Finding Living
Sicilian Relatives


Many first, second and third-generation Sicilian Americans, whose ancestors emigrated a hundred or more years ago, find themselves able to travel to Sicily, and when that opportunity arises, their refrain is something like this: "My parents/grandparents were from Sicily.  I'm traveling there soon, and I would like to get in touch with any living relatives I may have there.  I don't speak or understand Sicilian or Italian."  Many believe they can simply go to their ancestral town, query officials there, and "voila!" dozens of their cousins will be identified.

Their sentiments are admirable, but their expectations may be dashed. 

To find living relatives, you must start with your ancestors.  Your ancestors' descendants, after all, are your relatives.

But it's not enough to know simply your father's surname and your mother's maiden name.  Presumably, you already know your parents' descendants!  You must 'build' a family tree at least three generations back, identifying your ancestors (those in a direct line, i.e. parents, grandparents, great-grandparents. etc.) and collateral relatives (siblings and other blood relatives of your ancestors: great aunts, great uncles, etc.).

Doing so will reveal many persons with surnames which are not those of your parents, but which nevertheless may be the surnames of your living relatives.  Your maternal grandmother's brother, for example, had neither your mother's nor your father's surname, but his grandchildren would be your second cousins.

In building your tree, be sure to identify the spelling of your ancestors' names as they were spelled in Sicily, and the correct names of their 'comune' (town) and 'provincia' (province, like a county: there are nine in Sicily).  Once you have an extensive tree, if you know your ancestral village, you're ready to go to Sicily to start your search. 

If you don't speak the language, unless your origins were in a large metropolitan city or a tourist area, don't expect the residents, or even the officials, to speak English.  You may have to hire an interpreter when you visit the town's Municipio (City Hall), and the local Parocco (Parish Offices). 

You should not plan on spending only a day or a few hours in your quest, nor to walk into a town or parish office and immediately find help.  When you arrive, it may be a holiday; the office may be open only certain hours; the staff may be busy, out ill, or on 'siesta'.  Further, it's not in the 'job description' of town and church employees to do genealogical research for foreigners.  Don't go without your own family tree, and expect them to develop it for you.

You should plan on spending at least a couple of days in your town, or stay close enough that you can make several trips there.  The first thing to do is to go to the town and parish offices and make appointments for specific days and times when you can return to ask about possible relatives.

The reason for visiting both town and church offices is that there are two types of documents recording the lives of Sicilians: civil records, and ecclesiastical or church records.  Many novices are of the opinion that the only records are church records, which may go back to the 14th century and continue to be kept to this day.  However civil records of birth, marriage and death have been kept in Sicily from 1820 through the present; they are much more detailed and standardized than church records, and generally more accessible. 

While you may not be asking civil and church staff to actually look up any records, they would most likely have knowledge of the local residents with surnames that appear in your tree.

When you meet with civil or church staff, be very careful to make it clear that you reasons for searching for locals is solely to find and connect with family, and to share life stories with them, and that your search has nothing to do with any legal or property-related matter.  Failing to do so could lead to a 'cone of silence' by any staff, and suspicion of your motives by the locals.

If you're fortunate, the civil and church staff will be able to give you the names and contact information of locals who share some of your family surnames.  If you're from a small town, the staff themselves may have surnames that match!  Another source would be local business or telephone directories, and of course, social media.

With those contacts in hand, try to meet or speak with the identified locals.  Show them your tree, and a list of ancestors and collateral relatives. If they recognize one of their ancestors in your tree, you'll have found a living Sicilian relative!

If you do, be prepared for them to embrace you, invite you to their home, prepare meals for you, and generally treat you like royalty.

For LINKS to other venues about Sicily, click here >>>


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The First Visit

The SecondVisit

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The Church

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La Societ

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The Book

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Last revision: 13 September 2022 ~ Angelo F. Coniglio,














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