It’s critical to know the exact town your ancestors came from in Italy because the records are kept at a very local level. In my own family, my grandmother and her siblings always said their father and mother were from Pastene and Avellino, respectively. But my own discovery of ship manifests, birth records and draft cards showed me that he was from Sant’Angelo a Cupolo, which is the municipality that contains Pastene, and she also lived in Sant’Angelo a Cupolo, but her older brothers were born in Tufo in the province of Avellino, not in the city of Avellino as we had believed.

If you are searching the records of the wrong town, you will never find your ancestors’ vital records. My two grandfathers came from the neighboring towns of Baselice and Colle Sannita, but the only time someone from Colle Sannita appears in Baselice documents is when a man from Colle moves to Baselice to marry a woman from Baselice. This phenomenon has enabled me to trace some distant relatives with my maiden name into the next town.

So how did I begin this journey when I knew so very little about my grandfather Adamo Leone’s ancestry? Thanks to Italian ancestry message boards, I made a friend in Italy who was willing to do a little legwork for me in exchange for my research of his ancestors who’d been in America. This friend, Luigi, went to the town hall in Baselice armed with the names and approximate birth dates of my grandfather’s parents and two siblings. The town hall furnished him with documentation of their birth, marriage and death dates, but they did not supply the names of my grandparents’ parents.

So now I knew my great grandparents’ exact birth dates. I looked at the FamilySearch.org (http://www.familysearch.org/Eng/Library/FHC/frameset_fhc.asp?PAGE=library_fhc_find.asp) and discovered that they had microfilmed vital records for the town of Baselice from 1809-1860, so I began ordering them for use at a local Family History Center. I located my great grandparents’ birth records and voila, there were the names and ages of their parents.

I continued looking at the rolls of film, scanning for the surnames I knew the best: Leone, Iammucci, Pisciotti, and occasionally finding familiar surnames from the neighboring town, like Iamarino, Pilla, Cocca, and writing down all the information in notebooks. This was far too slow a process, so I started entering the information straight into Family Tree Maker. But even that was too slow and could lead to redundancies if I didn’t do a thorough check to make sure I didn’t already have one of the people mentioned in a particular document.

So I decided I would type every pertinent fact from every single document into a plain text file, zipping through the documents at a very brisk pace. Then I would go home and transfer the data from the text file into Family Tree Maker, doing my due diligence to avoid redundancy. I developed my own shorthand for capturing every bit of information succinctly. Here’s an example of each type of document:

Birth record:
-Caterina Pisciotti b 26 dec 1819 to Giovanni di Nicola 26 and Dorodea Petruccelli 26

This is my great great grandmother. She was born on Dec. 26, 1819 to Giovanni (age 26) the son of Nicola and Dorodea Petruccelli (age 26). When available, I also included the date of baptism, which was almost always the same day or the next day.

Death record:
-Nicola Pisciotti 68 d 4 jan 1819 di Giovanni di Rosa Bianco widow of Rosa Pecora

This is my 4th great grandfather who died at the age of 68 of Jan. 4, 1819. He was the son of Giovanni Pisciotti and Rosa Bianco, and he was the widow of Rosa Pecora. If the document said “fu Giovanni” rather than “di Giovanni” I would know that Giovanni had died before Jan. 1819, so I am careful to record whether it says “di” or “fu”. This also tells us that Rosa Pecora, Nicola’s wife, died before Jan. 1819. That’s a lot of information.

Marriage record:
-Antonio Maria Colucci 23 di Nicolagiovanni 54 di Isabella Marucci 50 to wed Angelamaria Marucci 20 di Lorenzo 58 di Agostina Pisciotti 56
–banns 3 jan 1819
–banns 10 jan 1819
–wed 18 jan 1819
–church 18 jan 1819

These are distant cousins. From these facts I know everyone’s birth year and that they’re all alive in Jan. 1819. In Italy at that time, a couple had to twice announce their intention to marry, usually one week apart (Jan. 3 and Jan. 10, 1819), and then they were married civilly (Jan. 18, 1819). There was also a church wedding, which was sometimes the same day, but more often it seemed to be weeks later. I don’t know if the couple was allowed to live together and consummate the marriage before the church ceremony. You would think not!

So, from these thousands and thousands of gathered facts, I used Family Tree Maker to help piece together extended families. I found six siblings for my grandfather’s mother, siblings for each of her parents, and many as seven generations of ancestors for my grandfather, about whom I had known next to nothing. Through marriage, I have some connection to a enormous amount of the people in the database. The extended family tree becomes far too large to ever print or even understand, although I would like to try to wallpaper a room with it some day. (Maybe when my son moves out…)

Within the span of microfilmed documents covering 1809-1860, I have had to skip the years of 1825-1843 because I am relocating and ran out of time. Once I’m settled, I plan to order the film for those years and complete the project. Then it’s on to my other grandfather’s town of Colle Sannita! I would desperately love to document my grandmother’s roots in Sant’Angelo a Cupolo, but Family Search has not microfilmed their documents.

This is a huge time commitment, but I have absolutely no regrets about doing it.