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    Finding Ancestors in the Waldensian Valleys

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    Table of Contents

        Before beginning the research steps below, you should have gathered all the documents and details you can about your immigrant Waldensian ancestors. You will need all those clues to succeed in extending your pedigree.

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    OVERVIEW

        Three general periods of Waldensian history affect the records that are available to us.

        A few other types of records provide valuable assistance in bridging the gaps between these two main types of records. These are the "transition" records described later.

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    STEP 1: OBTAIN INFORMATION FROM THE PARISH REGISTERS

    Explanation: In the 1960s, volunteers for the Family History Library in Salt Lake City UT extracted all the microfilmed Waldensian parish registers. The result became known as the Piedmont Project. The records cover nearly 240 years of Waldensian history (from about 1709, when the surviving parish registers commenced, to 1948, when the records were microfilmed). The effort identified some 250,000 individuals organized into about 40,000 families.

    The registers of one of the parishes was not filmed, Mentoulles. The Mentoulles register has been printed and is discussed in the section, "Finding French Waldensian Ancestors."

    1. Obtain a copy of the typed Piedmont Project family group record. You can do this in any of the four ways noted below. In each case, the family group records are filed alphabetically, by husband's surname and then by birth date.
       
      1. The original, typed family group records are in the Family History Center (FHC) in Ogden, Utah. Just ask for the Piedmont Project collection.
         
      2. A set is included in the Main Archives in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building across from Temple Square in Salt Lake City.
         
      3. The Piedmont Project family group records have been microfilmed as part of the Main Archives. You can rent the microfilm(s) you need through your nearest Family History Center. Click here to determine which FHC is nearest to you.

        NOTE: These film numbers are not easy to identify. There are over 2000 reels of film in this collection! For this reason, we provide a link to the list of film numbers. The list was compiled by the Family History Library and is available in the library, but the FHL has not yet listed it on the Internet.
         

      4. Send the Family History Library a request for a photocopy of the specific family group record(s) you need.

        NOTE: The library does not have the staff to do research for you. You must provide the husband's name, date of birth (estimated closely, if not precisely known), and, if possible, the wife's name. If you cannot provide that much specific detail, this option will not work for you. For emphasis: The Library cannot do research for you. All they can do is go to the collection, flip to the name and date you specify, and copy that record.


       
    2. Next, it's very important that you obtain a copy of the working-draft copy of the Piedmont Project family group record. As the volunteers identified members of a particular family, they wrote them, by hand, on family group records. Very often, these working-draft copies contain clues that will help your research. These clues may be a notation that the person might be related to so-and-so, or that this record said one thing, but another record said something else, and so on.

      These records now exist only on microfilm. Use this link to find the proper film number. There are forty-three microfilms; scroll through them to find the film number of the reel containing the surname you want.
       

    3. Finally, you should review the original entry in the parish register. Most of the parish registers are in French, although the later ones are in Italian. If you need help with French handwriting, we recommend the BYU Independent Study course, France: Reading French Handwriting.

      To find the film number you need, click here.

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    STEP 2: SEARCH THE TRANSITION RECORDS

    Explanation: There are two main types of records that help bridge the gap between the parish registers and the notarial records. The first is a record concerning the exiles themselves. The second is the record made when the survivors returned and had to justify their right to their ancestral holdings.

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STEP 3: SEARCH THE NOTARIAL RECORDS

Explanation: The notary charged a fee for his services, so the poorest people are under-represented. The notary jotted brief notes at the time he was with the principal(s) and witnesses. Later, at a more convenient time and place, he made a fuller, official record. The brief notes and the time delay occasionally resulted in errors in the records. (Only by comparing records pertaining to the same family can you identify and reconcile possible errors.)

The notary made at least three copies: one (or more) for the client(s), one for his own records, and one to be deposited in the Duke's official archives.

Because the Duke charged a fee for depositing each record, notaries sometimes delayed depositing the records. I have found some records deposited forty years after they were made!

Any given act appears in the volumes for the year the copy was deposited, not in the year the act was made. This underscores the need to make a thorough review of the records. You cannot check the notarial records only in the time period and locality you expect to find an ancestor: There are too many with the same name. To effectively identify your ancestors, you need to systematically review all the notarial records still existing. That is not as difficult as it may seem, for the records we extract cover only about 100 years.

Equally important is the fact that you must accurately record the date of any notarial act as it is given, not based on the time frame given at the front of the particular volume.

The notarial records have been microfilmed, but are challenging for many of us to read. They were written in Italian, on both sides of unlined sheets, the lines of writing being put close together and the letters often pinched to conserve space.

Many people can learn to read these if they invest sufficient time and effort. But there are other possibilities, listed later, for those unable to read the original documents.

You should always begin searching with the most recent volume of notarial records, and then work backwards systematically to the earliest surviving volume. In this way, you are more likely to identify the correct branch of the family to research.

There are currently two options for researching the notarial records:
 

  1. Order the microfilms, one at a time, through your nearest Family History Center, and search them yourself. To determine which of the over 4,000 FHCs is closest to you, click here.

    To find the film number, go to http://familysearch.org/eng/Library/FHLC/frameset_fhlc.asp. Choose Place Search and type in the name of the community of your interest; type Torino in the second locality box on that screen to narrow the search.

