Critical to establishing your claim to Italian citizenship is proving through vital records that your are descended from your Italian ancestor born in Italy. In order to do so, the officer reviewing your documents needs to feel certain that each person in your line to this Italian ancestor was descended from the prior. They will consider all the information available on the documents, particularly birth and marriage certificates for each generation, comparing especially birth dates, names of parents, and locations they were born and married in. If there are major discrepancies across these documents, such as someone who was born by one name appears as the parent on the birth certificate of the next person in the line of descent as a completely different name with no clear evidence that they are the same person, you will probably run into problems.
When you have discrepancies, whether you should address them in advance of your appointment to submit your application and how you should deal with them will depend on several factors. Key factors include where you will be applying, where the documents are from, how much money and effort you are willing to put into addressing them, and how important it is for you that you increase your chances of immediate application acceptance.
What should be addressed in advance of your appointment to present your case? Generally, discrepancies on the documents pertaining directly to the applicant (birth and marriage records) should be addressed in advance. This is because the applicant’s vital records will be transcribed in the Italian registries and officials will be concerned that key information is correct–name (first, middle if applicable, and last, as well as any suffix such as Junior), birth date, city of birth (yes, city must be listed, not county), and parents’ names.
Beyond the applicant’s own vital records, there are no black and white answers as to what to do, if anything, with name and date discrepancies until you have your appointment. Every case is unique, each consulate and even the individual officers handle discrepancies differently. There have been examples of the same consular handling similar discrepancies different in different cases. While some consulate websites explicitly state that all discrepancies must be addressed prior to your appointment, this is not necessary.
Based on numerous testimonials from applicants and professionals who work through cases with discrepancies, most consulates are quite lenient in this regard. It is a of a lot of work, expense, and frustration amending documents. You may find that the consulate doesn’t need that level of effort. In fact, there have been a few reports of applicants being reprimanded by the consulate for amending ancestors’ vital records.
In a 2018 interview we had with a consulate citizenship officer, we were told that “minor discrepancies are not taken into consideration, as long as we are sure that we are looking at the same person over various documents. Some of the documents must be filed with the Consulates but not sent to Italy for registration. In this case, it might not be necessary to amend the certificates. The biggest problems emerge when the discrepancies are serious, therefore affecting the applicant’s capability to prove his or her case… In any case, when an application cannot proceed due to discrepancies, the officer will indicate to the applicant how the documents need to be amended.”
So, the consulate may find the discrepancies are subtle enough that they don’t care. This is especially the case with phenetic changes so the name is pronounced correctly in English, and Anglicizations (like Giovanni to John). If they do care, resolution may be as simple as showing that there isn’t another person with the alternate spelling from the same town (positivo/negativo letter from the comune, explained further down in this page).
The primary concern of the consulate is to ensure you are correctly representing your family line. If they can reasonably track with your paperwork, minor discrepancies can be overlooked. You may very well cause concerns when amending a vital record, only to have it conflict with how your ancestor represented himself on other non-amendable documents, like the census, naturalization, green card, and war registrations. Sometimes consistency in the inconsistency is better.
It is important to remember that, even though it doesn’t feel like it to you with all the prep you’ve done leading up to it, the appointment is the START of the process in the eyes of the consulates. They do not outright deny cases based on documentation issues if the applicant meets the basic qualifications. The consulate will tell you what concerns they have, if anything, and tell you (and, you can negotiate) what you need to do, if anything, to address the concerns. Follow-up, even for the most “prepared” of cases is very common. They usually allow it through mail/email.
We have collected hundreds of appointment recaps from the members of our Facebook group where discrepancies were noted. The vast majority were accepted without question. In the rare cases where the consulate had a concern, something less than amending the document was accepted as a compromise. If you are a member of our Facebook group, you can find the list here.
How do you deal with discrepancies once you find out you do have to, or if you want to proactively? If you go to your appointment and the officer feels she cannot proceed without having something addressed, be sure to discuss potential remedies and come to an agreement in writing as to what you need to address and how. This is very important so you aren’t left guessing what you need to do and it helps the officer remember what was agreed to, given they deal with hundreds of cases. If you are a member of our Facebook group, you can consult others for their experience and read through appointment recaps. Here are some typical ways to deal with discrepancies on US vital records:
- Naturalization Documents – Note that many foreigners used the US naturalization process as a means of establishing a legal name change. Often on the oath document, completed when the naturalization was formalized, it will state something to the effect of the person known as XYZ is from here forward known as ABC.
