The Need for Speed: Genealogical Records and Natural Disasters
When we think about onsite research in a foreign country, most of us might imagine sitting in beautiful reading rooms of libraries and archives. Cool marble, hushed librarians, and possibly some classical paintings or sculptures dot the room. All is serene as the researcher pours over onsite records–leafing through the ancient books or scrolling through dated microfilm in search of the next ancestor.
But sometimes the situation is more stressful and potentially perilous for the researcher. As you may remember, last summer and fall (2016) a series of earthquakes rocked the region along the Apennine Mountains in central Italy, resulting in the deaths of some locals as well as an enormous amount of destruction in the towns and villages of Ascoli Piceno. Additional earthquakes have continued to affect the area, with the most recent one occurring in late February 2017.
With regards to genealogy, this means that access to onsite records has become severely limited due to dangerous conditions and the destruction that has occurred. Along with public archives, ancient churches – some more than one thousand years old – are at risk, along with the art and parish records they contain. One of our onsite researchers who lives and works in that part of Italy recently explained to us that “the situation is dramatic in Acquasanta. All parish priests have gone to live elsewhere, many churches are closed because [they are] uninhabitable.”
He went on to say:
“Earthquakes and other natural disasters, in addition to causing the death of civilians, also cause [the scattering] of the cultural memory of a center of a community. The beautiful paintings and cultural heritage of churches and monasteries are at risk, as are the archives and old books.
Immediately after the tremors in August and October 2016, there was a timely intervention to recover the historical memory of the centers affected by the earthquake. Miles of documents in dozens of archives in central Italy were rescued.
However, many parish archives are currently closed because it is not possible to enter in the churches that preserve them. For example in Colonnella, a small northern town in Abruzzo, the mayor with an ordinance prohibited the entry into the Church of S[anti] Cipriano e Giustina because there is a crack in the wall…it is risky to let the people in.
Even the Cathedral of Santa Maria della Marina and the Church of San Giuseppe of San Benedetto del Tronto, despite [being] several kilometers away from the epicenters of earthquakes in central Italy, are closed because of fallen rubble.
Another example is Acquasanta Terme, a pretty village very close to the epicenter of the mountain, which also has more than 40 hamlets with many churches collapsed or unsafe and therefore its archives are not currently accessible.”
Although many onsite records have been rescued from perilous situations, it does not mean that they are open to the public or to professional researchers:
“[Though many records have been rescued] thanks to the firemen, police, and army, it is well understood that we have to wait a bit of time to make them consultable again because it is important that the rescued archives are in safe places.”
As life has returned to a more normal routine, this onsite researcher, along with others, has begun to make overtures to the local parish priests, attempting to ascertain the situations of the various parish archives. This is where speed is critically important. If the researcher finds that a church is open, or locates a priest who will open the archives to him, it is imperative that he takes advantage of the opportunity to research the parish records before the records are removed for safe-keeping or another earthquake causes the church to close again, or even destroys the church and its precious documents.
It is possible that some of the onsite records in these central Italian towns will be taken away from the area and stored for safe-keeping for weeks, months, or even years, effectively putting an end to all genealogical research in those records for the foreseeable future.
Although research in central Italy is not impossible, it is currently fraught with danger, both to the onsite records and to the researcher. Because there is no way to predict when the next earthquake will hit and what damage it will do, our onsite researchers are working furiously to locate as many records and documents as possible, both civil and ecclesiastical, on behalf of our clients.
If you are considering researching your Italian family history, we encourage you to begin the research sooner rather than later. Our excellent onsite researchers know the area, have forged relationships with the archivists and parish priests, and will continue to provide the excellent service that they have always offered. But for now, time is of the essence. Contact Legacy Tree Genealogists today for a free estimate!