castle-in-santagata-di-puglia

Say What, I’m (Almost) An Italian Citizen?!

sudtirol bike path
Bike touring magic in Northern Italy in 2015.

I never met him, but I suspect my great-grandfather Annibale Marchitelli was a wily dude. Thanks to that wiliness, I am en route to having my Italian citizenship recognized.

Allow me to explain.

According to a ship manifest on the internets, in 1903 Annibale left the classic hill town of Sant’Agata di Puglia with $11 in his pocket. He landed at Ellis Island, settled in Jersey City, and got down to two jobs: carpentry and having sex raising 11 kids (yegads!).

In 1927, a few months after the final kid was born (my grandma), Annibale naturalized as a U.S. citizen. This means that: a) between work and tending to 11 whippersnappers, he didn’t have time to naturalize before then or b) he realized by having kids first, they could get dual citizenship. (This is all conjecture because he died young and took the secret to the grave.)

This all rocketed into my universe a week ago when a cousin called my mom to say, “hey, I found the original naturalization certificate. It looks like we can all become Italian citizens!”

Cue fanfare and cries of sorprendente! We’re moving to Europe!

Not so fast.

The Long and Winding Road to Italian Citizenship Via Jure Sanguinis

Turns out the Italian government doesn’t simply hand out passport if you text their consulates with a crappy iPhone photo of a naturalization certificate. (“I was told I also get a Tuscan villa?”) Farrrr from it.

The official route for this kind of situation is called “jure sanguinis,” which (for me) means “your great-grandpappy was Italian when your grandma was born, so you can be too!” Or, if we’re technical, “right of blood.” (Check if you do!)

Side note: In many countries with lots of immigration in the past (e.g. the U.S., Australia, Canada), citizenship is often “jus soli,” or “right of soil.” If you’re born there, you’re a citizen. Europe is mostly bloodline, which creates complex quandaries given all the immigration happening there.

Basically, since my grandma was born with unrecognized Italian citizenship, so was my mom, and hence me. BOOM. Given that I’ve signed my emails ciao for years, this makes so much sense.

All we have to do is prove the chain of lineage and I can buy an abandoned castle, acquire a taste for wine (uh oh), learn more Italian than “ciao,” and move to the Old Country!

The Fun and Games of Proving Citizenship

There are services that handle the process for a paltry $8,000. NEVER. I, Captain DIY, do not pay for such things!

Luckily, generous people have sailed these seas before. They are willing – no, happy! – to help noobies like me navigate the process for free. There’s even a Facebook group with an incredible amount of well-organized information and tales of victory. It’s possible! Just…a bit complicated.

Using the document list from the San Francisco consulate, my list includes certified naturalization records, plus birth, death, and marriage certificates. Cakewalk: I’ve got the internet, free time, and I love spreadsheets. (Yes, I already made one. #engineerdorkalert)

Just 2-4 things for each person. For FOUR generations. From Italy. New Jersey. Florida. Wisconsin. New York. California. Idaho.

Don’t forget this curveball: some U.S. agencies aren’t currently sending hard copies thanks to 2020’s major strikeout pitch, CoronaLameGawdIHateYou.

Uh oh. Why does my brain suddenly feel like a soggy plate of my grandma’s pasta?

OH, and once I receive documents, it’s necessary to mail them BACK to the Secretary of State in the issuing state for an apostille stamp that double-certifies the document is official for international use per the Hague Convention. (Apparently in Italy you CAN triple-stamp a double-stamp?)

Then everything has to be translated into Italian. Yup. Not kidding.

Did I mention it’s currently impossible to book an appointment at the San Francisco consulate? Just a TWO YEAR wait, except you can’t search more than two years out in their system, so only cancellations are available.

This is officially the most bureaucratic process I’ve ever launched into in.my.entire.life.

Hmmm. We love Oregon and can already travel to Europe for three months at a time. (Well, before covid.) Is this worth it?

