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UK Record Sources For Anglo Italian Family History

Civil Registration - England and Wales

Civil registration of births, marriages and deaths began in 1837 but it was not until 1875 that it became compulsory for parents to report births, so those records before that date are not complete. The records are held at the General Register Office (GRO) and certificates of birth, marriage or death ordered by reference to indexes; the registration information can only be obtained by ordering a copy of the certificate. Even for post-1875 records, people researching Italians and their descendants often cannot find them in the indexes; possible reasons include:

  • The GRO indexes themselves are incomplete or in error; it is known that the central records do not duplicate exactly the records held in local Registration Offices.
  • The difficult spelling of 'foreign' names, combined with language problems and widespread illiteracy, may mean that the name has been misheard, misspelt or misread. Try every variation you can think of.
  • If immigrants were here illegally or did not speak the language, or had other reasons for avoiding the authorities, they may not have bothered to register the births of their children or deaths of relations, even after registration became compulsory. Marriages should automatically have been registered by the church.
  • There may have been confusion between surnames and forenames (this particularly happened in the censuses, see below), so it may be worth checking the indexes under both.
  • Names may have been anglicized, either by the person reporting the name or the registrar.

Where To Find The Civil Records

To order a copy of a birth, marriage or death certificate you need to have the GRO index reference which takes the form of the year, the quarter of registration, the name of the registration district, the volume number and the page number, e.g. 1895 March Holborn 2b 114.

To order a copy of a birth, marriage or death certificate you need to have the GRO index reference which takes the form of the year, the quarter of registration, the name of the registration district, the volume number and the page number, e.g. 1895 March Holborn 2b 114.

You can consult the indexes at the The National Archives in Kew, London; or in microform at major libraries, local record offices, and LDS Family History Centres (see below). You can also search online at FreeBMD ; this index is not yet complete but new records are added each month. The websites findmypast.co.uk (pay per view) and ancestry.co.uk have a complete set of digitised images of all the birth, marriage and death indexes, including 20th century records. (N.B. There are other commercial sites offering the same service.)

When you have the correct reference you can order certificates online from the GRO. Please be aware that other sites also offer a certificate ordering service but may charge an additional fee and take longer to deliver.

Civil Registration In Scotland

Civil registration began in Scotland in 1855. For Scottish records you can search for and order certificates online through Official government source for Scottish genealogy . The records are kept at New Register House in Edinburgh where you may inspect the registers and make notes. The Scottish records are more comprehensive than those for England and Wales (see below).

What The Civil Records Tell You

Birth certificates:

  • Date and place of birth (may be a hospital, though more frequently the parents' address)
  • Name and sex of child
  • Father's forename, surname and occupation
  • Mother's forename, surname and maiden name
  • Name, relationship to child and address of informant
  • Date of registration
  • Date and place of parent’s marriage (Scotland only)

Marriage certificates:

  • Place of marriage (may be a register office). Many Catholic churches in the earlier years of civil registration were not licensed for marriages, if the marriage took place in a register office it may indicate that a marriage ceremony was also performed in such a Catholic church.
  • Date of marriage
  • Name, occupation, marital status and age of bride and groom (may only say 'of full age')
  • Addresses of bride and groom at time of marriage (may often be given as the same address, but does not necessarily imply they were living together; could have been a way of avoiding paying for banns to be read in two parishes).
  • Names and occupation of the father of the bride and groom
  • Names of witnesses - often relations or friends
  • Whether the marriage was by licence or after banns and the rites or ceremonies used.
  • Names of mother of the bride and groom (Scotland only)
  • Death certificates:
  • Place of death
  • Name, age and occupation of deceased
  • Cause of death and, if certified, by whom
  • Name and address of informant - often a close relative
  • Husband’s name and occupation (for a woman, if relevant)
  • Marital status (Scotland only)
  • Spouse’s name (Scotland only)
  • Father’s name and occupation (Scotland only)
  • Mother’s name and maiden name (Scotland only)

Church Records

The vast majority of Italian immigrants were Roman Catholics, though many lapsed after arrival, particular if marrying someone from the Church of England or one of the Protestant nonconformist religions.

