Category Archives: Emigration and Immigration

Top 7 Frequently Asked Questions about Trentino Genealogy

Top 7 Frequently Asked Questions about Trentino Genealogy

Quick guide to researching your Trentino ancestors. For absolute beginners through intermediates. By genealogist Lynn Serafinn.

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THE AIM OF THIS ARTICLE

I am continually delighted to meet new people who are starting their genealogy journey, as well as others seeking to dive more deeply into their past research. I must confess, however, mainly because of our ever-growing Trentino Genealogy group on Facebook, I find myself answering many of the same fundamental questions several times a week. While most of these questions are from people who are new to Trentino research, some come from those who have reached a roadblock, and are wondering how to move past it.

Don’t get me wrong. I do understand how overwhelmed people can get by ‘information overload’ when researching their Trentino ancestors. Most beginners simply don’t know where to start. They don’t know what kinds of resources are available, what they contain, or where to find them. To make matters even more difficult, some (not just beginners) may not understand Italian, and even fewer will understand Latin. Those who are second, third or even fourth generation descendants of Trentino emigrants might be unfamiliar with the culture, history, religion, or geography of province, and be baffled by names of both people and places.

For all these reasons, I’ve put together this ‘FAQ’ of the most frequently asked questions I receive from people who are trying to find their Trentino ancestors. I also decided to make it a FREE downloadable eBook so people can keep it and refer to it whenever they need answers. In this way, I hope my fellow Trentini will start to feel more confident and informed when they approach their research.

My intention in writing this article is to help family historians who:

  • Are NEW to Trentino research and don’t know WHERE TO START.
  • Are UNFAMILIAR with (and sometimes confused by) names of PLACES.
  • Have hit a BRICK WALL preventing them from moving forward.
  • Are wondering where to find the ORIGINAL RECORDS.
  • Have done some research but want to dive DEEPER.
  • Are trying to find LIVING RELATIVES in Trentino.
  • Are wondering WHY your ancestors decided to emigrate.

PLEASE NOTE: As a policy, I never discuss issues related to obtaining dual citizenship, and I cannot help you with obtaining certified copies of documents. Instead, I refer to you Chris Lorenzoni at Lorenzoni Dual Citizenship Services for these kinds of questions.

So now, let’s get started.

Q1. I AM A COMPLETE BEGINNER. WHERE DO I START?

If your family emigrated from Trentino to a different part of the world, the best place to start is to make sure you have put together all the available documentation from the country where they settled. For example, if your family immigrated to the United States, locate as many of these kinds of documents from the US that you can:

  • US birth, marriage, and death records
  • Military registration
  • US census records
  • Name change documents (if applicable)
  • Naturalisation documents (if applicable)
  • Ship’s manifests and/or Ellis Island records (if available)
  • Obituaries (these are less reliable sources of information, but sometimes they can help fill in the gaps).
  • Cemetery/grave information

Places to look for these kinds of documents include Ancestry dot com, FamilySearch dot org, Newspapers dot com, FindAGrave dot com, the Ellis Island website, as well as local parishes, registry offices and cemeteries. While Ancestry and Newspapers require paid subscriptions to access their databases, the other sites do not.

YOUR AIM SHOULD BE: to establish, as confidently as you can, the name(s), and possibly village of origin, of your most recent Trentino-born ancestor(s).

Working with US (or whatever country) records before diving into Trentino might seem ‘unexotic’ to you, but it is absolutely crucial, and it should always be your first step when you are just starting out. So many people want to leap immediately into working with Trentino resources, but unless you have already given careful attention (and gathered of multiple sources) at this stage of your research, you might end up wasting a lot of time later, as you could be researching people who are not your ancestors at all.

Please trust me on this one. I’ve had more than one client come to me assuming their ancestor was someone who ultimately turned out to be the wrong person. This is why I always spend time confirming or correcting this information before I start using the Trentino resources to find my clients’ ancestors. Thus, do not overlook this essential step.

