Thanks to the helpful assistance of the church archives in Acqui Terme (NW Italy) I have been able to progress in my family tree research to boundaries I never knew or expected I could reach. Archives in that particular area are fairly well preserved in the diocese’s headquarters, and include baptism, marriage and burial records from the early 1800’s onwards. Earlier records, which I have yet to explore, are still kept mostly at parish level.
Similarly, some time ago I was told by a fellow researcher that civil records up until 1910 (which in that particular area of the country start in 1866, shortly after Italy’s unification) are also available online via FamilySearch. Although not all the places I’m currently researching are included, the records for my great-grandmother’s home town of San Marzano Oliveto are fully viewable.
Thanks to the civil records online, and to the assistance of the church’s archivist, I have been able to go as far back as two of my ancestors’ marriage in 1850. The record (which is mercifully written in Italian, and not in Latin) mentions the groom, Giacomo Amerio, and his parents, Giovanni Amerio, deceased, and Margherita Paroldi, who appears to be still alive, as there is no reference to her passing (usually indicated by the expression fu, meaning “was” or “late”).
Knowing that much, I ventured forth and asked the archivist in Acqui Terme to see if she could dig out a death record for a Giovanni Amerio before 1850, and a death record for a Margherita Paroldi, widow of Giovanni Amerio, sometime after 1850. Meanwhile I combed the civil records online from 1866 onwards, to see if I could come across Margherita’s death certificate. Unfortunately I drew a blank, as there was no one who fitted the bill under the surname Paroldi nor a widow for a Giovanni Amerio (women in Italy don’t take their husband’s surname). The closest I could get was for a Maria Margherita Parodi (notice the additional first name Maria and the difference in spelling in the surname), who was married to a man called Vincenzo Pastore, who died in 1873. Definitely not my ancestor – or so I thought. For months the death record of Vincenzo Pastore’s wife stood silently among my archives, in the hope that one day, possibly, I would find a link between that marriage and any of my ancestral lines in the area.
Meanwhile, the search in the archives was not yielding positive results either. Not only was Margherita Paroldi’s death certificate not appearing within the 1850-1900 time frame, but the death certificate of her husband Giovanni Amerio before 1850 was nowhere to be seen! At that point I was starting to give up on them, thinking they may have passed away in another village and thus their deaths were not recorded in the parish they came from.
Then, one day, while I was slowly waking up to get ready for work, I had a genealogical epiphany. What if I had already found the certificate for Margherita Paroldi, and she was the same person as Maria Margherita Parodi. Apart from the differences in spelling, the names were so similar that I instantly felt like such a fool for having discarded a link right away, without contemplating such an obvious and simple alternative: Margherita may have remarried! It took me seconds to draft an e-mail (in my pigeon Italian) to the archivist, apologising for coming back yet again with the same request, this time asking for a marriage certificate between the widowed Margherita Parodi (or Paroldi) and Vincenzo Pastore.
Yesterday my prayers were answered. The archivist got in touch to inform me that the marriage certificate had finally appeared (dating all the way back to 1841) and, indeed, Margherita Parodi (not Paroldi as my other source said) was a widow when she married Vincenzo Pastore. So, not only did I discover that the original surname I had written down was misspelt, but turns out I’ve had Margherita’s death certificate among my records all along. I instantly added Margherita’s date of death to my tree, as well as her second husband. As they were both in their 50’s when they married, it’s safe to assume this marriage was childless.
An additional stroke of luck is of course the discovery of Margherita’s parents’ names, as they are both mentioned in her (second) marriage certificate. Curiously, the mother’s maiden name, Sardi, also appears on another branch of my family tree – do I smell a bit of inbreeding among my Italian ancestors?
Unfortunately, Giovanni Amerio’s death certificate is yet to be unearthed. I have, however, asked the archivist to send me all death certificates for a Giovanni Amerio who died before 1850 (turns out now he must have died before 1841, when his widow remarried). I received several certificates, but thanks to his wife’s 1841 marriage I am now able to exclude any candidates who died after that date, leaving two possible candidates, assuming that Giovanni died locally: one who died in 1839 aged 26 (which seems unlikely -but not impossible- as his wife would have been about two decades older), and one who died in 1832 aged 45 (so, born in around 1787 – which sounds more likely). Neither death certificate cites whether the deceased man is single or married, but it does mention the parents in one case, and the father in another, so it may be worth checking to see if I can find Giovanni and Margherita’s marriage certificate via the diocesan archive to exclude or include the dead man’s details in my family tree, and move on to the next generation.
I’m planning a visit next month to see the church archives in Acqui Terme. Any suggestions for me? Did you visit the location or just email them to get information? Thank you so much for your help! Julie
How lucky of you to be visiting the Diocesan Archives in Acqui Terme. I’m sure it will be a very productive visit.
Before going I would suggest doing the usual “homework” – taking paper and pencil, a (rough) copy of the tree with the information you have (vs. the information you’re looking for). A copy of the original docs you have on file might also be handy.
The staff at the Archive (one lady) speaks mainly Italian so unless you speak Italian, I’d suggest jotting down a few useful words (baptism, marriage…) and phrases.
You must absolutely check beforehand if the and when the Archive is open. I believe they only open two mornings a week, but I would suggest calling/e-mailing them to warn them of your visit (and push them for acknowledgement of receipt if you don’t hear back). It can be very frustrating travelling such a distance to find a closed door.
They have church records going back to the early 1800’s, anything earlier will still be at the parish. You’ll obviously need to know the name of the person you’re looking for and the parish where they were born. If you don’t know the parish, the surname might be a clue as some surnames are very common in very localised areas.
I hope this is useful. Do let me know how you get along!
Best wishes & best of luck!