Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Visiting the Comune in Italy

The monumental Cemetery Como

I decided it was time to go and visit Como and see if I could find new details. I took copies of the birth records I had been able to obtain and also the addresses that the family had lived at whilst in Como, I checked out where the local cemeteries were situated, the state archive and the council offices, armed with a phrase book and all my paperwork we set off well prepared!!! or so I thought.

Talk about finding your roots, when we arrived in Como it was pouring with rain but when we stopped just besides the lake and looked back towards the town I just knew that I had “Come home” it was such an extraordinary feeling one I have never had before and I doubt I will ever have again. Here before me was where my forefathers had lived and here I was, ready to follow in their footsteps along the streets of the old part of Como. Breathing the air they had breathed, looking at sights they would have seen as they went about their daily chores. So after taking in the wonder of the place we settled in and I got ready for my visit to the council the next day.

I suggest that your first visit is to the Ufficio de Anagrafe at the council offices which I mentioned in my last posting. If you are lucky to get a kind and patient official you should be lucky enough to be able to at least acquire the Situazione della Famiglia also mentioned in my last post. If it is an unusual surname they may even give you details of other people with the same surname, ask them to check on their records for citizens living in the commune to see if there are any people living in the area with the same surname, they may not give you the details but if you take a list from the local telephone book of people with the surname you are researching you can use this. If it is a small village you may find that they are far more helpful with individual surnames which are often known to them personally and almost certainly they should know some history of the family and may even point you in the right direction as to whom maybe a family member.

At the same department you can ask about the “registro di leva” military records for your ancestor. These will give you the date of birth and when they did their military conscription, where they served and what date they were demobbed along with any other military details that might have been added to the record.
Check opening times for all the places you want to go to and don’t leave your visit until near closing time you could be there longer than you think especially if there is a queue in front of you.

Normally the “Stato civile” Civil register is in the same department or near to the Ufficio di Anagrafe, here they should have the birth, death and marriage records, if they are very far back then these should be found in the State archive along with earlier military records. There should also be a department for the local cemeteries within the council; these should have plans of the cemeteries, how ever I have not attempted to do this myself.

I had several addresses in streets that I could not find on the street maps of Como and asked them at the council if they could tell me where they would have been and what they would now be called. They were unable to help me and suggested that I got hold of an old map in the archives. Believe it or not I was so nervous that I forgot to ask for any details about my own Grandfather and it was only later back home that I realised this, so as I mentioned go prepared with a good list of what to ask.

With my visit to the council concluded I thought that it was time to visit the local cemetery which happens to be called “The monumental Cemetery” and it certainly lives up to its name, it is enormous. One of the first things I noticed is that the earliest dates to be found was around 1910 and there were very few before that date. Eventually we found a worker and asked him, he said that most of the older graves had all been removed many years ago to make space for new ones. This is something that also happens here in Spain, if you have not bought the plot then you have a five year lease on it, after that you either buy it or the remains are passed into a communal area.
Obviously in the 1900’s a lot of the poorer folk who emigrated from the area would have been unable to afford to renovate the lease or buy the plot, so we had no luck in finding any of my family as I had hoped. Later in a book on Como city I found a mention that there was an older area of the cemetery just the other side of the railway track at the back of the cemetery, a bit late when I had returned home, so read your books before leaving the area you might pick up something to visit whilst you are there.

I also went to visit the “Monumenti il Caduti” monument to those fallen in the war, most towns have one and they normally have a list of names, Sadly the one in Como is not open except for one day a year so I was unable to see the lists, in other towns we visited they were normally in the main square below a large statute, but in Como they are inside a type of building surrounded by bars next to the monument to Alexander Volta.

Our next important visit was to the “Archivi di Stato”, here they have a wealth of information so go with plenty of time and the possibility of returning another day.

What kind people we meet at the archives, extremely willing to help, they do have their rules about how to touch the old documents, they charge very little for photocopies, but you are sometimes asked to join as a member for a year. In Como they also had a microfilm viewer available, I had a note book with me and they allowed me to use a pencil but not a pen for obvious reasons.

When I took out the birth records and asked about the names of the streets, they bought out a book that had all the old names of the streets and the dates that they changed including the sequence of the street numbers.
I took down the details of the changes in name and also noted the title of the books that they showed me. One extremely interesting book, was lists of people who had to pay house/land tax within the city (Catasto teresiano) some records starting back even before 1866. No Desio’s seemed to be found as owners of the houses, but there were even plans of the houses that they had lived in, so I could almost envisage what the rooms would have been like. On my return home I managed to order copies of this book from a library in Como and although there was no house titles for the Desio’s there were for other surnames linked through marriage, through this book I was able to follow back over the years from father to son and add many new members to my tree. I still have this book and I am willing to look up surnames that come from Como to see if they are in this book. They also showed me a set of three books called "the history of the old walled city of Como", these books are out of print but I highly recommend that if they can be order on loan through your local library you try and get hold of them, they are said to be the best description of what and how people used to live around the city don,t forget that they are in Italian.

Eventually we left the archive with a bundle of maps from 1866 and 1881 under my arm and several copies of civil records. Alas we were leaving the next day so we were unable to return again and there were still a lot of things I could have looked up, including my grandfather’s military records which I forgot to ask for. We continued further up the lake to Musso which was mentioned on several birth records, again another visit to a cemetery, here the graves went back much further, but there was no record of any Desio there. The local priest was not around so I was unable to ask him about looking up old baptism records.
Try and do as much homework as you can before going, unfortunately there are things that you cant do as you only find them out as you go from one office to another. If you have an extra few days whilst you are there, take a day to sit down and examine the details you have managed to collect and then with the new information return if necessary to the offices again.I need to return to finish of my research and hopefully next time I will be much more prepared.

I wish I had read the book about the changes in the street numbers before I took loads of photographs, outside what I thought was my ancestors homes, I didn,t get one right, all the street numbers have changed at least three times since the civil records I have in my possession, so it was “down the road from where Grandfather was born” or half way up the street from Great grandfathers house. A good reason for returning……