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Genealogy > Brief History of Italy for Genealogists

A Brief History of Italy For Genealogists...

Before 1796, Italy was comprised of many autonomous states, under the rule of various invading empires.  The only formal record keeping before this time was by the Catholic church.  In 1564 at the Council of Trent, Pope Pius IV decreed that all Catholic priests maintain written records of the major sacraments - baptism, marriage and extreme unctions (i.e. last rites). These records were kept in Latin, Italian, or a combination of both (I call “Latalian”).  In 1796, Napoleon, Emperor of France, extended his control over Europe through a series of military victories, including an invasion of Italy.  He liberated Italy from it various foreign rulers, and politically unified the country into the Kingdom of Italy, with himself as King.  (Note: The islands of Sicily and Sardinia were not part of this Kingdom at first.)  During Napoleon’s rule, he established a centralized administrative, judicial and civil code, a first for Italy.  He organized Italy into the regions, provinces and towns (comuni), and made the local level (mayor / sindaco) responsible for maintenance of vital records - birth, marriage and death.  These records started generally in 1809-1810 in mainland Italy, and about 1820 in the the Kingdom of Sicily. After Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815, Italy reverted to its pre-unification city states.  However, the positive social changes introduced by Napoleon simmered for many years, until around 1865, when Italy was reunified and became the country we know today. Maintenance of vital records was again a legal requirement, and has remained so ever since.