Italy Jewish History
Jewish settlements have existed throughout Italy and Sicilia since the time of the Roman Empire. From the time of the Republic through the Middle Ages, Jews lived mostly in Roma and in the Regno delle due Sicilie. Few lived in the north until they began migrating there in the thirteenth century. Jewish migration to Italy increased dramatically in 1492 when King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, rulers of the Regno delle due Sicilie, exiled all Jews who would not convert to Christianity. The Spanish Inquisition forced many Jews to move to Roma and the surrounding area and also to major cities in the north such as Milano, Torino, Genova, Firenze, and Venezia.
The Jewish population reached its highest mark in the seventeenth century at about 50,000. Since then it has suffered a steady decline, especially during World War II.
Genealogical records for Jews in Italy are not very complete. Before civil registration, families recorded births, marriages, and deaths. After civil registration, civil authorities recorded Jewish births, marriages, and deaths. Around 1900, rabbis began registering births. This registration, however, was strictly voluntary.
Circumcision and Marriage Books
The circumcision books [libro della circoncisione] and marriage books date from the sixteenth century.
These books record the circumcisions of the males, providing the infant’s name, parents’ names, birth date, and circumcision date. These books are kept in the synagogues but can be consulted only by members of the Jewish community.
These books are one of the few genealogical source for females. They provide the names of the bride and groom, their parents’ names, and the marriage date. These records are also held by the Jewish community and are not open to the public.
Originally, these books dated back for as long as the community existed, but the Nazis destroyed most Jewish records during World War II. As a result, Italian-Jewish research is very difficult.
The government of Israel is trying to preserve the remaining circumcision and marriage books throughout the world, including the Italian books. Jewish researchers may access the documents available in Israel and the computerized indexes to them.
You may find it easier to search the records held in Israel than the ones in Italy. Contact an Israeli consulate in the United States or Canada regarding these records. Non-Jewish researchers do not have access to them.
Jewish cemeteries are also a good source of information. Unlike the Italian Catholics, who reuse the same plots again and again, Jews leave cemeteries undisturbed. There are tombstones and family plots at these cemeteries that date back hundreds of years.
If you are of Italian-Jewish heritage you should contact the rabbi at the synagogue in the city in which you believe your ancestors lived.
To find books on Italian Jews, use the Subject Search of the Family History Library catalog to search under:
JEWS - ITALY