Historically, Italy was made up of several kingdoms and principalities, each of which had its own nobility; therefore, titles of nobility were common in Italy. Titles of nobility were granted to people who did favors for royalty, people who performed military service, and some people who were wealthy enough to purchase them.
Noble titles include principe (prince), duca (duke), marchese (marquis), conte (count), cavaliere (knight).
Most family traditions of a noble ancestor turn out, on investigation, to have little foundation in fact. Most members of the noble class did not emigrate to the United States. In addition, contrary to prevailing opinion, it was not customary to disown members of noble families for unacceptable behavior. Thus traditions of an ancestor being erased or eliminated from all records are unfounded.
Illegitimate children, while not entitled to noble status, were often recorded. The father’s name, however, may not have been recorded.
Grants of nobility were documented. Because of frequent false claims to nobility, families had to document their nobility. Some original records (such as the grant of nobility) still exist. However, you can adequately accomplish most nobility research by using published or manuscript genealogies of noble families. Because the noble class has been anxious to preserve their identity, many Italian noble lines have been published.
If your research indicates that your ancestor was actually of the Italian noble class, there are additional records that will be helpful in your research. Some good sources to begin with include:
Enciclopedia storico-nobiliare italiana (Historical encyclopedia of Italian nobility). Milano: Enciclopedia storico-nobiliare italiana, 1928. (FHL book EUROPE 945 D56s.)
Libro d’Oro della Nobiltà italiana (Golden book of the Italian nobility). Roma: Collegio Araldico, 1910–. (FHL book EUROPE 945 D5ln; films 833316, 873994 and 823793.)
The Family History Library has collected many records of the Italian nobility. These records are listed in the Locality Search of the catalog under:
ITALY, [PROVINCE]- NOBILITY
ITALY, [PROVINCE], [TOWN]- NOBILITY