WORST WAY TO RESEARCH: Taking Information from Other People’s Trees

Do not EVER rely on information you see in OTHER people’s trees. Sadly, there is often more wrong genealogical information on the Internet than there is accurate information. I have seen so many trees, grave memorials, etc., that contained wrong names, wrong dates, wrong places, and had the wrong person attached to a family. Check everything, and if it does not make sense to you, reject it. And if it makes sense to you, FIND DOCUMENTATION to prove it is correct.

Also, if you find a tree online where someone has linked a source to a particular person or fact (birth, marriage, death, etc.), locate/download that source and analyse it yourself. Do not immediately assume the tree owner has attached that source to the correct person. Similarly, don’t automatically trust the ‘hints’ you are given on the various websites as accurate either. These sites will typically make source suggestions for different people who have similar names (or even the same name). Analyse EVERYTHING.

CITING SOURCES: The Importance of RECORDING Your Documentation

When you have decided that you have found a reliable source of information, don’t just add the information to your tree. If you find the source online, DOWNLOAD it to your computer, and LABEL it so you know what it is. If you have the ability to LINK the source to the person or fact, do so.

But don’t just stop there. In the description field for the fact, write down WHERE this information came from. Don’t say ‘Ancestry’, as that isn’t a ‘source’ but a repository. The source is the actual document. Write down the type of document, year, place, volume, page number or whatever else is relevant. That way, you can always trace your way back to the source and cross-check your information later. For more information on how to cite sources (and why), see my 2017 article ‘Genealogical Breadcrumbs: Notes, Sources, and Reviewing Research’.

Q2. DID MY ANCESTORS COME FROM AUSTRIA, TYROL, OR ITALY? HELP! I AM CONFUSED!

I must be asked this question at least three times a week. People are frequently confused because their ancestors’ records in the USA (or other country) typically say they came from ‘Austria’ or ‘Tyrol’, but they cannot their family’s village on a modern map of Austria. Or perhaps some, but not all, documents say they came from ‘Italy’.

So why is this? Where did our ancestors really come from?

Trentino was actually an autonomous principality within the Holy Roman Empire for most of its history, roughly between the years 800 and 1800. Historically, it was often (although not always) considered to be part of the County of Tyrol; however, today, the Tyrol is ONLY in Austria, and it no longer includes Trentino. After the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire by Napoleon, and Napoleon’s ultimate defeat, Trentino was ruled by the Austrian empire (and later Austro-Hungarian empire) throughout the 19th century and early 20th centuries. Then, at the end of the First World War, it finally became part of Italy in 1918.

Due to this complex history, many emigrants who were born before (or just after) WW1 identified as being from ‘Austria’ or ‘Tyrol’.  As an example, my own father, who was born in 1919 (just after Trentino became part of Italy) recorded his place of birth as ‘Tyrol’ in his US military registration for WW2. In one US census, it said my father was born in Italy, but his elder sister (born 1915) was born in Austria. This is somewhat bizarre because, while technically correct, my aunt and my father were actually born in the same house!

No wonder people are confused!

These various labels dive deeply into the concept of cultural identity, and they can still strike a nerve in people today. For a detailed explanation of this (often sensitive) topic, I refer you to an article I wrote in 2019 entitled Ethnicity Vs. Cultural Identity. Trentino, Tyrolean, Italian?

Q3. TRENTO, TRENTINO, VALLEY, PARISH, COMUNE? HELP! I AM CONFUSED!

People new to Trentino research are often confused by how Trentini describe where they came from. For example, the name ‘Trento’ can refer both to the CITY of Trento or the PROVINCE of Trento (which is also known as Trentino). In my experience, 95% of people who come to me saying their ancestors came ‘from Trento’ actually mean the PROVINCE and not the city (but they are often unaware of the distinction). The fact is, the vast majority of Trentini who emigrated came from the rural valleys of the province, not the city of Trento.

