Thirteen Timesaving Tips for Doing Family History Research in Abruzzo

from the 1927 book ‘Abruzzo e Molise’ by Vincenzo Balzano.

We enlisted the expertise of Mark Johnson, an art historian and the acclaimed author of ‘The Patriots of Penne in the Nineteenth Century‘ to share his valuable tips to kickstart the job of researching and tracing your Abruzzese roots.

Start by collecting any old letters, family pictures, journals to identify ancestors and where they came from. Talk to older relatives who may also have such things or perhaps have already done some genealogical research. Start a pedigree chart using one of the free online templates as a worksheet.


Use one of the online genealogical sites such as Ancestry, MyHeritage, or FamilySearch. This will save you from keeping a lot of paperwork that piles up over time. There is also a good chance that at some point your research will tie into what others have already done.

Use the Italian State Archives site for records, called Antenati (Ancestors). Records are organised by branches of the state archives, which for Abruzzo match its four provinces:
L’Aquila, Chieti, Pescara, and Teramo. Go to the site intro ( and click on the “Esplora gli archive” tab and find the province, then city or town you need.

The practice of keeping state records for births, deaths and marriages began in 1809 and continues to the present. Due to privacy laws, the online records end in the early twentieth century, varying slightly from town to town and by type. For example, birth records may not extend past 1902, but death records go up to 1927, or similar. Given those limitations, to research ancestral lines, one needs to know the town or city the ancestor, a grandparent or great-grandparent, was from and the approximate age or year of death or marriage. There is almost always an index of names at the beginning of each year’s records that make it easy to scan through while looking for a particular name. These are usually found near the beginning, but occasionally they are at the end of the records.

Once the first record is found, it will lead to the next. All records contain not only the name of the principal person, but also the names of that person’s parents. They also contain the ages of persons at their death or at their marriage, making it possible to then find their birth records.

Two caveats: first, ages can be spot on or rounded off, so if someone died at age “60” in 1890, they may have been born in 1830, or a couple of years before or after that year. Women kept their birth names throughout their lives as their legal name, which helps in tracing family lines, though occasionally a death record may use their married name.

Birth records contain names of fathers and mothers along with their ages and sometimes their occupations. The day and hour of birth as well as the name or names are recorded.

Death records contain the names of the deceased, his or her occupation, and his or her parents as well as the name of their spouse, though not always. Sometimes the records contain names of surviving children and may specify if the spouse was from a second marriage.

Marriage records give names, ages and occupations of spouses as well as those of their parents. If the couple were from different towns, the marriage likely took place in the home town of the bride.

Records known as “Matrimoni allegati” and “Matrimoni processetti” are gold mines for furthering research. When a couple was preparing to marry, they had to gather and present copies of their birth certificates, death certificates for deceased parents and sometimes grandparents, death records of previous spouses, and if the parents lived in another town or were unable to appear at the record office, letters from parents giving consent for their child to marry – even if the “child” was in their 50s or 60s. These extend the age range of available records. For example, someone who married in 1815 would submit their birth record from, say 1790 and if their father had died in 1803, a copy of his death record would be included.

The names of the parents on one of the older birth records might be written “Antonio di Domenico Rossi” or “Angela di Tommaso di Giorgio”, meaning, “Antonio, son of Domenico Rossi” and “Angela, daughter of Tommaso Di Giorgio”, including the name of the grandfather of the baby. If a name on any record has the word “fu” before it, that person was deceased at the time the record was created.

If the last name you are searching is “Proietto” or “Esposita” or “Esposto”, it means that at some point as you trace the lineage back, you will find an ancestor who was abandoned in an orphanage at birth, which was the common method of dealing with children born out of wedlock. The children were given a first name with one of these last names or sometimes a made-up last name such as “Finestra” (Window), which then passes down through generations.

Avezzano, Castello Orsini-Colonna, pre 1915. From the Alinari archive.

Finally, document your findings. It is simple to copy and paste a web address from Antenati into the database you are using, making it easy for you and others to find the record again. Doing this research takes some patience and becoming familiar with what can be found in the records as well as getting used to reading Italian script, but it also like doing a bit of detective work, finding clues and searching until the name you are seeking pops up. The joy in finding it is enhanced by the fact that the name is not just a name, but part of your heritage and indeed, a part of you.


Read Mark’s account of how helping to trace his wife’s roots led him to write the book, The Patriots of Penne in the Nineteenth Century!

Mark Johnson
Author: Mark Johnson

Mark J. Johnson is a retired professor of art history, author of four books and numerous scholarly publications, mostly about art and architecture in Italy. He and his late wife Mariolina Esposto, a native of Penne, are the parents of 4 and grandparents of 10.

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