Italy Historical Geography

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You may find that the name of the place where your ancestor came from has changed or that the name of the province or even the name of the country has changed. This section describes the changes that have taken place in Italy. This information can help you find records in the FamilySearch Catalog for the place your ancestors lived. This section will describe the jurisdictions used in the FamilySearch Catalog.

Italy has been divided into various city states, duchies, and kingdoms under several different rulers throughout history. Parts of modern Italy used to be part of Austria, Switzerland, France, and the former Yugoslavia. The country that controlled Italy determined what records were to be kept.

During the reign of Napoleon (from about 1808 to 1815), Italy was divided into provinces, communes, and hamlets. These political boundaries are basically the same today.

Most of Italy was unified into a single kingdom in 1861. Venetia became part of the kingdom in 1866 and the city of Roma in 1870. Roma became the capital in 1871.

Italy is divided into 20 regions—much like the states in the United States—and 103 provinces, which correspond to counties. Most regions and provinces have remained the same for the last 150 years.

Six new provinces have been recently created because of a population increase. These provinces are Crotone and Vibo Valentia in Calabria, Prato in Toscana, Rimini in Emilia-Romagna, Lecco and Lodi in Lombardia, and Biella and Verbano-Cusio-Ossola in Piemonte.

The following books explain more about Italy’s historical geography. You can find these and similar material at the Family History Library and many other research libraries:

  • Cole, Trafford R. Italian Genealogical Records: How to Use Italian Civil, Ecclesiastical, and Other Records in Family History research.Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry, 1997. (FHL book EUROPE 945 D27c.)
  • Flechia, Giovanni. Nomi locali del Napolitano: derivati da gentilizi italici (An etymological place-name dictionary of Neapolitan localities). [Sala Bolognese]: Forni, [1984]. Ristampa dell’edizione di Torino, 1874. (FHL book EUROPE 945 E26f.)

You can find other sources about boundary changes in the Locality Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:





Also, the historical atlases described in Italy Maps contain maps that depict boundary changes, migration and settlement patterns, military actions, and ethnic and religious distribution.