Secondly, many people mistakenly refer to the province of Trento/Trentino as ‘South Tyrol’, whereas that is actually the official name of a different province, namely the province of Bolzano (adjacent/north of Trentino). Trentino and the South Tyrol together comprise the ‘region’ known as ‘Trentino-Alto Adige’ (AKA Trentino-Südtirol).

One of the most common ‘labels’ by which Trentini identify themselves is the VALLEY from which they come, such as Val di Non, Val di Sole, Val Giudicarie, Val di Fiemme, etc. Identifying oneself with a valley might seem odd to someone from outside Trentino, but when you visit the province and see how the mountainous Dolomite terrain defines (and often confines) the lay of the land, you can begin to understand how valleys have moulded identity, history, and culture. In fact, most valleys even have their own dialects (sometimes more than one).

PARISHES, which are not usually thought of as ‘places’ in the English-speaking world, were usually pretty much synonymous with the civil municipality (COMUNE) in the past. However, while most parishes have remained more or less the same over the centuries, many comuni have changed in recent years, as rural populations have declined.

To understand more about the unique structure an nomenclature of Trentino valleys, parishes and villages,  I refer you to this article I wrote in 2020 entitled ‘Trentino Valleys, Parishes and People. A Guide for Genealogists’. It includes a list and map of all the valleys.

Q4. I KNOW THE NAME(S) OF MY MOST RECENT TRENTINO-BORN ANCESTORS. HOW CAN I FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THEM?

Once you have firmly established who your most recent Trentino-born ancestor is, the next step would be to use the Nati in Trentino website, which is a database of all births/baptisms in Trentino between the years 1815-1923.

Nati in Trentino was created by archivists at the Diocesan Archives in Trento, and is generally very accurate (occasionally I find errors, but if you report these, they are usually corrected very quickly). The link to the website is: https://www.natitrentino.mondotrentino.net/

The database tells you the full name of the child baptised, the names of the parents, the date of birth, and the parish of baptism (which is typically the same as the place of birth).

If you have never used the Nati in Trentino website before (especially if you cannot understand Italian), I recommend watching my YouTube video tutorial on how to use it. If you cannot see the video below, click this link and you can watch it on YouTube: https://youtu.be/zC2RteXvuhA.

In this video, I translate the keywords in the search fields, and give you some tips on how to use and get the most from the site.

Q5: HOW FAR BACK CAN I TRACE MY TRENTINO ANCESTORS?

Although Nati in Trentino only goes back to the year 1815, the recording of births, marriage, and deaths was mandated by the Council of Trento in the 1560s. Thus, notionally, the birth and marriage records in Trentino go back to around the year 1565; death records tended not to be recorded until the mid-1600s.

As parish records are physical books, however, not all of them have survived over the centuries. Some (especially in parishes near the southern border) were destroyed during one of the World Wars. Others might have been damaged or destroyed by local fires. Others may simply have been lost.

That said, a remarkable percentage of the Trentino parish registers HAVE survived the ages, with some even extending into the 1550s (although this is rare). There are literally millions of surviving Trentino records.

Moreover, for some families – especially those who were NOTARIES or NOBILITY – it is sometimes possible to trace the family back to the 1400s (or even the 1300s) by researching old legal parchments. Hundreds of these are summarised (and searchable) on the Archivi Storici di Trento website, although this is a bit tricky to use if you are unfamiliar with it. Many parchments have been transcribed by historians and published in articles and books (I own a substantial collection of these). If you are good with Italian or Latin, these kinds of resources can frequently help to expand your ancient family tree to the late medieval era.

To learn more about the important role of the NOTARY in Trentino society, I refer you to an article I wrote in 2018 entitled ‘Was One of Your Trentino Ancestors a Notary?

To learn more about the types of NOBILITY in Trentino society, see my 2020 video podcast entitled ‘Nobility and Noble Ancestors’ on YouTube at https://youtu.be/ktzg9OoMGRk.

