If you are an American who doesn’t speak Italian, finding a grave in Italy may be tricky. After all, the language barrier alone would cause you to take additional steps to find even a modern grave.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Information Will You Need Before You Try to Find a Grave in Italy?
- Italian-Specific Resources to Help You Find a Grave
- Reasons You Can’t Find a Gravesite in Italy
- Steps for Finding a Grave in Italy for Free
However, if all of the stars align, you could be minutes away from seeing a picture of the headstone you are seeking in Italy. We’ll tell you about the free resources that are available that might allow that to happen.
Before we begin, you need to complete some research on the deceased. A bit of knowledge regarding the language, geography, and history of Italy may help as well.
What Information Will You Need Before You Try to Find a Grave in Italy?
Finding a modern grave in Italy may be as easy as a simple internet search. Google Translate may assist you if you find your search hampered by the language barrier.
However, if you are trying to find an ancestor’s grave in Italy, you need to know the basic biographical data of the deceased.
Here’s information that will assist you in your search.
Of course, the best way to begin your search for a grave in Italy is to find out everything you can about the person’s name, including their given name, nickname (or shortened version of the name), maiden name, or alternate spellings of the name.
However, Italian naming traditions might make it challenging to find the records you are seeking.
According to Italian Genealogy, many Italian families follow a specific order and pattern when naming their children.
- The first male is named after his paternal grandfather.
- The second male is named after his maternal grandfather.
- The first female is named after her paternal grandmother.
- The second female is named after her maternal grandmother.
This tradition is not always followed – especially if there was bad blood between family members.
But if the tradition were followed faithfully, this would mean that six brothers in the same family would name their firstborn sons the same name as each other. So there could potentially be six cousins living in the same community with the same exact name.
So, yes, knowing the name is essential, but you’ll probably need to know additional facts about the deceased to narrow your search.
Using the tools we provide in the next section, you might find a photo of the headstone of Giovanni Rossi. How will you know that this is the monument for THE Giovanni Rossi, your great-great-grandfather? You’ll need to match the birth and death dates to those found in the official records.
According to Family Search, there are a lot of Italian birth and death records available – but they may not all be online.
The church required clergy to keep records in their parishes starting in 1520. Those church records might be your best source of information when looking for a birth, death, or marriage record up to 1808.
Beginning in 1809, the government required civil registrars to keep vital records within a large region of Italy. This practice was more consistent across the country starting in 1865.
If you can find a record of a person’s birth or death and it matches the one found on a headstone, you can be pretty sure that you found the correct gravesite.
However, there’s one additional piece of information that would be important to gather.
The family’s region
It’s essential to know the region in Italy where your family originated when researching your ancestry.
According to Family Search, Italy is subdivided into 20 regions. It is further divided into 109 provinces, and 8,101 municipalities. Records are kept at the town (or community church) level.
Knowing your family’s region is crucial – especially if you are trying to find records more than 100 years old.
Italian-Specific Resources to Help You Find a Grave
Once you have gathered as much information as you can about the deceased, you’re ready to utilize online resources that will help you find a grave in Italy for free.
Find a Grave
Find a Grave calls itself the “world’s largest gravesite collection.” This free website, affiliated with Ancestry, allows users to search for the headstone using the person’s name(s), the year they were born, the year they died, and the location of the death.
If your search doesn’t reveal anything, you might consider searching with fewer (instead of more!) restrictions. For example, if you aren’t sure of the first name that may have been used on the headstone, consider searching with only the last name of the deceased or mark the birth and death date as “approximate.”
Your search may yield an actual photograph of the headstone, taken by a volunteer who visited the Italian cemetery to record the information for Find A Grave.
Billion Graves is a competitor of Find a Grave, and both websites work similarly. Volunteers upload photos of the headstones and enter the information on the memorial for these websites. Like Find a Grave, Billion Graves allows you to search for the gravesite using the deceased’s name, the approximate birth and death years, and the region of death.
Billion Grave will also give you the GPS coordinates of the burial site. This detail may save you time and keep you from figuring out how to find a grave within a cemetery.
You might be able to find the burial site for your ancestor in Italy using Interment. This website has a page specifically for Italian cemetery records, but the records are relatively sparse.
If you can’t find the gravesite from Find a Grave or Billion Graves, the next best resource is Ancestry. Ancestry offers many excellent resources for those interested in learning more about their family’s history.
First, Ancestry allows you to connect with others in your extended family tree. If your relative (no matter how distant) set their trees to “public,” you’ll have access to all the data and records they posted about your joint family member.
Second, Ancestry has a lot of resources available to paid subscribers. You’ll be amazed by the millions of Italian-specific records that are available. You can search millions of vital statistics records starting in 1806. Still, you’ll need to have a working knowledge of Italian or be handy with Google Translate to understand the text.
Finally, Ancestry will also connect you with professional genealogy researchers if you feel you are in over your head. This, of course, is a paid service.
The name of this website (Antenati – Gli Archivi per la Ricerca Anagrafica) translates to “Ancestors – The Archives for Personal Data Search.” This website holds millions of documents that may help you with your genealogical research.
Locate the drop-down menu on the top-right corner that enables you to choose Italian, English, Spanish, or Portuguese as your language of choice when navigating through the website. But, of course, the photographed records are only available in the original language.
Reasons You Can’t Find a Gravesite in Italy
We’ve given you a lot of resources for finding a grave in Italy, but you may not have found the information you were hoping to find. Here are some possible reasons that your search was unsuccessful.
The person is still living
Could it be that the burial site you are searching for does not exist because the person is still living? Verify the person’s birth date to see if that is a possibility, and then learn more about how to find out if someone is still alive.
The records aren’t online
Find a Grave and Billion Graves rely on the work of Italian volunteers. Perhaps no volunteers have visited the Italian cemetery where your loved one is buried. Also, it takes time and effort to upload centuries of vital records.
The headstone is difficult or impossible to read
Old headstones often crumble and become more challenging to read as they age. As a result, the volunteer recording the data may have been forced to guess what was engraved on the stone – especially if no official cemetery records were available. This may result in misspellings or false information.
The grave wasn’t marked because of the wars
Of course, your ancestor’s gravesite may not have been recorded because of Italy’s involvement in both world wars.
Please consider using JewishGen’s holocaust database or the searchable database available on Ancestry for more assistance if your loved one was a victim of the holocaust.
Steps for Finding a Grave in Italy for Free
If you aren’t ready to give up your search for a grave in Italy, here are some other options.
Seek help from members of your family currently living in Italy
The internet is a wonderful thing. It enables us to connect with people across geographical and language barriers with ease. Consider contacting a member of your extended family tree who is currently living in Italy. You might be able to find such a person if they have a public tree available on Ancestry. Use Google Translate to help you with communication barriers.
It’s not a free option, but consider traveling to Italy
We know this isn’t a free option, but you might be able to find the gravesite of your ancestor if you travel to Italy. After all, even though Italy has church records beginning in the 1500s, not all of those records are available online. The answers you are seeking might be on a dusty shelf in a church basement in Naples.
Did You Find Your Loved One’s Grave in Italy?
If you found the gravesite in Italy and are considering a visit, you might want to leave a gift at the gravesite to honor your loved one. Visiting gravesites can be an emotional experience, and having something to leave on the grave may feel appropriate.