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Basic research ground work you need to do...

      Talk to all of the elder family members and friends that you can think of.  Make notes (or if they'll permit it) make a tape recording of their family stories.   {Note: Family stories often become distorted and embellished through time, with re-telling.}   No matter how fantastic some of the stories may sound, they often have a basic "germ" of truth in them that will serve you as good clues.  The tape recordings make good keepsakes, too.
Take good notes-you will appreciate them later.    
Example:   Interview Form

      Next, go through all of the old family documents and notes.  These can be family bibles with names written inside of them, newspaper clippings, the backs of old photos, birth, death & marriage announcements, baptism/christening papers, mass cards and holycards.  Re-read old letters, and postcards.  View cemetery records (or go there and view the gravestones), funeral records and old deeds.  You can find information about your ancestors on old paperwork like drivers licenses, pay stubs, paid bills, contracts, etc.

Religious Sources:
      If you know the religion, you could write to the parish/synagogue/mosque/etc. - for birth, marriage or death record extracts.  An extract contains pertinent information obtained from the original record (by the clerk or researcher).

      When you've done all you possibly can with the steps mentioned above, then you are ready to proceed by following your "ancestoral paper trail" .  This means checking the country's public records archives.

Birth/Marriage/Death records:
Begin with the paperwork you have in your possession.  View any birth/marriage/death certificates or other vital records you might have.  These are known as civil records).
Start with these family member records. Look for the parent names, all dates and town (place) names.  Work backward in time, from present to past, using the names, dates and place names to help you find your grandparents vital records and then continue to do the same to find out about their parents, etc.
Send a written request for a copy of the parent's birth record, to the office of vital records in the town or state of the parents place of birth.  You will need to provide proof of your relationship in order to get these copies and there is a search fee (usually about $5.00-$10.00 each).  It takes about a month's time.  Records over 50 years old are usually kept in a State archive.  Use the same procedure for marriage and death certificates- if it is necessary to recover information from these types of records.

Another avenue to try, is the Social Security Death Index (now it's online).  Check for your ancestor ( only lists deaths after the 1960's).  In the future, Social Security may try to add names and data from some of the years before 1960.

Religious records (baptism/christening/marriage/death) are separate from state (called civil, vital, etc.) records.  To find them you must contact the appropriate parish, synagogue, mosque, etc.  Use a written format and identify yourself.

Social Security:
You may write to the main Social Security office and ask for your ancestor's application to apply for SSecurity.  S.S. will send you a copy of the application card and it often shows a place of birth and the parents names.  It was free - if there is a fee now, it may be small.

POLK city and town directories:
City address books that were in use before phones and phone books became common. These can be found in many public and private libraries and in the genealogy sections of those libraries as well as in local genealogical collections/repositories.  Some can be found in the Mormon information collections at the FHC's/FHL's.

Most public and private libraries have genealogy collections for public use.  Some will do "look ups for you.  There may be a small copying fee.

Military records:
If your ancestor was in the military you can write to the military personnel department for old information.  Some of these old records were destroyed in a fire and are not available through this source.  Again you must explain and prove who you are in relation to the person you are researching.  You can find those military addresses and the addresses of the National Archives on the P.I.E. homepage under "Tools" and the website's "Public Library".

National Archives [NARA]:
Under the Freedom of Information Act in the USA, citizens are allowed to write to [NARA] the National Archives for public information such as... CENSUS, IMMIGRATION, SHIP PASSENGER LISTS and more.

CENSUS-  In the US a federal census was taken every ten years and they are available to the public from the earliest archived records (1700's) up until the 1920 census.  A rule-of-thumb for public documents; anything over 70 years is public record but anything under that time is not.  This is to protect the privacy of living persons.  It is similar in Canada, Italy and many other countries.
If the ancestor(s) you are searching for, immigrated to the USA, then you may find an immigration date on the census report.  Each Census varied in format and will contain different types of recorded information.

You can also rent copies of the Census microfilms/microfiche at your local "stake" (branch) of Mormon church genealogy libraries for a small fee.   There are local stakes in every state of USA and most countries around the world, too.  To find out more about this you can now go online at:

Department of Immigration and Naturalization-
In D.C. and many of their satellite offices in the U.S., you may request copies of all immigration paperwork (word it that way) available on your relative.  You need to prove your relationship to the person if they are deceased and will need a permission slip if the person is living.  The Dept. may have a copy of your ancestor's passport, immigration entry paperwork, naturalization paperwork, alien papers and their citizenship application papers.  All this will have their personal data on them (even personal appearance notes).  This is free.  It takes several months to process your request.  You only pay for photocopies of the microfilmed record.

After you have tried to obtain as much information as possible from these sources you will be better equipped for searching the next step on this side of the ocean.

Ships Passenger Lists-
You may rent microfilms and microfiche of Ships passenger lists archived from the main ports of entry into the U.S, at NARA.  There are indexes to most of these records.   Find out the immigration date before you attempt to look for your relative on a passenger list.   [Many countries have a similar set of records.]
The port or ships passenger lists often show the immigrants surnames, ages, their date of arrival into port, might show the home town name and more useful genealogical information)
You can also rent copies of the Ships Passenger microfilms/microfiche at your local "stake" (branch) of Mormon church genealogy libraries for a small fee.   There are local stakes in every state of USA and most countries around the world, too.  To find out more about this you can now go online at:

The object of this activity (which you should do at your leisure) is to collect all the information on your family that is available in the country where you currently reside - BEFORE researching in other countries. The more information you have, the easier your search will be in other countries.


When you know the name of your home town of origin then you will be able to search for further genealogy information. (I will refer to Italy.)
Three ways:
a.)  You can write to the local Italian officials for vital records (Ufficio Stato Civile).  If you do not have success with the local level you can proceed to the state level (Stato Archivio).  This way can take from one month to four months time, per letter.

b.)  You can hire an experienced genealogist to research your family surname.  Monetary fees are involved when you pursue this activity.

c.)  You can do the research for yourself at the LDS (Mormon) Genealogical Library, if they have records of your home town.
Thanks to Napoleon Boneparte who decreed his officials must record (what we currently call) "vital records", Italy began to keep civil records in 1809.

You can learn to do your own Italian genealogy records research with some good educational resources and tools. Books, guides, genealogy groups/mailing lists.
See the "Educational Genealogy Resources" located within these pages.

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