Family roots are the most precious, intangible asset that anyone carries. And Italians are oh so proud of their family roots. They have always been. Today, they are everywhere. Truth is, it has almost always been like that. Today, Italians are everywhere. Truth is, it has almost always been like that.
Think about it.
Can you say, truthfully, that you have never run into an Italian person? Not even into a second- or third-generation Italian? Of course you have. And probably, even more than once. Maybe, you have Italian ancestors yourself. However, none of this has anything to do with a surprisingly high Italian birth rate. On the contrary, the reasons behind such widely spread Italian roots date further back.
The Italian diaspora: family roots gone west
From the end of the 19th century to the 20th century, between 15 and 20 million Italians left Italy to permanently live abroad. This phenomenon is called “the Italian diaspora”.
Two decades after the Unification of Italy (1861), an increasing number of Italians – especially from Southern Italy, Sicily and Sardinia – decided to leave Italy to look for a better future abroad. The vast majority of them jumped on a boat to cross the Atlantic and reach America. This migration flow took a little break during World War II, however it resumed shortly after to continue until the end of the 1970’s.
For almost 100 years, Italians have fled their country and established their lives elsewhere. Almost always, this migration resulted in an inevitable separation from the family, and the consequent loss of domestic traditions. Italians abroad then tended to gather in communities where they could mitigate their longing for home. Let’s just think of the many Little Italy in several U.S. cities. In many cases, however, second-generation Italians did not even learn nor speak Italian, in hopes of fully integrating with their new community.
Where are Italians now?
Today, Italy counts 60,359,546 inhabitants. On top of this, there are 5,288,281 Italian citizens who live abroad. Among the Italians who live abroad, 54.3% lives in European countries, while 40.2% live in America and 2.9% in Oceania. The rest is scattered between Asia and Africa. These 5 million people (about 8% of the total population) are legally recognized as Italian citizens, even if they live abroad. Too bad they’re just the tip of the iceberg.
Oriundi: Italians who are not Italian
Have you ever heard the word “oriundo” (plural “oriundi”)?
The term oriundo refers to a person living in a country other than the one of his origins. For example, an Italian descent who however does not live in Italy. Moreover, legally speaking, oriundi are usually foreigners to their country of origin.
But why are oriundi such a big deal?
Well, simply because there are apparently more Italian oriundi that actual Italian citizens in the world, and even you could be one of them.
While an accurate calculation is not possible, statistics and demographic researches estimate that there are between 60 to 80 million Italian oriundi in the world.
27.2 million of them are in Brazil, accounting for 13% of the total population in the country. In Argentina, there are almost 20 million Italian oriundi, i.e. about 47% of the national population. In the U.S., the estimate involves 17.2 million people with Italian ancestry (about 6% of the total U.S. population) whereas in Canada and Australia about 4% of the population claims Italian roots. And these are just the main areas of the world where Italian oriundi can be found.
It’s now easier to understand why Italian ancestry has recently assumed a greater significance.
Finding Italian ancestors
Today, a lot of people around the world are trying their best to find evidence of their Italian roots, while others don’t even think they might have any.
Finding Italian ancestors has ultimately become a rather popular exercise. Thanks to the internet and to the many resources available online and offline, more and more people have started looking for their Italian genealogical records. Check out our very own list of the best available free resources to help you keep track of your family roots.
Some people think about the benefits of a recognized Italian ancestry, while others are only driven by a genuine wish to reconnect with their family roots.
In both cases, finding Italian ancestors can be a very challenging experience, and definitely a gratifying one.
Heritage trips to Italy: going back to the family roots
A heritage trip to Italy is the most spontaneous step (and the most exciting one!) on the road to finding Italian ancestors.
By definition, heritage tourism is the act of “traveling to experience the places, artifacts, and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past and present”.
From a broader perspective, heritage travel is the reconnection with one’s past. Not just a simple trip down memory lane, but a whole time-travel experience, slowly discovering new sets and characters. A trip to the land of your ancestors will be fun, exciting, useful and memorable. Most of all, it will help you learn more about yourself.
The pros deriving from a successful research on Italian ancestry are invaluable, both from a practical and an emotional point of view. For one, think about the possibility of obtaining Italian citizenship, to freely travel around Europe. Or dream about reconnecting with your long-lost Italian family, spending the holidays together on a beautiful beach in Sicily.
Family roots are, by definition, gatherers of people.
Some of our family memories date far back in time, while others are just very recent. However, all of these memories connect us, just like our family roots do. No matter how big our family tree is, we are the result of a unique and beautiful combination of genes, experiences, places and people we have run into. But most importantly, we are the result of the actions we take. And if finding Italian ancestors can be a reason to start learning Italian or to travel to Italy, even better. Your Italian long-lost family is looking forward to finding you.