Before the system of civil registration was introduced in 1837 Catholic services were not recognised by the state, for the marriage to be legal it had to be in a Church of England church, you may therefore find two marriages.

Anglican Records

Most Church of England parish registers are deposited in County record offices, or for London, at the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), or the City of Westminster Archives, and many have been transcribed by dedicated individuals, family history societies and parish register societies. The Society of Genealogists holds the largest collection of parish register transcriptions. The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (often referred to as Mormons or LDS) has microfilmed a large number of parish records and some of these have been transcribed and are accessible either online (Familysearch) or through the International Genealogical Index and the British Isles Vital Record Index on CD ROM. The CD ROMs can be purchased or consulted at LDS Family History Centres and other local studies centres and reference libraries but they are no longer being updated.

Roman Catholic Records

Many Roman Catholic registers remain with the individual parishes so it will be necessary to make an appointment if you wish to inspect them. There are also many fewer transcriptions of registers to aid your search and as few Catholic parishes have cooperated with the LDS's microfilming programme very few appear on the IGI. A directory of present-day Roman Catholic churches is available on line here. A list of Roman Catholic missions in the UK for the period 1700 – 1880 has been compiled and published by Michael Gandy (Catholic Missions and Registers, 1700-1880, 6 volumes). This publication is particularly valuable as it lists all missions for which registers are known, the dates covered by the registers and their location; it also indicates what transcriptions, if any, exist. Most transcriptions have concentrated on the period up to about 1840, after that date virtually all the information is available in the civil registration records where it is much more accessible.

The Catholic Family History Society has transcribed a number of registers which can be viewed at the Catholic National Library, at the Society of Genealogists library or in the relevant county record office. Other transcriptions have been made and published, for example by the Catholic Record Society; copies of the publication are held at the Catholic Central Library and limited runs by county record offices and other archives and reference libraries. See Gandy’s Catholic Missions and Registers for information about available transcriptions. AIFHS members have checked many of the Catholic FHS transcriptions, any Italian surnames found have been entered in the society’s names.

AIFHS has a nearly completed major project to transcribe the registers of St Peter's Church, Clerkenwell Road, Holborn (The Italian Church). Contact the Transcriptions coordinator for more information, or members can search an index of these and other transcribed records in the Members area.

The registers of Roman Catholic churches or chapels were usually recorded in Latin and may or may not include attempts to latinise forenames.

Most baptism registers will provide the following information:

  • Date of baptism and sometimes date of birth
  • Full name of child
  • Father's name
  • Mother's maiden name
  • Names of godparents (these are often relatives, even if they do not share the same surname, so it is worth keeping a note of these).
  • The officiating priest.

There may be other notes in the register, particularly if a child or one of its parents died, or it may even note the marriage of the child concerned. It is rare for an illegitimate birth to go unrecorded. Note that after 1837 the civil birth certificates contain more information than church baptism registers

Marriage records

These can be more helpful to family historians because in addition to the information provided in the civil marriage certificate they may also give the name of the mother of the bride and the groom and parents place of residence.

Burial records

Few Roman Catholic churches or chapels had their own burial ground since they were only legally established in 1852, prior to that date burials would have been in the cemetery of the CoE parish church. The information contained in Roman Catholic burial registers varies considerably. Many municipal cemeteries have a Roman Catholic section.

Census Records

Although the first British census was taken in 1801, the censuses before 1841 were intended to be head counts only and few records helpful to family historians survive.

Apart from 1841 where the information is more limited, the census return provides a snapshot of the family living together at that time, including their relationship to the head of household. BUT there may be other family members who were not at home on that particular night, who may have lived where they worked, may have been in the hospital or workhouse, or have recently married and moved out.

From 1851-2011 the census return will give you the following information for each member of the household present at the address on census night:

  • Name
  • Relationship to head of household
  • Marital status
  • Age
  • Occupation
  • Place of birth

The spelling of surnames, particularly of those that are difficult for an English speaker, may be VERY unusual or unexpected, sometimes almost unrecognisable.

The return will tell you their ages BUT people often lied, or did not have a clear idea of how old they were, so don't take this as absolutely truth.

