Italy Emigration and Immigration
Emigration and immigration sources list the names of people leaving (emigration) or coming into (immigration) Italy. These sources are usually found as passenger lists. The information in these records may include the names of the emigrants; their ages, occupations, and destinations; and often their places of origin or birthplaces.
Records were created when individuals emigrated from or immigrated into Italy. Separate records document an ancestor’s arrival in his destination country. This section discusses:
- Finding the emigrant’s town of origin.
- Emigration from Italy including the historical background of Italian emigration.
- Records of Italian emigrants in their destination countries.
- Immigration into Italy.
Unfortunately, few Italian emigration records exist. You can, however, find many records in the United States of Italians who moved there. Some South American countries also have records of Italian immigrants.
Finding the Emigrant’s Town of Origin
Once you have traced your family back to your immigrant ancestor, you must determine the city or town from which he or she came.
Several sources may give this information. You may be able to find it by talking to older family members or by searching documents, such as:
- Birth, marriage, and death certificates.
- Family bible.
- Church certificates or records.
- Naturalization applications and petitions.
- Passenger lists.
- Family heirlooms.
Although few emigration records exist for Italy, several other sources can help you track your immigrant ancestor’s place of origin. See the "Records of Italian Emigrants in their Destination Countries" in this section, below.
Additional information about finding the origins of immigrant ancestors is given in the Tracing Immigrant Origins (34111) research outline.
Emigration From Italy
Italian emigration can be divided into two major periods, with about 10,000 emigrants leaving prior to the first period.
1848 to 1870. More than 20,000 emigrants left Italy and migrated to the United States. This wave of emigration was caused by political upheaval and revolution as Italy struggled to become an independent, unified state.
1870 to 1914. From 1870 to 1880, an estimated 55,000 Italians came to the United States. From 1880 to 1890, more than 300,000 others arrived. As word arrived in Italy of the opportunities in America and as economic problems increased in Italy, nearly 4 million Italians came to America between 1890 and 1914.
Most emigrants were from southern Italy and settled in New York, Chicago, and along the East Coast. Many emigrants from northern Italy settled in the coal and mineral mining towns across the United States. Other northerners later settled in northern California where a climate similar to their own existed.
Besides going to the United States, many Italian emigrants went to Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Australia, and Canada.
During the 1800s, most Italian emigrants left through the ports of Le Havre, Marseilles, and Nice in France, and Genova, Napoli, and Palermo in Italy. Although some of the records of departures from these Italian ports exist, they are usually shipping lists and do not list passengers. Each individual shipping company maintained its own lists, and most lists have been lost or destroyed. However, other sources of emigration information are described under "Records of Italian Emigrants in Their Destination Countries" and "Finding the Emigrant’s Town of Origin" in this section.
Other Records of Departure
In 1869 the Italian government began requiring people to obtain passports to move within Italy. However, the United States and many other countries did not require passports, so many Italians left Italy without an official passport.
The Italian government used passports to make sure young Italian men did not emigrate to avoid the military draft. Consequently, police were responsible for passports. Passports are still issued today by the questura (head of the internal police) in each province. Although you may write to request passport information, the archives where these records are kept are not open to the public. You will generally find passports among the personal papers of the emigrant’s family in his or her destination country.
Because passport records can be hard to find and access, you may want to check with the anagrafe (registrar’s office) in each comune. This office keeps records of residency changes and emigration along with dates and probable destinations.
Some passport applications have survived the years and are currently being digitizied and indexed by the BYU Immigrant Ancestors Project. Although it is an ongoing project, you may do a name search on the information indexed to this date.
Records of Italian Emigrants in Their Destination Countries
Sometimes the best sources for information about your emigrant ancestor are found in the country to which he or she emigrated. Emigrants from Italy in the earliest period of emigration settled in New Orleans, New York, and along the eastern seaboard. Later, emigrants settled in New York, Chicago, Pennsylvania, Colorado, California, and elsewhere.
Records in the places where emigrants settled sometimes provide the town of origin and other information. To learn about these records, use handbooks, manuals, and research outlines for those areas.
Passenger lists. Most Italian emigrants to the United States arrived at the ports of New York, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Boston. The Family History Library has microfilm copies of the records and indexes of each of these ports from 1820 to 1945. If your ancestor emigrated after 1893, the passenger list will probably list the place of birth and last known residence. See the United States Research Outline (30972) for more information about United States passenger lists.
Immigration lists. A published list and index of Italian emigrants to America is:
Italians to America, Lists of Passengers Arriving at U.S. Ports, 1880–1899. Wilmington, Delaware: Scholarly Resources, 1992–. (FHL book US/CANADA Ref 973 W2it v. 1–9.) This work contains passenger lists for those ships with Italian passengers.
Immigration into Italy
Many people moved to Italy during the following periods:
Early 1200s. Waldensian emigrants from France moved to northern Italy as a result of religious persecution.
1431 to about 1450. Thousands of Greek and Albanian Christians moved into Italy as a result of persecution under the Muslim Turks. They settled in coastal areas of the Italian peninsula and in Sicilia.
1492 to 1692. Thousands of Jewish emigrants moved into Italy because of religious persecution. Most of them came from Spain and Portugal. Many settled in Roma and other major cities.
Unfortunately, very few immigration sources exist for Italy. Instead, look for emigration records of the country from which your ancestor moved.