Q6. HOW CAN I SEE THE ORIGINAL PARISH RECORDS? ARE THEY AVAILABLE ONLINE ANYWHERE?

Let’s say you’ve gone as far as you can with the Nati in Trentino website. Perhaps you just want to go further in time, or perhaps you want to break through a brick wall. Here are typical questions people ask:

  • How do I find records before 1815?
  • How do I find out marriage and death information?
  • Where can I look at the parish records?
  • What other kinds of things can the parish records tell me?
  • I found more than one option for my ancestor on Nati in Trentino. How do I figure out who he/she actually was?

While the Nati in Trentino website is always the best starting point, the original parish records often have a lot more information, such as the names of the grandparents, names of godparents, occupation of the father, the specific village in which a family may have lived. Also, priests (at least in the 19th and 20th centuries) would often scribble in ‘margin notes’ next to baptismal entries, what might include the person’s death date, marriage information, confirmation date, and other miscellanea.

So where can we see these richly informative records?

Unfortunately, they are NOT online ANYWHERE.

However, that does not mean you cannot find them or see them. Below are three possible options.

OPTION 1: LDS Family History Centres

MOST of the parish records for the diocese of Trento were microfilmed by the LDS church (the same people who run FamilySearch) back in the 1980s. They USED to allow you to order these microfilms for viewing at their Family History Centres, but about 5 years ago they discontinued this service, because they could no longer maintain repairs on the ancient microfilm readers. The only place where you can still view the microfilms is in their main Family History Centre in Salt Lake City. The LDS church have promised to digitise all of the Trentino records, but after 5 years, only a handful (about 4 or 5%) of the parish have been converted to digital. All of the LDS’s digital images are viewable at their Family History Centres, but not online. If you don’t know where your local Family History Centre is, CLICK HERE to find one on the FamilySearch website.

If you click HERE, you can see a list of all the Trentino parishes they microfilmed. Please note that the link I’ve given includes some CIVIL records for Trentino (‘Stato Civili’), which will be for the 19th century only.

If you click on a specific parish (‘parrocchia’), it will show you whether that parish is available digitally or only on microfilm. If they are only available on microfilm, your only option is to go to Salt Lake City (but check back regularly to see if the status of your ancestors’ parish has changed). If there is a digital image icon next to the film, you can also view those records at the nearest Family History Centre.

Microfilm icon on FamilySearch website microfilm icon on FamilySearch website
Digital image icon on FamilySearch website digital image icon on FamilySearch website

As of this writing (November 2023), of the 400+ parishes in the Diocese of Trento, the only parishes that have been at least partially digitised are Ala, Arco, Baselga di Pinè, Besenello, Borgo Valsugana, Brentonico, Fiera di Primiero, Imer, Levico, Lizzana, Mezzano (different place from Mezzana), Mori, Pergine Valsugana, Povo (a frazione of the city of Trento), Riva del Garda, Rovereto (both San Marco and Santa Maria parishes), Sacco, Sagron-Mis, the city of Trento (Duomo di San Vigilio, Santa Maria Maggiore, Church of San Pietro e Paolo, Santa Maria Maddalena), Strigno, Vigolo Vattaro, Villa Lagarina, and Volano. There may be others by the time you read this.

Thus far, the records that have been digitised are all from parishes in the southern and southeastern part of the province, with a noticeable absence of any parish from Val di Non, Val di Sole, or Val Giudicarie (which, in my experience, are the valleys from which the largest number of immigrants settled in the US).

There are also digital records from Nova Trento in Brazil, starting in 1892 (be aware that these are in Portuguese).

For those who are a bit more advanced, there are also digital images of several ‘urbari’ (singular ‘urbare’), or taxation records for Faedo, Arz, Segonzano, Ivano-Fracena, Castelfondo, Livo, Persen, Segonzano, Telve, the city of Trento, and other places, with some dating back to the early 1400s. These are actually viewable ONLINE. Such documents are not always useful for genealogy because surnames were not yet in common use in the early 1400s, and some people (usually nobility) were exempt from paying taxes, and do not always show up in the urbari. Still, they are worth checking out as you just might find something unexpected.