    Or, if you don't want to type in such a long Web address, go to the familysearch.org home page and select (click on) these choices, in order:

    Library (tab at the top of the page)
    Family History Library Catalog (under the tabs)
    Place Search (button on right of main screen section)

    At this point, type in the name of the community you want in the first box and type Torino in the second one.

    When the results of the search show on the screen, click on the highlighted place you want. If you included Torino in the second box, there will usually be only one community of the name, but there are a few non-Waldensian communities with the same or similar name.

    Choose atti notarili (notarial acts)

    To find the film numbers, click on the View Film Notes button near the center of the screen. You can then find the film number for the time period you're interested in.

    NOTE: All of these films of notarial records are kept in a mountain vault, meaning that if you go to the FHL in Salt Lake City, there will be at least a half-day delay in retrieving the films for you. You might try requesting the film(s) a few days before your visit.

    These records are in Italian. Note that first names ending in "a" are feminine. For example, "Gioanna" (Jeanne) is the feminine form of "Gioanni" (John). The name for Michael is often spelled "Michelle," although "Michele" is more common; sometimes an "a" follows the "c" or "h." All these forms represent males, not females. An exception is Andrea (Andrew), which is always a man's name in these records. Occasionally, a notary will feminize a woman's surname as well. An example would be the surname "Turino" written as "Turina" for a woman.
     

  2. Hire a professional researcher to search the notarial records for you. Unless you are looking for specific information (such as a will) for just one or two ancestors, this can become very, very expensive.

    Here are a few qualified researchers we know to be dependable: In the U.S.-

    Carol B. Davidson is an Accredited Genealogist. She can access the microfilmed records and is experienced in reading the old handwrting. Contact her at cann@silverstar.com.

    In the Waldensian Valleys-

    Giovanni Cena is the PFO extractor and is very familiar with the "deliverance" registers and the notarial records. His primary focus is the PFO project, but he can do additional research. Contact him at gcena@iol.it or via snail mail at
    Giovanni Cena
    via Pozzo 25
    10034 Chivasso (TO) Italy

    Flora Ferrero, a native and resident of the Valleys, has done graduate work in history in England. She is very familiar with Waldensian history and records. Contact her at ferrero.flora@tiscalinet.it or via snail mail at
    Flora Ferrero
    Borgata Bocchilardo 1
    10063 Pomaretto (TO) Italy

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STEP 4: SEARCH OTHER AVAILABLE RECORDS. {BSHV}

Explanation: Another very useful source for Waldensian family history research is the periodical or journal called the Bulletin (Italian: Bollettino). It is published by the Societa di Studi Valdesi (Society for Waldensian Studies), formerly known by the French name Societe d'Histoire Vaudoise (Waldensian Historical Society).

This publication includes articles about key figures and episodes in Waldensian history. You may well find some ancestors, or at least their relatives, in the lists of refugees or victims. The journal was originally published in French. After some years with articles in either language, Italian became the standard with volume 40 (1919).

Identify articles from the Bulletin that may contain information about your ancestors or their relatives. Depending on your language abilities, you may not be able to understand the whole article, but at least you can skim the lists and recognize the names of interest. Here is a list of the more likely articles:

"Resume Alphabetique des Vaudois du Pragela, refugies en Suisse en 1730" [Alphabetic Summary of Waldensians from Pragela, Refugees in Switzerland in 1730], by T. Gay. (BSHV 27 [1910], pages 15-19)

"Les Vaudois refugies de Piemont en Suisse en 1731" [Waldensian Refugees from Piedmont in Switzerland in 1731]. (BSHV 29 [1911], pages 14-30)

"Les heros de la Rentree" [The Heroes of the Return], by Jean Jalla. (BSHV 31 [1913], pages 178-197)

"Quelques Documents des Archives d'Etat relatifs aux Vaudois emprisonnes pour leur foi en 1686 et aux enfants enleves" [Some Documents in the State Archives Relative to the Waldensians Imprisoned for Their Faith in 1686 and to Kidnapped Children]. (BSHV 37 [1916], pages 56-92)

"Quelques Documents sur les Vaudois prisonniers et les enfants enleves lors des Paques Piemontaises en 1655" [Some Documents About the Waldensian Prisoners and Kidnapped Children at the Piedmont Easter in 1655]. (BSHV 39 [1918], pages 50-65)

"Lista dei Valdesi che furono detenuti nel Castello dal maggio 1686 al febbraio 1687" [List of the Waldensians Detained in the Castle (at Carmagnola) from May 1686 to February 1687]. (BSSV 40 [1919], pages 36-49)

The FHL subscribes to the Bulletin, but the issues have not been microfilmed. The set is found on the International floor (FHL call number: 945 F25b).

You can request photocopies of specific articles from the FHL. Follow the directions for photocopies given under Step 1 above. Note that you must provide the volume number and the pages you want photocopied, as the Library cannot research this information for you.

In addition, according to the Union List of Serials and Mansell's National Union Catalog, the following libraries also have at least some issues. You may be able to borrow volumes of interest to you, or at least to order photocopies of key pages. (If you don't know which pages, you can request a photocopy of the table of contents of a particular volume, and use information from it to request the pages you need.)
 

Your local library that participates in the Interlibrary Loan program can help you order what you need.

For other assistance, place an inquiry on the comments and queries page.

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