Family and personal archives

In Italy, many state archives preserve archives or papers of private provenance: family and personal archives are undoubtedly one of the most valuable resources among the private sources indispensable for family history and the biographical genre.

Gentile archives are closely linked to the tradition of the Italian nobility who, in the diversity of Italy’s geopolitical realities in the medieval and modern ages, often played a significant political, social and economic role. This has resulted in the multiform documentary variety present in family archives in which, in addition to, sometimes, public documents due to the offices held by family members, there are generally preserved the series of administrative-accounting documents relating to their property and economic activities, as well as nuclei of private correspondence, diaries, but also plans, drawings and photo albums.

In the last decades of the sec. XIX family archives have been joined by personal archives, produced by personalities from politics, culture, art, the professions (architects, engineers, journalists, lawyers, etc.), the economy (entrepreneurs, merchants, etc.) but also, increasingly, by ordinary people, active protagonists of the social life of their time. Alongside papers testifying to the private lives and personal relationships of their producers, these archives generally preserve documentation on their professional activities and participation in public life.

Starting in the second half of the 19th century and then throughout the 20th century, numerous family and, later, personal archives became part of the documentary holdings of the State Archives, thanks to donations, bequests, purchases or deposits.

Consultation of these archives for those interested in reconstructing the lives and activities of their ancestors can be very important, because they hold materials that not only contain valuable information about the people and families who produced them, but also documents, letters, photographs and other significant testimonies about those who were related to them, whether for personal or business reasons. If you have clues that one of your ancestors had something to do with a family or person whose archive has come down to us, it is worth searching through their archives, which may hold interesting discoveries.

It should be noted that many of these archives are also kept in public libraries, cultural institutes, documentation centres, universities and, not infrequently, in private homes, whether their producers or heirs, direct or indirect. Protection of these archives is exercised by the Archival and Bibliographic Superintendencies, which are also responsible for issuing the declaration of particularly important historical interest. One can turn to them for access.

Descriptions of family archives and indications of their location can be found online, for those preserved in state archives in the State Archives Information System (SIAS) and for those kept by non-state institutions and bodies and by private individuals in the Unified Information System of Archival and Bibliographic Superintendencies (SIUSA) or, in either case, in the National Archives System (SAN).

Further information on this type of documentation can also be found on the page Family Stories of the Ancestors Portal, within which there are several sections, including: Read family stories, where family stories and testimonies of users who, thanks to the Ancestor Portal, were able to conduct research regarding their personal or family history are presented; From the register to History, a section within which are published profiles with relevant birth, death or marriage records (birth, death or marriage certificates) of distinguished personalities relevant to the country’s collective memory; lastly, this page features some Archives and collections of film, audiovisual or photographic materials related to private or family histories of various kinds.

These-along with others-are also listed on the Research Grants page, under Private and Family History.