GenSpotters’ Research Tip: Researching Your Italian Ancestor’s Place of Origin

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Our main goal when starting in genealogy is to seek the first immigrant who bears our surname. Once the task has been achieved for the paternal ancestor, we go through the same process for the maternal line. For my mother's family, we were able to identify the first Italian immigrant, but as his birthplace was unknown to us, it was impossible to go any further.

Nonetheless, even though an ancestor's place of origin was not relayed from one generation to another, that doesn't mean we have hit a brick wall. In Québec, the first thing that comes to mind is to consult parish registers—place of origin is often referred to in the marriage record. Still, said place could be kind of vague, such as a diocese, a province, or a region.

Consulting censuses might prove relevant in investigating our ancestor's place of origin as the country of origin is usually indicated therein. Moreover, in the 1861 Canadian Census, birthplaces are mentioned. Of course, in order to be listed, your ancestor has to be already in Canada before that year. In some censuses, the immigration year is provided and this information is noteworthy.

A valuable source to locate your ancestor's place of origin has to be passengers' lists. Assuming that your ancestor left his country around 1900, you are in for finding some priceless information about him, including the next-of-kin in country of origin, their village or town of origin, as well as their final destination. Several immigrants came to Canada via the United States. Passengers' lists would then report that your ancestor was in transit. Finally, more detailed information might have been given by your ancestor to the customs officer at the border.

Keep in mind to take note of every pertinent information and to record same in table form, transcribing the name of the place of origin (exactly as spelled out in the document), the document type, as well as the source consulted.

You have recorded everything and as a result a place name appears in almost all documents you have perused. You think that you finally hold the key to go further on your family tree? Maybe not. On the one hand, if your ancestor has given his province's capital, you will need to take your research to the next level; on the other hand, if you have your ancestor's village of origin, you may turn to the Civil State registers—being able to read Italian will help!