Many Italians emigrated to America during the 19th and 20th centuries. They established their own common Italian American culture distinct from parent Italian cultures.
Family is central to Italian culture. The family is tightly knit and respects authority figures, especially parents and elders. Yet they are suspicious of broader authority figures, like politicians and the Catholic hierarchy.
Find Out Where your Ancestors Came From
Many take ancestry DNA tests to learn more about their family history and ancestors’ origins. These companies use your saliva to analyze the DNA that makes up your chromosomes and then compare it to the ancestry databases they access. The results can show you what parts of the world your ancestors originated from and, in some cases, tell you about their lifestyle.
It’s important to remember that ancestry testing only looks at small percentages of your DNA compared to other populations and regions. While it can be interesting to see which parts of the world your ancestors were from, you should always search other sources, such as records in the country they immigrated to (or are suspected of entering).
For example, most ancestry test companies give you a list of trace ancestry regions towards the bottom of their Ancestry Composition report. These regions match a small percentage of your DNA but are not necessarily accurate. This could be due to the varying size of reference databases used by different DNA testing companies or because specific DNA markers are more challenging to identify in some populations than others. Nevertheless, this is still a valuable tool; you can always learn more about particular regions.
Discover your Roots
The more you learn about your Italian ancestors, the more you understand their culture. Whether they were wheat farmers on the outskirts of Rome or teachers and poets in the city center, they lived a life full of family tradition and cherished memories. Discovering your Italian heritage can be done in various ways, from taking a DNA test to traveling to Italy and doing on-site research. Many ancestry-tracing companies allow you to find relatives who share your Italian heritage and may connect you with them, making it easier to do on-site research.
Another way to trace your Italian roots is to search online. A popular ancestry-tracing site offers free access to thousands of records, including birth and death certificates, marriage licenses, Catholic church records, censuses, and military conscription. Several other websites, such as can help you locate town archives for your ancestral towns and provide contact information for the local offices.
Once you’ve gathered all the information that you can, it’s time to travel to Italy and do your on-site research. This is a beautiful opportunity to learn more about your Italian ancestors, and it can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for you and your family.
Learn about their Lifestyle
Whether they were bamboccioni unwilling to cut mama’s apron strings or jobless, Italy’s recent economic woes have seen an increasing number of Italian adults return home. A report last year found that 31% of Italians over 18 live with their parents—and a similar percentage have children under the same roof.
This trend, combined with mob-related movies and television shows like Goodfellas and The Sopranos, has fueled a desire in some Italian Americans to find a sense of authenticity that assimilation has left behind. It’s a tension that has played out in American culture for generations, as immigrant descendants struggled with preserving their traditional values while living in a modern, pluralistic society.
The Italian American Heritage Committee, a New York-based organization, has created a documentary series that explores this cultural conflict—from Fiorello La Guardia to Rudolph Valentino to Frank Sinatra and beyond. The film shows how these ancestors and their descendants struggled to reconcile their deep-rooted traditions with the new world’s opportunities.
To learn more about your ancestors’ lifestyle in Italy, check out accessible archives. It contains a wealth of genealogical records and grows by millions of images yearly. Church records are beneficial, as they have been recorded systematically since the 1500s. Depending on the record type and the location, you may need to provide your ancestor’s birth town.
Discover their Stories
Italians immigrated to America carrying thousands of years of culture in art, music, traditions, and cuisine. Yet many of their contributions are obscured today by the broader scope of American history and often overlooked in popular culture. A new generation of Italian Americans is rediscovering their roots. This movement coincides with the popularity of ancestry DNA testing companies that provide customers with information about their migrant ancestors. These tests work by comparing the customer’s DNA to samples of other people who have lived in a specific region for generations, including the same ethnic groups as the customers themselves. This explains why siblings can receive different results from the same company. Another way to understand your ancestors is to visit where they were born and raised. Some offer one-of-a-kind heritage tours in Italy to help you get closer to your family’s roots. Their guided itineraries include Uncle Adamo’s truffle hunting, Nonna Amina’s chitarra pasta experience, and more. Aside from the tours, several excellent books can help you learn about your Italian roots. From the classic children’s book Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola to the trailblazing biography of Maria Montessori, these titles are perfect for teaching kids about critical Italian-American figures.