It will tell you where they were born BUT this may just say Italy, or may be a poor attempt by the enumerator based on what he thought he heard from a heavily accented informant. There may also have been reasons why a family chose not to be entirely truthful. If you are very lucky though it will tell you exactly where they were born, providing you with the information you need to trace the family through the Italian records.

The form may say that a couple were married BUT no proof was required of any statement made to the enumerator.

Because of the Italian practice of giving surname first, surname and forenames may be transposed.

Finding Someone In The Census

Many censuses have now been indexed by surname which makes searching for relatives much easier. However, because of the difficulties enumerators had with Italian names and problems the indexers subsequently had with reading the enumerators’ handwriting or with stained or damaged returns or poor films, it can make finding the return easier if you know the address of the family at the time of the census, for example from a birth or a marriage certificate with a date close to  the census or from a Post Office directory.

Films of all census returns can be seen at The National Archives (TNA), which also has copies of published indexes; county record offices and local studies libraries usually have films covering their area of interest, they may also have indexes available for consultation. Visitors to TNA can access the Ancestry on line indexes and images free of charge (see below).

Census indexes and images are now accessible online at the following websites. Not all sites give complete coverage but more records are added frequently and websites should be checked regularly for the latest news on coverage.

FamilySearch.org (free including 1881 transcription, but no census images)

FreeCEN (free - partial coverage 1841-1891)

British Origins (subscription - 1841, 1861, 1871)

Findmypast (pay per view - 1841-1911

ancestry.co.uk (subscription - 1841-1911)

1901 census online.com (subscription - 1841-1911)

Most census images are also available on CD ROM, with a number of companies offering competing products.

LDS Family History Centres are usually able to get copies of census films for a fee, for viewing at the centre.

The Anglo-Italian Family History Society has extracted Italian names from censuses; browsing a list is often an easier way of searching for names that have been misspelled. For further details email the census coordinator or members can login and search

Immigration Records In The UK

Introduction

There is a very wide range of documents available for consultation, not all of them obviously related to immigration, and specialist advice is necessary to get the most out of the records. The leaflets produced by The National Archives are a good starting point and can be accessed online but you should consult the book by Bevan for general guidance or Kershaw and Pearsall for a detailed discussion of sources (see below, Further Reading).

Immigration to England has rarely been recorded or controlled in a coherent and systematic way for any length of time; it has always been subject to the political vagaries of the time, for example wars or revolution, and immigrants have even been subject to special taxation. Even when registration has been required the law has often not been consistently applied across the whole country, if at all, and whatever records were made at the time were often not retained for more than a few years. As a consequence investigating the arrival of individuals is rarely an easy task particularly before the middle of the 19th century and finding details of a particular individual is often impossible, it may rely on the chance preservation of a small selection of documents or the use of related groups of papers.

The majority of the documents that need to be consulted are held at The National Archives at Kew. Some relevant documents are held by county record offices but they usually only cover restricted periods just for the county concerned and they were often created for limited specific purposes, usually at times of war. Few if any of these records are available for inspection on line although many record offices and especially The National Archives have online catalogues. As almost all documents are only available for personal inspection it will be necessary for you either to visit the record office in person or employ a professional researcher to do so for you.

Denization and Naturalisation

For the vast majority of aliens before 1880 there was little or no advantage in applying for naturalisation, which conferred full citizenship, or denization, which granted more restricted rights. The processes were expensive and were usually only undertaken by the very wealthy; essentially the only benefits related to taxation and the inheritance of property. All the denization and naturalisation papers held at TNA, including any rejected applications, have been indexed by surname and are included in the online catalogue. Naturalisation was only available to someone prepared to take Holy Communion according to the Anglican rite, effectively barring Roman Catholics and hence many Italians.

The Huguenot Society has published transcriptions of naturalisation records between 1509 and 1800, the original records are held by the House of Lords Record Office.

In 1844 the naturalisation process was simplified and copies of certificates as well as correspondence on individual applications survive from that date. However, it should be born in mind that many documents have no public access for 30 years after creation and personal correspondence is usually not available for 100 years. The collection of copy certificates is known to be incomplete.

