esempio di importanti informazioni familiari che si possono rinvenire in questi documenti: menzione di un legato da distribuirsi ai poveri, lasciato dal fu Pietro Baratto nel suo testamento rogato dal notaio Colla con atto del 22 dicembre 1751. Sarebbe sufficiente in questo caso accedere al testamento per scoprire l’intera parentela del Baratto.

Altro esempio: persone che si impegnano ad una donazione alla parrocchia

Con la speranza che possa essere di aiuto nella Vostra ricerca, auguro buon lavoro e buona fortuna!


P.S. Se volete, qui sotto potete scaricare la versione in PDF di questo articolo.

Some interesting stories discovered in 2020

A foundling who was named after an island

A man who fought with Garibaldi

A woman who said she had fought with Garibaldi (in fact, she was interned for that)

An ancestor who was killed by a man

An ancestor who killed a man (well, a different case than the one above, of course)

A family who emigrated for the sake of a train

An ancestor who died for the sake of a train

A woman who had 16 children

A man who had 40 grandchildren (at least)

Many ancestors who died because they ate too much polenta

Many ancestors who fought at our Independence Wars

An ancestor who rescued people under an avalanche

An ancestor who was in a secret society (you may wonder why I know that, if it was secret…)

An ancestor who, 400 years ago, was living in a house that was 400 years old (and it’s still standing and inhabited, by the way)

And then farmers, smiths, builders, beggars, merchants, soldiers, inn-keepers, shop-owners, stone cutters, artists, Carabinieri and a few nobles, too.

I am looking forward to 2021 to discover which other amazing stories are there, just waiting to be brought to light.

A podcast to tell the story of a MYSTERIOUS LADY IN BLACK, of Traci from Utah researching her, and of a woman who had her destiny changed because of this (me)

A new, amazing experience was offered to me by Bob Sorrentino and his blog www.italiangenealogy.blog/ as I was proposed to record a podcast together with my friend Traci Stevens Callister from Utah.

Use the link below to listen to the amazing story of Traci’s research of her ancestor – the mysterious Lady in Black – how this brought her to an adventurous journey to Italy and to unveil her genealogy as far back as 1600!

You will also discover how this unknown Lady born in the 19th century tangled with my destiny and changed my life forever!

Thank you to Bob for hosting us and giving us a voice to tell our story!

If you have an interesting story about genealogy to tell the world, get in touch with him!