A visit to the Familysearch Learning Center

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Last month I described a multitude of features in familysearch.org, and hopefully I helped beginners, intermediate level and advanced genealogists.

One area I have not spent a lot of time in is the Learning Center, most likely because I have been at this for so long, that I don’t look at beginner material. However, for those of you who are just starting out with your Italian research, the Learning Center is a great place to find out how to begin (besides this column, of course!) If you happen to have other ethnicities to research besides Italian, it can be just as helpful.

When you’re in familysearch.org, you click on “Get Help” and then click “Learning Center”. Don’t forget that “Help Center” is for assistance with the web site itself, and “Learning Center” is for genealogical research help. I always pick the wrong one myself! I need a help button to get me to the right help button!

When you get to the learning center, you can see a list of countries on the left and you can click “Italy” or whatever country you need help with.

You will see a series of lessons for that country. For Italy, there are six results.

Basic Italian Research: The is a one hour video lesson by Ruth Lapioli Merriman, who is one of the leading experts on Italian genealogy in Salt Lake City. There is a handout that can be downloaded and printed to go along with the video. It says it is for “intermediate” but for Italian researchers, it is a beginner lesson. She describes how to start your Italian research and gives an overview of some of the record types you will be working with.

Italian Script Tutorial: This is actually quite advanced — This lesson is a series of slides going through various handwriting styles that were used in Italian records. Remember your social studies classes in school when they showed you the Declaration of Independence, and it looked like “When in the courf of human events” and you said “what is that “f” doing there?” You may run into similar situations with Italian handwriting. There are practically no Italian civil or church records that are typewritten, so you have to work with the handwriting as it was taught in the 19th and 20th centuries. For church records, you will have to deal with even older records. I still have trouble reading my mid-1650s baptisms!

Reading Italian Handwritten Records Lesson 1: The Italian Alphabet: This lesson has a fantastic set of samples of each letter of the alphabet, lower and upper case. Some letters, of course, do not appear in the Italian alphabet. When you are stuck on a word, you can use this guide to help decipher the handwriting. This lesson is a little more practical than the script tutorial, and is also taught (through slides) by Ms. Merriman.

Reading Italian Handwritten Records Lesson 2: Words and Phrases — This lesson looks at the records and deals with specific types of words you are most likely to encounter. If you cannot speak or read Italian, this is the most practical place to learn the basics of what you need in order to read the records. If you travel to Italy, you need practical phrases about railroad departure times and restroom locations, but to read Italian records, you need the months, day numbers, year numbers, relationships, and other key words that will be standard on every Italian birth, marriage or death record.

Reading Italian Handwritten Records Lesson 3: Reading Italian Records — Now we get into the record and how it is formatted. For example, regardless of which town your ancestor came from, the birth record usually looks like this:

“On the 25th of September, in the year 18 hundred and 70, there appeared before the assistant vice-Mayor of the town of Triggiano, a witness that reports that at the home of Giuseppe Ancona, son of Domenico, aged 30, born and residing in Triggiano, that his lawful wife Maria Gemmato, daughter of the late Vito, born and residing in Triggiano, gave birth on the 23rd of the current month, to a son who was named Lorenzo Antonio. The witnesses were Giovanni Pompilio aged 45, born and residing in Triggiano, and Vincenzo D’Alessandro, aged 36, born and residing in Triggiano”.

Thought the formats change a few times over the decades, the basic format of each record is usually very similar. Lesson 3 helps explain what to expect from each type of record. Each record may be handwritten, or may have some typescript and blanks for the information, but the basic format repeats itself and this is critical for non-Italian speakers to be able to work with the records.

Storia di Famiglia: La Ricerca Genealogica Negli Atti Di Nascita — This lesson is taught in Italian by Paula Manfredi, another highly respected Italian genealogist based both in Salt Lake City and in Italy.

Keep in mind that at the bottom of the screen where you choose your country, there are basic genealogy lessons for the absolute beginner. Each lesson takes only five minutes, but if you have never started your research, these lessons can be very helpful.

Under the country heading “America, Europe”, you can find four lessons that discuss immigration records both in the US and emigration records from Europe. There are also many lessons for the United States that describe the different types of records, although since each record varies with the locality, it’s not specific to the format.

If you view a lesson, be sure to click “Send feedback on this lesson” to let them know how useful it was.

Any questions, as always, write to italianroots@comcast.net and please put “Fra Noi” in the subject.


About Paul Basile

Paul Basile has been the editor of Fra Noi for a quarter of a century. Over that period, he and his dedicated family of staff members and correspondents have transformed a quaint little community newspaper into a gorgeous glossy magazine that is read and admired across the nation. They also maintain a cluster of national and local websites and are helping other major metropolitan areas launch their own versions of Fra Noi.

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