Effective family research requires some understanding of the historical events that may have affected your family and the records about them. Learning about wars, governments, laws, migrations, and religious trends may help you understand political boundaries, family movements, and settlement patterns. These events may have led to the creation of records such as land and military documents that mention your family. See the "Historical Geography" section of this outline.
Your ancestors will become more interesting to you if you use histories to learn about the events in which they may have participated. For example, by using a history you might learn about the events that occurred in the year your great-grandparents were married.
Some key dates and events in the history of Italy that influenced record keeping are:
1300s–1600s: Italian Renaissance. This cultural movement began in Italy and spread to England, France, Germany, and the Netherlands. It was characterized by a revival in ancient Greek and Roman art and philosophy, the development of humanism, and the beginning of modern science.
1543: The Council of Trent required parishes to begin keeping records.
1559–1713: Spain ruled most of Italy.
1713: Treaty of Utrecht ended Spanish rule and established the Austrian Hapsburgs as Italy’s dominant power.
1796: Napoleon Bonaparte, emperor of France, drove the Austrian rulers from northern Italy.
1804–15: Napoleon ruled most of Italy. In 1806 he began requiring that civil registration records be kept.
1814: Napoleon was defeated. Most of Italy is returned to its former sovereigns. Civil registration ended in 1815.
1821–31: A series of revolts, known as the Risorgimento, occurred against local rulers. The rebels sought political unity for Italy. These rebellions were eventually crushed.
1848–49: Revolts began in every major Italian city opposing Austrian rule. New governments were established. Austria put down the revolts and regained control of the Italian cities. The pope, backed by the French army, won back Roma.
1858–59: Count Cavour, prime minister of the Kingdom of Sardegna, and Napoleon III of France signed a defense agreement. To maintain its Italian holdings, Austria declared war on the Kingdom of Sardegna. French and Italian troops defeated the Austrians. Much of northern Italy was united under the Kingdom of Sardegna.
1860: Giuseppe Garibaldi freed Sicilia, southern Italy, and the city of Napoli from the French.
1861: After a nationwide vote, the Kingdom of Italy was formed with Vittorio Emmanuele II as king. The kingdom united all of Italy except the city of Roma, the region of Venezia, and the country of San Marino.
1866: In exchange for Venezia, Italy supported Prussia in its war against Austria. A month later, Prussia defeated Austria, and Venezia became part of the Kingdom of Italy. Civil registration became law.
1870: The Franco-Prussian War forced France to withdraw its troops from Roma. Italian troops conquered all of Roma except for the Vatican.
1871: The capital of Italy moves from Torino to Roma.
1911: After a war with Turkey, Italy gained Eritrea, Italian Somaliland, and Tripoli.
1915–18: Italy sided with the Allies in World War I and gained Trentino and Trieste from Austria-Hungary.
1922: King Victor Emmanuel III made Benito Mussolini the premier of Italy. By 1925 Mussolini reigned as dictator.
1936: Italy conquered Ethiopia.
1939: Italy and Germany agreed to be allies if war were to break out. Italy conquered Albania.
1940–43: Italy entered World War II on Germany’s side.
1946: Italians voted to establish a Republican form of government.
1947: Italy signed a peace treaty at the end of World War II. As part of the treaty, Italy gave up its African empire (Libya, Italian Somaliland, and Eritrea), gave the Dodecanese Islands to Greece, and gave Albania its independence. Trieste was made a free territory that was divided into two zones under Anglo-American and Yugoslav control. Minor changes were made to the French-Italian border.
1954: Trieste was given to Italy in a treaty with Yugoslavia.
The Family History Library has some published national and local histories for Italy. You can find them in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under one of the following:
ITALY, [PROVINCE]- HISTORY
ITALY, [PROVINCE], [TOWN]- HISTORY
Some of the most valuable sources for family history research are local histories. They describe the settlement of the area and the founding of churches, schools, and businesses. You can also find lists of soldiers and civil officials. Even if your ancestor is not listed, information on other relatives may be included that will provide important clues for finding the ancestor. A local history may also suggest other records to search.
Local histories can also provide background information about your family’s lifestyle and the community and environment in which they lived.
The Family History Library has some local histories for towns in Italy. Similar histories are often also available at major public and university libraries and archives.