OPTION 2: The Diocesan Archives In Trento

As mentioned, ALL of the parish records for Trentino were digitised by the Diocese of Trento around 2007, and they are viewable at their centre IN Trento (sadly, not online), where you can also purchase the images you want for a nominal fee.

There were several books of records that, for whatever reason, the LDS failed to microfilm back in the 1980s. Most of those have since been digitised by the Diocese of Trento, and these are likewise viewable/purchasable in Trento. The nice thing about these is that they are in high-definition COLOUR, rather than grainy, black-and-white images.

If you are planning a trip to Trento, and you wish to do some research at the Diocesan Archives, you MUST reserve a workstation in advance, as they have limited seating (only about 5 or 6 computers). Do to this, send an email to the archives at archivio@diocesitn.it, with the date(s) and timeslot(s) you intend to visit, and see if they are able to reserve a desk for you. Try to do this at least a month in advance (two months, if possible). Also, be mindful of others hoping to reserve a desk, and let the archivists know well in advance if you need to cancel, so they can offer your spot to someone else.

The archives are located at Via Endrici, 14, Trento (2nd floor). Their opening hours are Monday-Thursday from 9AM-12 noon, and 2PM-5PM (closed for 2 hours for lunch). If you have been there in the past, please note that they are no longer open on Fridays.

If you cannot go to Trento, and you have one or two files you would like to obtain, you can sometimes obtain them via email. However, you will need to know either the precise date of the birth/marriage/death, or at least a very close estimate, as the archivists cannot do extensive research for you. You might have to to wait a long time for a reply (sometimes a few months), as response time to email requests has become considerably slower than it used to be before the pandemic.

Bear in mind that most people at the archives do NOT speak English. So if you communicate via email, it is a good idea to write your letter in Italian, if you know the language. If you don’t speak Italian, just write your email in English, rather than try to cobble together something using Google translate (although the archivists might use Google to translate your English). Don’t be tempted to send them a long story about your family’s history, as it will only make it more difficult for them to read. Make it short, polite, and easy to understand.

OPTION 3: Contact Lynn Serafinn

As a professional genealogist, I have amassed a sizeable digital collection of full (and nearly full) volumes of parish records over the years, especially for most of Val di Non and Val di Sole, and parts of Val Giudicarie. Moreover, I have worked extensively with them, and I have done much to organise and label all the records. This has enabled me to find records at least 5 times faster working from home than if I were working with the digital library in Trento, and at least 10 times faster than if I were working with microfilm.

I also keep a running record of trees I have made containing specific surnames and/or specific parishes, which means I can occasionally patch in branches/twigs onto your family tree from another I have already made. While I cannot guarantee this will be the case for you, if it does, I means I can potentially add many new (and fully sourced) generations of ancestors to your tree in less than an hour, as opposed to several days.

Additionally, I also have a substantial home library (over 600 physical books, and hundreds of PDFs, all in Italian) of Trentino local histories, including many books of parchment transcriptions. I utilise these regularly to go deeper into the origins and evolution of surnames, and migration of families within Trentino.

For those who wish help with research outside of the parishes I own in my personal collection, I can do research for you when I visit Trento. Please note that, while I used to go to Trento 3 months a year, recent health issues have prevented me from travelling as frequently as I used to, but I do hope to be able to spend at least one month a year there starting in 2024.

If you are thinking about asking me for help, I request that you first check out my rates on my SERVICES PAGE.

If that all looks good to you, and you wish to discuss how to get started, send me an email via my CONTACT PAGE to request a free 30-minute consultation via WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or Skype.

Q7: HOW CAN I FIND LIVING RELATIVES IN TRENTINO?

This is a bit of a challenge because, due to privacy reasons, records for people born after 1923 are not publicly available.

