Reading Civil Records

Barely Legible Birth Act 1811
Barely Legible Birth Act Recorded in Ardore, RC in 1811

In my post titled Civil Records I briefly touched on civil registration and records and their history. In this post I’m going to talk about reading civil records – even if you don’t speak/read/write Italian!

The Bad News

Most people take one look at these old records and automatically say, “I can’t read this!” I can’t blame people really. Most of the acts I’ve seen – especially the older ones – are not very legible. Many times the person writing the acts did not have very good handwriting but in fairness, very few actually were able to afford a full education and civil records were not really something they cared about. These same records now sit in the cold, damp basements of the municipality offices in their respective towns and after more than 200 hundred years in poor conditions/inferior paper quality are subjected to bleed-through and mold. Of course they’re hard to read!

The Good News

Angela Ferraro Birth ACt 1866
Angela Ferraro Birth Act 1866

All civil records, regardless of whether they were pre printed on forms and filled in or completely handwritten contain the same information. Only the vital details such as dates, times, names, etc changed with each record so with a bit of practice it really isn’t that hard to extract the information you are looking for. Keep in mind that on some REALLY bad records you may not be able to read all of it but it still may contain clues than you can use to help you with your research.

Acts and forms did evolve and change slightly over the years but the information recorded is still basically the same. Below I have tried to break down an act to give you an idea of what and where to look for important information.

ATTI DI NASCITA – Italian Birth Act

Marriage Act

Death Act

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