If you consider yourself one who “sees,” perhaps you’ll perceive an opportunity to contribute immeasurable service to the Italian Ancestors Project, the most ambitious records preservation initiative in Italy’s history!
The National Archives of Italy, along with FamilySearch International, the largest genealogical organization in the world, are collaborating to digitally preserve historic Italian vital records so they can be accessed and searched on the Internet for free. “We’re talking about preserving roughly 115 million images of historic documents and more than 500 million names. That’s more than the current combined population of Western Europe,” says Paul Nauta, a Public Relations Manager for the Italian Ancestors project.
A thousand volunteers worldwide from all walks of life, including working professionals, mothers with young children, tech-savvy teens, and pensioners are already giving of their time. But fifty times that number, yes 50,000 volunteers, will be needed to complete the project within ten years, the goal established by organizers. Most of the current volunteers are from countries other than Italy, not surprising considering eighty-five million descendants of Italian emigrants reside outside “lo stivale” (the boot), compared to sixty-five million living in Italy today.
Most of these individuals have Italian heritage, and an understandable passion for tracing their roots, but not all. Some simply want to give back to the country that so positively and permanently influenced the world for the better with its timeless art, architecture, music, and literature—not to mention pizza, fast cars, and gorgeous fashion.
Presently, more than thirty camera crews are in Italy digitally capturing civil birth, marriage, and death records from 1802 through 1941 (along with famous Italians like Giuseppe Verdi, Enzo Ferrari, and Sophia Loren, up to six or more generations of Italians could be discovered during this time). They then publish these digital images online where volunteers, using customized software, extract and index names, dates, and relationships from the Italian civil registries. Two separate volunteers, unknown to each other, index each and every document. A third volunteer, an arbitrator, then reviews both results, and checks to resolve discrepancies. “The result”, Nauta says, “Is a quality, highly accurate database that is ultimately published as a free, searchable collection online linked to the image of the original historic document.”
This labor of love is already bearing fruit at Italy’s National Archives. “We are already seeing an increase in the number of international patron inquiries seeking help with their family history research,” says Mauro Tosti Croce, the institution’s director. “The project will greatly increase the reach of our services.”
“It will quickly become the most definitive historic collection for Italian genealogical and academic research for generations to come”, says David Rencher, chief genealogical officer for FamilySearch. “Online volunteers making the records searchable will enable millions of Italians living in Italy, and even millions more living descendants of Italian emigrants outside of Italy, to discover their lineages and possibly each other.”
Anyone twelve years and older can help with the Italian Ancestors project. Volunteers need only a computer and internet access to get started. What? You don’t speak Italian? Non ti preoccupare! (not to worry). Fluency in Italian, while invaluable, is not necessary. Online tutorials, self-help guides, instructions, and a vibrant Facebook community (along with a 24 hour support toll-free phone number and live web chat) are available to guide volunteers through the software, and the vagaries of Italian civil registries until they are comfortable.
Back to da Vinci, “I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.”
Doers can download the indexing software from www.FamilySearch.org/Italian-ancestors on their computers and select an Italian Ancestors project of interest (they are listed under the Italian translated name of “Antenati Italiani”). More information is available at: