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Italian Records and the Unification of Italy

From the beginning of the unified republic in 1866, the Napoleonic system of Civil Vital Records was established throughout the republic, and the town officials were nominated to record all Births, Marriages and Deaths among all population. Then, after Pope Pius IX declared the doctrine of papal infallibility and prohibited all faithful Catholics from participating in the political system either as candidates or voters, it created a crisis of conscience among the Italians regarding the State and the Church.

From about 1865 to 1880, in certain areas of Italy, some genealogical records of this period will reveal cases of marriage being recorded after the couple’s had already had several children as illegitimate. Finally, the couple would be forced to remarry by civil rite and to recognize their “illegitimate children” as their own. However, in the parish records, this issue did not occur because the marriage was registered many years before, therefore, no question of legitimacy was raised (Cole 1995).

Many political and religious turbulence that took place at the beginning of the Italian Unification in 1870. In some areas, the genealogical Births and Marriages were greatly affected because of the friction between the Church and the State. It is very important that each Italian descendant have a basic understanding of these historical facts to better understand the complexity of certain regions of early Unified Italy and how those political challenges affected some of the genealogical records of that period.

The History…

When Italy was reunited to its previous boundaries after Napoleon was defeated in 1815, the Lombardy, Venezia, Modena, Tuscany and Parma were under the control of Austria. The Kingdom of Two Sicilies in the South below Rome returned to the Bourbons, and the Papal States were returned to the Pope.

As late as 1850, Latin was the major written language. The Italian language was derived from the Tuscany dialect, and the movement to unify it was led by Alessandro Manzoni in his novel I Premessi Sposi (The Betrothed) and the poetry of Giacomo Leopardi, both made a great effort to create the basis of the Italian language. Even so, it is estimated that, at the unification of Italy in 1870, only approximately 160,000 out of a population of almost 20 million spoke Italian (Smith 1969).

In 1830s Giuseppe Mazzini, a former Carbonari, launched the idea of a united Italy. The idea became very popular among the popular classes. Although the idea didn’t survive too long, it paved the way for Giuseppe Garibaldi and Camilo Benso di Cavour similar movements later on. 

After three attempts of War of Independence against Austria, finally, in 1866 Venetia was successfully annexed to Italy, followed by Rome in 1870, which also became the capital of the new Unified Republic.

As part of the new constitution, Roman Catholic was declared the national religion and the Vatican has declared a separate and independent state with within Rome. The Pope was now guaranteed an annual income from the treasury of state equal to that previously obtained from the papal states.

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