You will find information here covering both ways of thinking because you will need to use both plus a few others to reach your goals. You are starting out on a long journey, even with the many helps on the internet you will still need to do a lot of leg work. Your ancestors have been buried a long time and it will take you time to find that information. There is no quick fix in genealogy unless you find a relative who has done the research already.
One word of warning don't be shocked or embarrassed by some of the things you may learn. Every one of us is human and to err is common. I don't know of anyone who has done this type of search without finding a few skeletons. Not only does make life more interesting, but it can give us a better understanding of those we are searching.
Find yourself a nice big sturdy loose-leaf notebook; divide it in 2 sections for now. Section one being called Facts and section two called Hearsay. In the first section write down the names of all ancestors you know. Add birth dates, death dates, Anniversary's, Spouse's, Children, places they lived. Any information you know to be true.
In the second section called Hearsay, Think back and try to remember those people and stories you heard as you were growing up. Write down bits and pieces if that is all you remember. Any older people at family gatherings that your not sure of. If need be look at old photos to jog your memory.
My reasons for doing this first before you start talking to others is that you may remember something they don't or most importantly you may remember differently than they do. As you start talking to people you'll be surprised at the different versions of the same story. You will have to decipher the facts from them.
Many times if the ancestor was an immigrant you may not know what area of Italy they were from. Many records from the US. Simply state Italy, Northern Italian or Southern Italian. The boundaries for the north and south
Keep this notebook as a journal; write down information as you go along. It will help keep you organized. You won't have to go hunting for all those little pieces of paper. Yes, you can keep your information on your computer but in case of a crash it's nice to have back up. And carrying your computer around sometimes can be a little inconvenient.
Start collecting any and all information you can find on your ancestors. No matter how trivial. It may help you one day when you are stuck and don't know where to go next. What to look for Birth, Death, Marriage Certificates, wills, immigration papers, Passports, land records, Military records, Church records, Bibles, diaries, journals, School records. Guest registers from weddings and funerals. Any piece of information that may tell you Facts about that person's life or give clues to where to look.
Now go to your relatives, start asking questions. They may think your nuts or they may bend your ear for hours. Keep that notebook handy and write down key pieces of information. Ask if they have any documents on these people. If they do, ask if you can copy them. Remember to copy everything or Xerox if you can. Pay special attention to certificate numbers. Sometimes records can only be found that way due to misspelling of names.
Hopefully by now you should be able to start filling in more information in the fact part of your notebook. Keep notes on where the information was obtained so that you can go back and double check.
OK, so you've exhausted your relatives where do you go next? Well I guess it's time to add a new section to your notebook and call it People. Place one person to a page and start adding all the facts you now know. You may need more than one page per person. Begin with the person's full name and any alias or misspellings of that name. Then add birth and death dates Parents if known but leave a space for this information, Spouse's and children. You can also add any other information you have such as schooling, Military, siblings, and immigration. Make sure you document where the information is from. This may save you a lot of heartache later.
If you have a Genealogy program for your computer now would be a good time to start entering the facts that you know. I hesitate to start earlier than this because if you don't have the correct information it is sometimes difficult to change those errors. You also may overlook some information that later could be costly.
Now look at those sheets and decide what you need to know to progress farther. Great grandparents are where many people get lost. Do you have their names? Look on birth or baptismal certificates. They will give you the names of the generation before. Unfortunately, depending on the record it may only give one parent's full name. Here is where you really need to start playing detective. That is why it's important to collect any information you can find.
Remember that in Italy a woman keeps her name after she marries, in many other countries she takes the name of the spouse. So when researching in Italy it is just as easy to go back on the maternal side as it is on the paternal.
Some certificates only give minimal information, you can sometimes request the application for that certificate which will contain much more. This will depend on what it is and any laws governing privacy issues.
Keep in mind that vital records only go back to a certain date which varies for each locale. Sometimes court records can take you back farther because you may find wills or civil proceedings and land records. So even if birth records don't go back as far as you need, you might try an alternative.
Of primary importance is knowing what Town the person you are searching is from. Province and Region boundaries have changed over the years if you know the town you can always locate the Province and Region. In the next chapters we will be covering the different types of records available. Most records are kept in the town the person is from. A helpful hint for a quick start is to check one of the online phone books. Enter the surname you are searching and look at the results to see where the highest concentration is from. Though not accurate especially if you have a common surname it might give you a general direction. The best way and most accurate if you are not an Italian citizen and know where you lineage is from. Is to check immigration and citizenship records. Don't be surprised to find that only the word Italy shows up in most marriage and death records.
Genealogy is not an easy task to accomplish it takes years in most cases. Tracing back involves a lot of research and many dead ends that seem to go no where. Persistence is the key when your hitting your head against one of those brick walls take a step back and try a different route. Each generation can sometimes bring different problems such as where to look for records and which ones are available. The are no quick easy ways to do this research. Even professional genealogists use up a lot of time.