In my experience, the best way to find living relatives is to create your OWN family tree, tracing your ancestors back at least to the middle of the 1800s, ensuring you include all siblings of your ancestors. Then, using the parish registers, try to find the marriage and death records of these siblings, and was well as the births, marriages, and death of their children (if applicable) up to the year 1923. Also, look for any margin notations (especially in baptismal records) that might give dates of marriages and deaths that took place after 1923. SOME parish registers will have birth, marriages, and death listed in their INDEX that go as late as the 1940s, even if the actual page of the register isn’t viewable. Finding such an index and can often help you push your relatives at least to the mid-20th century.

If you are a member of our Trentino Genealogy Facebook group, you can also post a query to the group to see if anyone there is related to your family line, even if distantly. Sometimes this can help you connect the dots. Some people in the group might even still live in the parish from which your ancestors came. If you do post a question, be sure to ask a specific question and give details (name, parish, dates) rather than just ask, ‘Does anyone know anything about my family?’

Lastly, if you plan to take a trip to your ancestral parish, PRINT OUT a copy of your EXTENDED family tree (including all siblings of your ancestors, and their descendants), and possibly also an ancestor report, and take this with you when you visit. If you have a software application such as Family Tree Maker (which is what I use), you can do this easily. Then, when you go to your ancestral home, SHOW this tree to locals in the village, and see if someone there can help identify possible relatives.

I used this technique back when I was starting my own search for living relatives, and I reconnected with all the grandchildren of my grandparents’ siblings (i.e., my 2nd cousins). I have also helped a few clients do the same, using the same technique.

BONUS QUESTION: WHY DID MY ANCESTORS LEAVE TRENTINO?

There is one more question I am frequently asked, especially by people who have visited Trentino and were profoundly moved by its breathtaking beauty. That question is:

‘WHY did my ancestors emigrate?
How could they LEAVE this beautiful place?’

While I cannot possibly know the exact reason why your ancestors chose to leave the province, my 2020 video podcast entitled ‘Emigration and Immigration’ should shed some light on Trentino history, politics, ecology, and economy from the mid-19th century to the early 20th century (the period during which most mass emigrations took place), which may have contributed to your ancestors’ decision to emigrate. When we understand these factors with empathy, we can get an idea of how emigration was not always a quest to ‘find the American Dream’, but a desperate flight for survival.

If you cannot see the video in the window above, you can find it on YouTube at https://youtu.be/-CmXlwwcHjE

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That’s it for now. I do hope you found these FAQs to be useful, and that you will use this information to help you in your research.

If you have other questions not covered by this article, please ask them in the comments below, or send me an email via the contact form on this website. 

Would you like to KEEP this FAQ refer to any time you want? Just select the paper size you want below. It’s absolutely FREE. This 10-page, printable PDF includes a clickable table of contents, bookmark navigation, and lots of links. 

LETTER SIZE, 8.5 X 11 inches


A4 SIZE, 21 cm X 29.7 cm

Click HERE to browse more eBooks in my digital shop.

Until next time!

Lynn Serafinn, genealogist at Trentino Genealogy

Warm wishes,
Lynn Serafinn
Genealogist at https://trentingenealogy.com
8 November 2023

P.S. Personal health issues have kept me from travelling to Trento in 2023, but I DO hope to be back in spring of 2024 (fingers crossed).

THE GOOD NEWS IS: I have MANY resources for research here in my home library, and I am able to do research for many clients without having to travel to Trento. My client roster is fully booked through the end of 2023, but I am now taking bookings for 2024.

If you would like to book a time to discuss having me do research for you, I invite you to read my ‘Genealogy Services’ page, and then drop me a line using the Contact form on this site. Then, we can set up a free 30-minute chat to discuss your project.

Join our Trentino Genealogy Group on Facebook: http://facebook.com/groups/TrentinoGenealogy

Lynn on Twitter: http://twitter.com/LynnSerafinn

View my Santa Croce del Bleggio Family Tree on Ancestry:
https://trentinogenealogy.com/my-tree/

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