FamilySearch Unites with Italian Archive Organization to Digitize Civil Registration Records
Melissa Zenteno, Church News and Events
More than 23 million images and four million searchable names from Italian genealogical records that were previously available only in archives or on microfilm are now available on the Church’s family history research site, new.FamilySearch.org. Through the efforts of thousands of volunteers participating in the Italy Civil Registration Project, individuals now have access to birth, marriage, and death records for Italian ancestors in a searchable database.
FamilySearch and the Italian State Archives Cooperate
This new project involves digitizing and indexing Italian genealogical records. It started after an agreement between FamilySearch and the Italian State Archives (Direzione Generale per gli Archivi, or DGA) was finalized in July 2011. The DGA granted FamilySearch access to its birth, marriage, and death records located in state archives throughout Italy in exchange for FamilySearch providing digital copies of the records to these principalities, as is their long-standing practice.
This collaboration is monumental, said Paul Nauta, the project’s spokesperson and FamilySearch’s public affairs manager. “Under the agreement, the Church’s FamilySearch organization will digitally preserve and provide online access to the entire civil registration collection (birth, marriage, and death records) of Italy from 1802 to 1940,” he said. “[This is] over 115 million pages of historic documents and over 500 million names!” (This is the number of records expected upon project completion).
The Church has worked in Italy since 1975 to preserve civil registration records; in fact, the first part of the Italy Civil Registration Project involved indexing the microfilm records created in the early days of the collaboration. It wasn’t until the recent agreement, however, that a project was established to digitally preserve, publish, and make publicly available additional Italian civil documents.
“The scope of this project is unprecedented,” said Michael Judson, the indexing workforce development manager for FamilySearch. “Anyone who is searching for Italian ancestors will recognize this as a breakthrough opportunity to find those families.”
But the road to a complete database is a long one. Records still need to be obtained from various states in Italy.
To help gather these records, over 25 FamilySearch camera teams—which include Church service missionaries and contracted workers representing FamilySearch—have been deployed to digitally photograph and publish additional records from 55 archive repositories in Italy.
According to Brother Judson, an estimated 115 million images of Italian civil registration documents will become available for family history researchers—a process that could take more than a decade as more images are processed and indexed.
An Opportunity for Volunteers
Once the digital images are obtained, volunteers help input the information into a digital catalog, or index. The data and digital images will be then sent to the DGA, which will make the content available and searchable to the world online at no charge. Records will also be available through FamilySearch.org.
Since the establishment of the agreement, more than 1,000 volunteers have commenced indexing the archives and have completed approximately one million names. Brother Judson said that tens of thousands more are needed to index the records in a timely manner.
“This is an enormous undertaking for an international project—the largest to date,” added Brother Nauta. “The project will take years to complete. Many helping hands online will make quicker work of it.”
Brother Judson believes that with a new temple forthcoming in Rome, the desire for Latter-day Saints in Italy to find the names of their ancestors will increase dramatically.
“The timing of this agreement [is] a huge blessing for Church members who will perform ordinances for their ancestors in the Rome Temple when it is completed,” he said.
Project Will Benefit Many
Although the project holds benefits for Italians seeking to do family history work, Brother Judson and Brother Nauta both add that this international project will be valuable to many others.
“Historians, demographers, and those with Italian heritage from around the world will have full access to the civil registration documents held within the various branches of the Italian state archives,” explained Brother Judson.
Due to the emigration of about 25 million Italians during a 100-year period known as the Italian Diaspora (about 1861 to the 1960s), these records hold a particular value.
“Many of the descendants from this mass migration now yearn to understand their roots, and this has created a worldwide interest in Italian records,” said Brother Judson.
“It will be a definitive collection used for decades by researchers,” added Brother Nauta.
A Longstanding Effort
Since indexing.familysearch.org first launched in 2006, more than 350,000 volunteers have joined in the work of transcribing mostly handwritten digital images into a database, allowing people to search for their ancestors online.
“Working remotely via the Internet, hundreds of thousands of volunteers worldwide have indexed more than 800 million records,” Brother Judson said. These numbers reflect the results of similar projects available in at least 10 other languages.
Indexing can be done by anyone with a computer and Internet access. The program, available in 11 languages, can be downloaded for free through the FamilySearch website. After setting up an account, users can download groups, or batches, of records to index. Most batches have anywhere from 10 to 50 names each and take about 30 to 45 minutes to complete.
The program allows users to save their progress. This is ideal for those who can work only a few minutes at a time. If a batch is not indexed within a week, it becomes available to others to complete.
“Indexing makes the other activities of family history and temple work possible,” said Brother Judson. “It all begins with making it easier to find the names of our ancestors.”