You may find my experience and resources helpful if your genealogy quest, like mine, emphasizes art or Italians of the 1890–1924 diaspora, particularly those who landed and stayed in New York City.
Italian Language classes
I have tried four times in the last 30 years to learn Italian. Four times I signed up for a class, bought the book, attended classes and tried, tried to memorize the verbs and grammar.
I haven’t learned much, but the fourth time (in 2009), I learned enough to cope with the Italian documents I needed to read for genealogy purposes.
If you would like to try the school in New York City I found most successful—not to mention the most fun, most engaging, most reasonably priced and most sympathetically located (in the parochial school of a good-karma, Italian-American Catholic church)—contact Beatrice Muzi at Scuola Italiana del Greenwich Village.
At the school’s website, don’t miss this hilarious document which was the final sell that persuaded me to enroll: Military Secret.
I will be back one day, Beatrice, really I will!
LDS Family History Centers
LDS (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, aka Mormon) Family History Centers (small, private libraries scattered around the country) are staffed by volunteers and, hence, access can be limited and service uneven.
I lucked out.
My closest center is a pleasant, 20-minute walk from my home and is staffed by a Ph.D. candidate who totally knows her stuff—thank you, Christy!
For three years, I spent Saturday afternoons reading Italian documents on microfilm: eight reels containing 60 years’ worth of 19th-century vital records (births, deaths, marriages) of Donatus Buongiorno’s Italian hometown (Solofra, Avellino), page by page.
Hand-written in Italian, I had to learn to read the key words “son,” “daughter,” “marriage,” “death,” etc., and numbers which were written out in words instead of Arabic numerals, in archaic script. So, for example, instead of visually scanning for “1868,” I had to find “milleottocentosessantotto,” looking like this:
May I receive my huzzahs now?
Tip: Don’t be annoyed (unlike me…) when your local LDS volunteer tells you that you can only “call in” (from Salt Lake City, Utah) three reels of microfilm at a time. Depending on their content, three reels could keep you busy for months.
There are lots of online databases, both subscription-based (pay to play) and free.
Ancestry.com is the best. It has the largest library of documents, the best search engine and the most careful typing of data. I use it for free (after paying New York City income taxes, that is) at the New York Public Library which has it available on every computer in the main building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street.
Ellisisland.org has manifests for some people who entered the U.S. Their database is not as well transcribed or as well typed (try many different spellings of your relatives’ names) and only contains records of people who came through Ellis Island. You won’t find people who entered the U.S. via other cities, or those who entered via New York before or after the island’s existence as a portal (and while it was closed for a period due to a fire.)