Italian Marriage Records More Than You Think
Syllabus for class taught by Ruth Lapioli Merriman, Manager of International Research Consultation at the FamilySearch's Family History Library, presented at NGS Conference 2010.
Marriage has always been serious business in Italy, and it became more complicated as the years rolled by. We will look at how history affected the marriage records and their contents. We will also learn where to look for information within the record, how to read it, and even take a look at a few surprises that always make family history a fun adventure.
- 1 FINDING THE MARRIAGE RECORD YOU NEED AND WHAT IT CONTAINS
- 1.1 Council of Trent
- 1.2 Marriage requirements under the Catholic Church
- 1.3 Church marriage record content
- 1.4 Reign of Napoleon Bonaparte
- 1.5 Civil marriage record content
- 1.6 Defeat of Napoleon
- 1.7 Unification of Italy
- 1.8 1929–Patti Lateranensi
- 1.9 1970-71–Divorce
- 1.10 Processetti
FINDING THE MARRIAGE RECORD YOU NEED AND WHAT IT CONTAINS
Marriage records provide a wealth of information if you look closely enough. Whether looking at church records or civil records, you will be able to determine a lot about the happy couple and their families. To find the marriage record you are interested in, you will first need to know how some historical events affected record keeping in Italy.
Council of Trent
The Council of Trent was an attempt by the Catholic Church, in 1545, to standardize its teachings, policies, and procedures. After nearly twenty years of conflict and controversy, it finally concluded in 1563 or 1564. Genealogically speaking, one of the most important directives to emerge was the edict that parish priests were to keep a separate baptism, marriage, and death record for each parishioner. (For the most part, this ended secret and clandestine marriages.) Because not all priests complied, in 1595 the Pope officially required parish registers to be kept. There are parish registers that predate the edict in 1595, but you will generally find records–if they survived–from 1595. There has not been a break in the keeping of parish registers, so in your parish or diocese, there should be records from at least 1595 to the present day.
Marriage requirements under the Catholic Church
- Copies of baptism certificates.
- Marriage banns declared and read three times, usually a week apart, in Sunday mass or three days of public worship (read aloud because the bulk of the population could not read).
- Banns also written and posted in front of the parish church.
- If the bride and groom were from different parishes, banns were announced and posted in both churches.
- The bride and groom had to present themselves before the priest with their parents or guardians and state their intentions, and obtain familial consent.
- Dowry, dote e corredo, (a notarial act abolished in 1975).
- 2-3 witnesses.
- No impediments (former betrothal, underage, 4th degree of consanguinity or closer (second cousins), affinity (related by marriage), defect to consent.
Records of these requirements, processetti, are often at the diocese rather than the parish.
Church marriage record content
- Marriage date.
- Names of bride and groom.
- Names of both sets of parents (occasionally a mother’s maiden name).
- Indication if either parent was deceased.
- Name of other parish if groom was from another town (marriage usually took place in bride’s home town).
- Mention of any dispensation.
Reign of Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon drove the Hapsburgs from Italy in 1796, and by 1805 he had instituted civil registration after the French model. As he moved down the peninsula, each area was required to keep civil records. Most Napoleonic records date from 1805-1815. Napoleon was not concerned about appeasing the religious officials–a couple was required to marry civilly and could be married in the church afterwards, if they so desired. He wanted total separation of church and state.
Marriage requirements under Napoleonic Code:
- Banns posted twice, not read, at town hall on two consecutive Sundays.
- Copies of bride’s and groom’s birth records.
- Consent from both fathers.
- If father deceased, consent from paternal grandfather.
- If paternal grandfather was deceased, the mother could give permission.
- Copies of death records of deceased fathers (sometimes mothers), paternal grandfathers, and previous spouses.
- Declarations of poverty.
- Military service verification.
- The bride and groom presented themselves before a civil officer to declare their promise to marry and provide all necessary documents.
These processetti are usually in the state archives and in the municipal archives.
Civil marriage record content
- Marriage date.
- Names, ages, and occupations of bride and groom.
- Birthplace if other than town where marriage took place.
- Names, ages, and occupations of parents.
- Whether parents are living.
- Date of church marriage (if marriage took place prior to 1865).
Defeat of Napoleon
With Napoleon’s defeat in 1815, previously conquered areas were returned to their former sovereigns with the Congress of Vienna. Civil registration ceased in most northern regions but continued in the area known as the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, although Sicily itself began civil registration in 1820, following the Napoleonic model for record keeping. The Bourbons, who controlled the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, were interested in appeasing the Church and allowed ecclesiastical information written into the civil record in a separate column, although couples still needed to be married civilly first. Requirements from the Napoleonic code were still followed. The marriage files or supplemental documentation, processetti, are found in the state archives and often in the municipal archives.
Unification of Italy
March 17, 1861, marked the beginning of the unification of Italy. Finally in 1866, much of Italy was unified as a single nation, and civil registration became national law. As new areas joined the unified nation, they also began to keep civil records. For this reason, civil registration can start anywhere from 1866 to 1871 or perhaps even later. There are a few exceptions to this situation, such as the region of Tuscany (whose government compiled their own civil record based on parish records from 1815-1865) and Trento (whose priests continued the civil records alongside the parish records). The government abolished church information from the civil records. In 1870, when Rome became part of the unified Italy, the Pope lost his temporal power and, as a result, encouraged people to marry in the church only and ignore civil rule. This resulted in children being recorded as illegitimate, necessitating the parents to marry later in the civil offices to legitimize their children. Requirements for marriage were basically the same as pre-unification. The marriage files, processetti or allegati, are found in the municipal archives and in the tribunale (court) archive.
This accord was the official recognition of each other by the Catholic Church and the Italian government. Church marriages were recognized by the state. Marriage books from this time were usually divided into two parts: part 1 consisted of town hall marriages; part 2 consisted of church marriages and the allegati.
Divorce made legal in Italy. (It had been legal during Napoleonic times, 1805-1815.)
Processetti and allegati are the terms used for the packet of documents required of the bride and groom before a marriage could take place. They exist for church and civil marriages. They include:
- Copies of birth or baptism records of the bride and groom.
- Copies of death records of fathers, paternal grandfathers, mothers (occasionally), and previous spouses.
- Declaration of military service.
- Declaration of poverty.
- Copies of marriage banns.
- Any notary documents that were necessary–and these can include some real surprises.
Marriage records and the documents that accompany them are the best source of genealogical information in Italian church and civil vital records. Although some may be handwritten and difficult to read, be sure to never overlook a marriage document. You never know what you will find.