Legacy Tree works with researchers all over the world to access records. We asked Valerie, of Italy’s Basilicata region, to talk about her experience at the Province of Potenza Archives.
Hidden in a nondescript building on a steep side street in Potenza, you could walk past the archives building without even realizing it was there. In fact, on the first visit I had to look hard and ask three people on the street where it was!
Each Italian region is broken into provinces, and each province has an archivio di stato (state archives) that holds provincial records, civil registries, and historical documents and maps. The Province of Potenza Archives contains 10 kilometers worth of shelving in its vaults that conserve a wealth of important documents. Its oldest is a parchment dating back to 900 AD! Want to learn more about ancient Italian records? Check out our article, Tracing Ancestry Through Medieval Italian Records.
For genealogy researchers, the most used collections are atti civili – the birth, death, and marriage registers for each town in the province. Thanks to Napoleon, who instituted mandatory record keeping for each municipality with copies to be deposited with the archives for safe-keeping, there are records from 1806 until the period of the unification of Italy (1866). There are also military inscription registries for all men born between 1842 through 1939, which can be helpful in locating family ties as well.
In addition, there are notary records, compiled by each notaio, which document the transactions he oversaw. These can include property sales, wills, land transfers, and dowry and marriage arrangements for wealthy and noble families. They are the most tedious and time-consuming records to search, as each notaio had his own method of record keeping and his own shorthand, and these registries don’t include indices. Still, though, they are often worth the time for their valuable information.
To use the reading room (sala di studio), you must request access by filling out a form and showing identification. Each time you visit, you sign in and can then compile the document request form, one for each year of registry that you want to search. Purses and bags must be left in the reception area in a locker.
Up to eight books can be requested per visit, but only two a time. Once you request, for example, Civil Records for Trivigno for 1860 and 1861, the staff will go down to the vault and extract them, bringing them to you on a cart. You can sit at the desks and look through them. Most have an alphabetized index in the back indicating the appropriate record number. The atti civili are handwritten transcriptions of each birth, death and marriage, organized by date as they occurred in each community. They often include parents’ names, the address where the family lived, and sometimes occupations.
Photocopy service is available, but is an antiquated and torturous system; it is far better to pay the camera fee of €3 per book than to watch the technicians plunge these historic documents onto the photocopier, press down on the spines and even tape on paper to cover non-pertinent entries (for privacy sanctions). If you opt for a photocopy, you’ll have to take the book to the back room; once the copy is made they give you a receipt to take to the receptionist. She takes your money, gives you another receipt, which you return to the photocopy room in order to retrieve your copy. (See, the camera is a better option!)
The reading room staff is usually quite helpful, and if they don’t have the documents you’re looking for in their collection, can usually point you to the archive or location where you might find them. The Archivio Stato di Potenza is open from 8:15 AM until 1:45 PM and again from 2:30 PM until 5:30 PM. On Fridays and Saturdays they are open only in the morning.
Archivio di Stato di Potenza
Via Nauzario Sauro, 1, 85100 Potenza, Italy
+39 0971 56144
Do you have Italian ancestors from this region? Our excellent onsite researchers can access this archive and other resources in the area to find what you need. Contact us for more information or to speak with a project manager about your goals.