I’ve visited Italy just once in my life, but I felt an instant connection to the country when I stepped foot in the Milano Centrale train station in late September 2012.
In March, my father and I will make our first ever pilgrimage to the remote “comune” of Polia. Here, my family can trace its history back for generations.
Recently, I learned I could use my Italian ancestry to apply for Italian citizenship through Italy’s nationality law, which allows “citizenship by descent.” If you can prove an Italian national exists in your recent ancestry, Italy considers you to have been a citizen since birth.
To be sure, many hurdles can get in the way of obtaining dual Italian-US citizenship.
But I’m willing to endure this red tape because I recently got a chance to live and work in France; it would be a lot easier to do that if I had Italian citizenship because I’d have a European Union passport.
What’s more, I’d have a tangible connection to the country where my dad’s family came from — the same country I felt so connected to when I went to Milan.
Here’s what I would have to prove to obtain official ties to Italy. If you have a paternal ancestor born after 1861 — when Italy formed — you could be eligible for Italian citizenship. You’re only eligible for citizenship through the maternal side if your maternal ancestor was born after January 1, 1948, as women in Italy couldn’t pass down citizenship before that year.
I believe I qualify through my great-grandfather Guiseppe, who was still an Italian citizen when my grandfather, Antonio, was born. He was born after 1861, so it should be no problem for me to obtain citizenship — or so I naively thought when I started making my citizenship plans.
I’d initially planned on applying for citizenship in New York, where I live, but I was told the wait for an appointment would be 21 months! Luckily, I’m from Massachusetts and can also apply at the Boston consulate, where the wait is a mere six months.
While I don’t have to wait a lifetime to apply in Boston, I still must endure headache-inducing bureaucracy to apply. The more distant the generation from which you claim descent, the more paperwork you’ll have to do.
In my case, I’ll need birth, marriage, and death certificates for Guiseppe, his spouse, his son (my grandfather) Antonio, my grandmother Mary, both my parents, and myself. I’ll also need naturalization forms for Guiseppe and Antonio.
In total, I’ll need 16 documents. I have just six so far.
Italy issued four of the documents I need between 1888 and 1911, and 10 of the documents I need have to be translated into Italian before I can apply for citizenship. The only documents that don’t need to be translated are the two US-issued naturalization forms.
I’ve had to do some digging to find out when the documents were issued in the first place. By scouring archived issues of the Lewiston Daily Sun of Maine, I’ve discovered the birth and death dates of my great-grandparents. Through web pages dated to the mid-1990s, posted by father’s first cousin, I’ve learned even more information. Guiseppe married at 22, left his son and pregnant wife for America at 24, and sent for them 10 years later upon saving enough money to do so.
To get further documents, I’ve used the services of various archive facilities across the East Coast. The naturalization certificates of my grandfather and great-grandfather are so old that I had to commission an archivist to do a search for them in Washington, D.C.
Since my paternal ancestors died in Maine, I’ve sent letters with proof of lineage and my identity to the Maine vital records department to get the death certificates. I have then had all the US-issued paperwork “apostilled” by the New York State Department, which is similar to a notarization, but for use by a foreign government.
Perhaps the most difficult to obtain are those documents issued in Italy, because my roots stem from an obscure area. These papers, the birth and marriage certificates of my great-grandparents, as well as the birth certificate of my grandfather, are the hard proof of my Italian heritage.
These are held in the “comune” where my family hails from, Polia, found in the Calabria region. There, I’ll find what I need at the town hall, assuming it hasn’t burned down since the documents were issued. I plan to try to collect these documents on my heritage trip with my father in a few months.
With all documentation collected, one last hurdle remains: booking the appointment. Boston’s consulate opens new appointments at exactly 6 p.m. sharp, and only on Mondays and Wednesdays. The high volume of applicants means these appointments disappear within seconds of becoming available. I’m planning on making my attempt in a few months, following my visit to Polia and collecting the birth certificates of my ancestors there.
Beyond the Kafka-esque appointment system, the search for paperwork, and simply being qualified at all, leaves one last thing. The US dollar equivalent of 300 euros must be paid at the consulate, regardless of outcome. Assuming you’re approved, and now legally Italian, another 116 euros procures a passport. Let’s go to Italy!
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