10. The Documents in the Case

I’ve stolen–or let’s say borrowed–the title of this post from a Dorothy Sayers novel. If you haven’t read Dorothey Sayers, lucky you! You have it all ahead of you. And even if mystery is not your thing, you will love her books. She always has great characters. That one of them happens to be a corpse feels irrelevant at times.

My discussion of documents today is a little less exciting and almost entirely lacking in dead bodies. I’m referring to the documents you’ll need to make your case that you are, and always have been, a citizen of Italy. You will need the birth certificate for your last ancestor born in Italy, as defined in the previous post. I exaggerate only a little bit when I say I have been poking around in this process for a very long time, and the need for that document may be the only one I’ve never seen disputed by someone, someplace. So let’s take a little detour and talk about why that might be.

The big fork in the road comes when you reach this decision point: Are you going to present your documents to a comune in Italy directly, or are you going to use an Italian Consulate in the United States as an intermediary? In the latter case, you present your documents to the Consulate and they approve or reject them before submitting them to a comune in Italy, generally the comune of your last Italian-born ancestor, for final approval. They are making a judgment about whether or not the comune will be happy with your documents.

If you go to Italy to do it, either alone or with one of the services available, the official in the comune will tell you yes or no directly about the adequacy of your documents. To do the process in Italy, you will need to reside there for some length of time. That time varies from comune to comune but typically, without an expediting service, you should count on being a resident of Italy for a couple of months before a comune recognizes you as one of its residents and therefore someone whose paperwork it can and will handle. Think of the motor vehicles department for your state. You have to prove you live in the state before they’ll give you a license.  It’s not exactly the same, but it is similar. Some expediting services can help you get the stay down to several weeks.

Now, in theory, the documents that the comuni require, to meet the legal requirements governing proof of citizenship, are the very same documents as those the Consulates require. Anyone who’s tried the process is laughing right now at how charmingly simple that idea is. It seems that in reality, the Consulates require more than the comuni, probably because they want to provide documents to answer any question that might conceivably arise about your case. Anticipating the problems will save everyone time. The really fun part, though, is that the different Consulates seem to vary somewhat in their requirements. And in fact, if you believe people’s reports (and I do), different individuals at the same Consulate can require different  things.

The upshot is, I can talk about what is generally or typically required, but your mileage, as they say, may very well vary. I recommend you:

  • check your Consulate’s website for what they want
  • recognize that if you don’t like what I said above, you’re going to hate some of the things I say in the future
  • understand the wait for a Consular appointment is years in some locations, so you should make your appointment now
  • have a nice Campari and soda and relax

Your sense of humor is going to be your biggest ally in this process.

Here is what my Consulate, the one in New York, requires:

  • Original birth, marriage, and, if applicable, death records for the people in your line as “issued by the competent US authorities in long form or extended form and legalized with apostille.” You must have the documents translated into Italian.
  • Last Italian-born ancestor’s Divorce Judgment, if applicable.
  • Certified copy of last Italian-born Ancestor’s Declaration of Intention/Petition for Naturalization issued by the National Archive.
  • Last Italian-born ancestor’s Naturalization Certificate
  • If your last Italian-born ancestor never naturalized as a US citizen, an original Certificate of Non-Existence of Records issued by the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services. This is affectionately, and repeatedly, referred to in the Dual Citizenship community as the CoNE. Also, a certified copy of the first US Census following the birth of the next in line after the last Italian-born ancestor.

The Consulates have asked people to produce other documents, usually to address problems in the existing records. A couple of examples are copies of the arrival record of the last Italian-born ancestor and even court documents verifying identities when questions have arisen. Of course you have to fill out some forms and prove who you are, by presenting your passport, and where you live, by presenting some utility bills or similar. You will also have to present a non-refundable fee of 300 Euro per person applying, not required in Italy.

In my next posts, I’ll address where and how you obtain the various documents and what some of the common problems are. I’ll also answer the question, “What the heck is an apostille and is that really spelled right?”

Some Useful Links

List of Consulates

List of Comuni in Italy

Campari and Soda Recipe

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