One Step Closer to Becoming an Italian

On February 8 of this year, my mother received an email from the Italian Consulate in Chicago, saying, “Good Afternoon Mrs. Tenuta [her maiden name],

the process to be recognized the Italian citizenship for you and for your sister has been finalized and all the documentation you presented has been sent to the Comune di Marano Principato’s vital statistic registers on August 2009 [sic].

My mother was given a form to complete that will place her on the registry of Italian nationals living abroad, meaning outside of Italy. Once registered, a birth certificate will be minted for her in the tiny Calabrian town of Marano Principato, outside of Cosenza, essentially recognizing her as an Italian citizen from birth. In a few months – if all things go smoothly – she will be able to apply for an Italian passport as well.

At that point, as the son of an Italian citizen, I will be able to petition for recognition of my own citizenship – but that will take some time.

This is all made possible by Italy’s generous jure sanguinis (“through blood”) citizenship laws; the descendant of an Italian citizenship may apply for recognition. If one of your ancestors was Italian-born, you may be eligible. There is one important linchpin: Your Italian ancestor must have passed down the right to citizenship before he/she naturalized in another country. By naturalizing, in the U.S. in the case of my great-grandfather, one effectively renounces his or her prior citizenship. My great-grandfather, Antonio Tenuta, did this in 1924 – two years AFTER his son (my grandfather) was born. Thus he had already passed along this right, jure sanguinis, before renouncing it. Note that your application must be in a direct line, for example Me>Mother>Grandfather>Great-Grandfather (no uncles or aunts or cousins).

(If you don’t have Italian blood, you might also look into Irish heritage. Ireland has similarly flexible citizenship laws.)

While this may sound simple, rest assure it takes time to assemble all of the pertinent documents and to present them to your consulate. My family started this process in early 2004. We probably could have finished things more quickly, but we all have jobs and lives, and requesting documents from Italy as well as different parts of the U.S. takes time and money and can feel overwhelming at times. There is also currently an enormous backlog for appointments at most consulates, and the response time after submitting your application can be equally long (18 months in my mother’s case). Most non-Italian documents must be long form, translated into Italian, and furnished with a state apostille (a seal for international use). Discrepancies with names, birth dates, and other record keeping – common in Old World Europe – can be problematic as well. The best way to approach the process, if you are so inclined, is as a journey or a puzzle requiring patience and fastidiousness. If you are focused only on the outcome, not only might you be  discouraged, but you run the risk of disappointment. To wit: In spite of my mother’s exciting victory, I am in no way counting any chickens until my own process is complete.

Finally, many would ask, what’s so great about having dual citizenship, in this case Italian? Why bother?

That is in the eye of the beholder, but for me, there are several reasons. As an Italian citizen, I will be able to live, work, and/or retire there if I so choose – not just in Italy, but throughout the European Union. I would be eligible for public health,  tuition, and retirement benefits. It also makes traveling there easier (shorter immigration lines). In the name of self-interest, it means having more options, and having options is always good.

On a more personal note, it is also a way to establish a link to my family heritage, and to accept a gift given, however unwittingly, by my great-grandfather almost a century ago. When he, like many of his fellow villagers, moved to Kenosha, Wisconsin (just north of Chicago), he could not have known that his offspring would one day be corresponding with the civil office in Marano Principato to close the circle like this. No one in my family has been to his birthplace, but we are hoping to visit someday soon – hopefully as Italians. As a genealogical project, and a sort of reclamation of our family history, it’s been personally fulfilling – though again, you may not find it so.

Getting Started

If you think you may be eligible and are interested in learning more, the Italian Dual Citizenship Message Board is a good place to find FAQs, post questions, find templates, and more. MyItalianCitizenship also contains some helpful information, although I would not recommend its message board and would caution against using its Italian birth certificate search service (see the user complaints on the message board). To request birth certificates from Italy, you will save a lot of money if you use a template in Italian and write directly to the comune with pertinent information, an international reply coupon ($2.10 at your post office), and a few euros for their trouble. If you are unsure of certain vital statistics, the Mormon Church has an enormous genealogical database online; microfilm can be ordered to and viewed at your local chapter.

You should also determine in which consulate jurisdiction you reside, and make an appointment sooner than later because of the enormous backlog. Your appointment may be scheduled a year from now. This will give you a deadline, but with plenty of time to plan.

For U.S. naturalization records (remember, the linchpin to your eligibility), your best bets are USCIS, National Archives, or the court records in the county where your ancestor naturalized.

Feel free to email me at with any questions.

Buona fortuna!

This entry was posted in Calabria, History, Italy, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to One Step Closer to Becoming an Italian

  1. chris rocco says:

    Thanks Adam…I’m going through this process myself right now and for me the linchpin is the birth certificate from Calabria ( Cervicati near Cosenza) . Can you tell me how your mother’s experience was regarding this part of the “journey”?

    (I’ve already sent an emailed letter to the commune there written in Italian.)

    Best of luck to you,

  2. Hi Chris. The most effective way for me was by fax or regular mail. Usually I faxed a request and followed up with something in the mail. Email seems to be the least reliable method.

    If you send a letter, include an international reply coupon ($2.10 at any post office), and maybe a few dollars or euros for their trouble. Be sure to include all the pertinent information you can – names, parents’ names, dates, etc.

    Good luck!

  3. Pingback: Italian Citizenship Update: Still Waiting on that Birth Certificate… | Little Earthquake

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