Registration of Aliens

Before 1793 there were a few infrequent periodic surveys of aliens, details of which have been published, and because aliens had to pay higher taxes, taxation records may also yield some names. For most of the eighteenth century passes in and out of the country were required and have been recorded but they are only partially indexed. For those people travelling with servants, etc, only the primary name is recorded, even family members are often not listed individually.

Between 1793 and 1826 aliens were required to register but the copies apparently have not survived although a list exists for the period from August 1810 to May 1811. Some of the applications have survived in local record offices but only in very limited numbers. For the next 33 years until 1869 aliens were required to sign a certificate on arrival but they survive only until 1852. During that period too, masters of ships were required to send lists of alien passengers to the Home Office, these exist and are filed in date order but are not indexed. For much of the time the lists were only kept for five years before being destroyed. Enforcement of the law was at times very patchy, for example in London in 1842 of the 7716 aliens landed only 4493 registered, at some other ports none were registered. In all little more than half of the aliens arriving that year registered.

From 1905 aliens were only able to enter the UK at the discretion of the authorities but unfortunately records from before 1914 do not exist. Registration was with the local police and so records are generally in county archives but not all have survived, there are no central records. The records for the London metropolitan area contain only about 1000 cases of the many thousands created; by contrast the Bedfordshire Record Office holds 25000, from 1919 until the 1980s. During the First World War many aliens were interned but very few records of individuals survive. A very small sample of personal case files of aliens interned during the Second World War is retained but may be closed for 85 years. Internment camp records containing lists of internees may be inspected but they are filed by the name of the camp.

Passenger Lists

Inward passenger lists exist from 1878 onwards but as they only had to be compiled for ships that had travelled from ports outside Europe they are not likely to contain many Italians. There is only a small collection for arrivals before 1890 but a continuous run thereafter. There are no name or even ship indexes, it is necessary to know at least the approximate date of arrival or the port of entry or the name of the ship. After 1960 lists have not been kept centrally but individual shipping lines may still have them. There are no passenger lists for arrivals by air.

Seamen's Records

If your ancestor was a merchant seaman on a British-registered vessel then the agreements and crew lists from 1835 can be helpful as they include town or country of birth and other details but only a 10% sample has been retained. TNA Readers’ Guide number 20, Records of Merchant Shipping and Seamen should be consulted.

Conclusion

Of necessity this has had to be a very limited survey of the types of record that might shed light on the arrival of an alien in the UK and it is far from complete. What is evident, however, is that more than a little luck will be required to find an Italian ancestor in many of the records. The records are far from complete; often they are not indexed and only available for personal inspection. You will stand more chance of finding someone if there was a war in progress somewhere in Europe at the time; for more recent arrivals knowing the date of arrival will often make life much easier. There are many other types of related records extant which may be relevant, depending on the period of interest.

Further Reading

There are two publications from TNA that cover the records relating to immigration. The first is Tracing your Ancestors in the Public Record Office, by Amanda Bevan (ISBN 1 903365 34 1), it is available from the Society at a reduced price. The second, Immigrants and Aliens, a guide to sources on UK immigration and citizenship by Roger Kershaw and Mark Pearsall (ISBN 1 873162 94 4), is particularly valuable because it gives detailed guidance on the records available and their scope, it lists many other useful sources and also has a summary of relevant holdings in county record offices.

Other Public Records

The National Archives

Discovery searches the catalogue at TNA at Kew online. A search for italy or italians combined with HO finds over 10,000 records relating to, for example, Italian POWs and Italian children brought over to the UK to beg. It can be worth searching for a surname, be prepared to try a number of variations.

County and Local Archives

Most county archives have on line catalogues and the Access to Archives A2A website, is a portal which searches catalogues describing archives held throughout England and dating from the eighth century to the present day.

AIM25 is a major project to provide electronic access to collection level descriptions of the archives of over one hundred higher education institutions, learned societies, cultural organisations and livery companies within the greater London area. The site provides information on where to find archives (e.g. church records) that may be of interest. This work is in progress - new data is being added regularly, so please visit often to see latest additions.

Transcription Projects

It is one of the aims of the Anglo Italian Family History Society to undertake the indexing of relevant records. If you would like to become involved, please contact our Transcriptions coordinator.