08 June 2010

How To Read An Italian Civil Birth Act

1863 Birth act of Domenico Luongo

How To Read An Italian Civil Birth Act

I've had several people ask me how to read these things, so thought I'd post a quick tutorial.  It's very easy to learn and although it's helpful to be able to read Italian, it's really not necessary.  You can extract the basic info by learning just a few key words.  We'll practice with Domenico Luongo's 1863 birth act, shown above.  

Please keep in mind that the English translations are very loose :-) and you can enlarge any of the photos by clicking on them.  You'll also need to forgive my haphazard squiggles.  I used to be able to color within the lines, but now I'm old and suffer from carpal tunnel.

Start at the top left  of the page with the act number.

1: "N. d'ordine 2"

English:  Number 2.  (Like you really needed my help for that one, eh?)

Italian civil acts are organized in large books - one book per year for each type of act (births, deaths, marriages and banns)... so this would be death act number 2 for the year 1863.

Next up is the date, which is always written out in long form.

2:  "L'anno milleottocentosessantatre, il di tre di Gennaio alle ore sedici."

English:  In the year one thousand (mille) eight hundred (otto cento) and sixty three (sessantre) on the day of three (tre) January (Gennaio) at the hour of sixteen (sedici). 

In other words - 3 January 1863 at 4:00 pm.  Usually military time is used, but sometimes you'll see antimeridiano (A.M.) or pomeridiano (P.M.)

The date at the top of the page is the date the act was filed.  Sometimes this is also the actual date on which the event occured, but many times it is not.  The date of the event will always be found further down on the page.

Now we discover who wrote the act.  Usually this will be the Mayor (Sindaco) or his assistant (Sindaco Assessore).

3: "Avanti di noi Achille de Dominicis, Sindaco ed Uffiziale dello Stato Civile di Torre le Nocelle, Provincia di Principato Ultra."

English:  Before me, Achille de Dominicis, Mayor and Official of the Civil Acts of Torre le Nocelle, Province of Principato Ultra.

Interesting to note - Achille's surname carries over onto the next line.  "De Domini" is at the end of the first line and "cis" at the beginning of the second one.  Italy doesn't follow our rules of hyphenation.  When they run out of room... they break off and drop down to the next line.

Now we get to the good stuff - the declarant - aka the person that parked themselves in the Anagrafe office to tell the Mayor what was up.

4: " e comparso Emiddio Luongo, figlio del fu Nicola, di anni sessanta, di professione contadino, domiciliato in questo comune."

English:  .. and declares Emiddio Luongo, son (figlio) of the deceased (del fu) Nicola Luongo, age (di anni) sixty (sessanta), profession farmer (contadino), living (domiciliato) in this town (in questo comune).

The word "fu" literally translates to "was".  If you see fu (singular) or furono (plural) before a name or names ... you can be fairly certain he/she/they are dead.  I say fairly certain as I have seen a few errors... but we won't go there right now.

Next comes the info on the child and parents.

5:  "Quale ci a presentato un bambino abbiamo ocularmente riconosciuto, ed a dichiarato che lo stesso nato da..."

English:  Who presents a male child which we have seen with our own eyes, and declares the same child was born to...

Yep, Italians are a sociable lot ... and training begins on the day of birth.  The baby is presented  for the filing of the act.  Fortunately the same does not apply for the deceased and their death acts.

BambinO = male child.  BambinA = female child.  Sometimes they'll also use neonato / neonata - same thing.

6: "... da Consolata Trodella, di anni quaranta, domiciliata ivi.."

English:  to Consolata Trodella, age forty (quaranta), living there...

On some acts you'll see "sua moglie legittima" or "his legitimate wife" after the mothers name. 

7: "... e da esso Emiddio Luongo, di anni sessanta, di professione contadino, domiciliato come sopra..."

English:  .. and to Emiddio Luongo, age sixty, profession farmer, living as above (come sopra).

If the father is unknown - or known but not legally married to the mother - you'll find incerto (uncertain) where the fathers name should be. 

Now the actual date of birth.

8: "nel giorno due del mese di Gennaio alle ore tredici nella casa propria"

English: On day two (due) of the month of January at the hour of thirteen (alle ore tredici) in their home (nella casa propria).

2 January 1863 at 1:00 pm in the family home.

Now the name of the child.

9:  "Lo stesso inoltre a dichiarato di dare al bambino il nome di Domenico."

English: The same (meaning the father) has declared (dichiarato) that they have given to the child (di dare al bambino) the name of (il nome di) Domenico.

At the bottom we have the witnesses - two for each act.

I won't get into the legalese on this part - suffice it to say they were present, probably complimented the baby, congratulated the father ... and then went back to their espresso and card game.

10:  "Antonio Luongo, di professione contadino, regnicolo domiciliato in questo comune."

English: Antonio Luongo, profession contadino, native (regnicolo) living in this town (domiciliato in questo comune).

11:  Ciriaco Luongo, di professione contadino, regnicolo domiciliato in questo comune."

English:  Ditto for Ciriaco Luongo.

Often you'll see ages listed for the witnesses - don't trust 'em.  They're like the traffic lights in Rome - only a suggestion.  One day you'll see a witness shown as age forty, and a week later the same guy will show up (presumably due to a bad hair day) as age fifty-five.

12:  Signatures.  Here you'll find the signatures of the Sindaco, the Chancellor and (if literate) the father and witnesses.  If you see the phrase "non sapere scrivere" it means they did not know how to write.

And finally, the baptismal section. This information doesn't always appear in the civil birth acts, but if it does it will be in the right margin.
13:  The date the baptismal info was reported to the anagrafe office - in this case it was the same date as the filing of the act - 3 January 1863.

14: Name of the child who was baptized - Domenico Luongo.

15:  Date of the baptism - "nel giorno sudetto" - "the day above" - meaning the same day.

So there ya' go.  Piece of cake, right?

For those interested, I highly recommend  Trafford R. Cole's "Italian Genealogy Records".  His book covers not only the civil acts, but also includes instructions (with examples) on how to read the more difficult ecclesiastical records.  It's a true life saver for anyone doing their own Italian research.


  1. What can I say? You did a great job breaking this down and making it understandable! You give me the courage to try reading those dastardly films again!

  2. Great job with this tutorial. Most of my clients need theirs translated, I charge a nominal fee, but just because I have to type it up and verify, but I will refer them here, if they want to take this on.
    Thanks again.


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