- Supporting Documents – These are documents that are not explicitly called-out as being required on the consulate’s website, but may be helpful in connecting name changes across documents and confirming dates and timeframes of events. These extra documents do not need translations or apostilles, as they will not be registered in Italy, rather they will be used by the consulate official to help them in evaluating your case. They don’t necessarily need to be certified copies, though if they come into play in your case, the consulate may ask you to get a certified copy and send it in after your appointment. The following are examples of some supporting documents and how they might be helpful. Bring everything you think might be helpful, but keep these non-required documents separate from the required ones and only present them if they will be helpful at a point of concern during your appointment. Extra documents that the officer is not expecting could take your appointment off track or even derail it.
- Arrival records (ship manifests) can help establish when a person arrived, who they came with, where they came from, and where they were headed.
- Court documents, if found, can establish the legality of name changes. In some cases, our ancestors went through formal processes to change their names.
- Census records can help establish use of alternative names. For example, if in 1910 Giuseppe La Rocca is listed with his wife and 3 children, then in 1920 he appears as Joseph Rocca, but has the same address, wife, and children listed, it is most definitely the same person and these records help establish the name change. Certified copies can be obtained from National Archives.
- Baptismal records can be obtained from the diocese chapter over the church where your ancestor was baptized. Sometimes a “baptismal name”–like the of a saint–is given to the child and it will appear on the baptism records. Sometimes children would from that point forward go by the baptismal name or use it as their middle name where they had none at birth. This might help explain the mysterious use of a new first name or addition of a middle name later in life.
- Amendments – This is a process in which the vital records office (state or county) allows amendments to be made under certain circumstances when provided with adequate evidence to support the change. How they go about making the amendment varies from state-to-state and county-to-county. Sometimes they will strike-through the original information on the record and notate the corrected information. Others will create an entirely new record with the changes. Yet others will add an aka (also known as) line for name discrepancies. All of these are acceptable methods if done by the records office such that the amended document can receive an apostille from the Secretary of State’s office.
- Court-Ordered Corrections – Some states/counties do not allow amendments to vital records at all. Sometimes they only allow them from the person the record is for, making it impossible to address a discrepancy for a deceased person. In these cases, you can take your complaint to the courts with your documentation supporting the requested correction and petition the court to order the vital records office to make the change. Your justification is that their refusal to do so has caused you personal harm–you cannot claim your Italian citizenship without the correction. While it is possible to do this yourself, it will require research as to the appropriate court with jurisdiction over the document(s) in question and their procedures for filing. Many employ the use of a lawyer.
- One-and-the-Same Order/Declaratory Judgment (we’ll use OATS for short) – Similar to the above process for court-ordered corrections, a OATS order can be a convenient way of dealing with discrepancies across several documents. Rather than petitioning the court to order corrections, you are asking the judge to certify that they agree that the person listed as x, y, and z with the birthdates of 7, 8, and 9 on such-and-such records is the same person who was born as ABC on date 123. Once certified, you can have the court order translated and obtain an apostille on the order from the Secretary of State, making it legal for use in Italy. Here is an example template.
- One-and-the Same Affidavit – This is the same as above, but rather than submitting it to the courts, you have a credible individual draft and sign an affidavit before a notary that states that the person listed as… is the same as the person who was born as… Such affidavits are usually only acceptable as an alternative to amendments if it is from the person who is in question. So, for example, if your grandfather in your line of ascent to the Italian ancestor (or maybe he was the Italian ancestor) was born Pasquale and started using Samuel at some point in his life and never legally made the change, yet Samuel appears on some of the documents you have to submit as part of your case, he can sign an affidavit that he was born Pasquale, began using Samuel, and affirms that he is the person who married so-and-so and together they birthed your parent, the next descendent in your line from the Italian ancestor. To legalize this document for use in Italy, you would send it to the Secretary of State’s authentication office in the state in which the notary is registered and obtain an apostille. The OATS should be translated to Italian.
- Sworn Agreement of Concordance (Perizia Giurata di Concordanza) – Somewhat like a OATS judgment, this is a type of document that can be presented to a Justice of the Peace in the US or a Notary or tribunale (lower court) in Italy along with the documents in question, describing the discrepancies and asking the person to evaluate and agree that X and Y are the same person whose correct information is Z. The key to this document is that the Justice/Notary state that they take on the legal responsibility for this judgment. This is not something that you need a lawyer for, so it is a much less expensive option than going through the courts for an OATS judgment. This document will need to be written in or translated to Italian.
- Positivo/Negativo Letter – If you have name and/or birthdate discrepancies on US documents as compared with the birth and/or marriage documents from Italy for this ancestor, you can request a letter from your Italian ancestor’s comune attesting that they are confident that the person you have identified in such-and-such US records is the same as the person born in their city in Italy. (Positivo.) Also, they have found no one else born in that city by the names and birth dates found on the US documents. (Negativo.) While this isn’t always accepted as a substitute to egregious name discrepancies, it can help address discrepancies on documents that cannot be amended, such as US naturalization records.