Why I Give a Hoot About Italian Citizenship

Clearly all of this is a pain in the left lobe of my brain as well as time-consuming and costly. Why bother?

  1. Options are never bad.
    Who knows what happens during our lifetimes! We have no desire to leave Bend or the U.S. right now (well, depends on the day), but goals morph, presidents change (please pleeeease), and we do like adventures….
  2. I can help my family get citizenship.
    My mom, my brother/sister, and extended family can piggyback on my efforts. Chelsea and I don’t have kids, but my brother and cousins do. What a gift for their kids! Free college, the ability to live and work in the EU, healthcare that doesn’t bankrupt you. Amazing.
  3. Genealogy research is strangely satisfying.
    This one surprises me since I’ve never investigated my roots. Now I’m engaged in a giant scavenger hunt via FamilySearch.org and Archives.gov. Even if the whole process doesn’t work out, I think it’ll feel worth it.

And so, ONWARD. In two weeks, I’ve already made substantial progress. While this process takes years, at the end is a maroon Italian passport with my name etched inside and access to living anywhere in the European Union.

In the meantime, we shall study Italiano and dream of hill towns. Sto eccitato.

Ciao!

Sant'Agata di Puglia view
Sant’Agata di Puglia, birthplace of my great-grandfather! Can’t wait to visit.
(Photo credit Sant’Agata FB page)
12 replies
  1. Joe
    Joe says:

    You got me excited for a minute, but then I looked into the details and it turns out I’m not eligible because my Italian great-grandparents naturalized in the US before they had children.

    Reply
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Ah, too bad! I wondered if there were benefits to naturalizing back then? Seems like it was mostly an open door and it didn’t convey that many rights, but I suppose if people were creating a new life, they wanted to be U.S. citizens.

      Reply
  2. Go Jules Go
    Go Jules Go says:

    Never in my life have I been more jealous of someone than Jessica Biel (a.k.a. Mrs. Timberlake) – until this moment. And I’m not just saying that because this involves a new spreadsheet. Can’t WAIT to hear/see how this unfolds…

    P.S. – I think your email signature should have been proof enough.

    Reply
  3. Ava Marutyan
    Ava Marutyan says:

    That’s awesome! I started looking into getting my Lithuanian dual citizenship last year. They are part of the EU and like you said “Who knows what happens during our lifetimes!” Thanks to your article I found a Lithuanian dual citizenship FB group and found so many tips!

    Reply
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      No way! That’s awesome. As much as you two love Europe, I don’t many downsides to getting that EU passport. Hope it works out!

      Reply
  4. JennG
    JennG says:

    My mother got hers a few years ago, then my sister. I tried for a while to book an appointment a year out (2 years now?!!!), to no avail, and then last week my mother told me they are now requiring a basic understanding of the language – have you heard this? Or did she dream it… hoping so.

    Reply
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Howdy Jenn! Well, that’s cool. It’ll be WAY easier for you to get yours since all you need to document is your mom’s citizenship vs. 4 generations.

      Regarding language, I haven’t seen anything about a language requirement for jure sanguinis. As of 2018, there is a B1 level (intermediate, ~200 hours of study) requirement for jure matrimonii (by marriage). Which means John gets to learn Italian if you’re serious about this 🙂

      Reply
  5. Chris@TTL
    Chris@TTL says:

    I’ve tried to dig into this a few times before for Jenni and me. I’ve got a half Swedish grandfather and a mostly German grandmother. You’d think one of them could make this work, but apparently not. We’ll need to dig further into Jenni’s background one day and give it a go. To one of your last points there: I’d love to have more “options” for where we might settle for a while outside the US along with some of the potential benefits that go with it.

    And you’re probably not terribly far off of that whole “I heard it comes with an Italian villa?” either. Catch this recently?
    https://www.cnbc.com/2019/11/08/town-in-italy-is-offering-free-houses-but-theres-a-catch.html
    Chris@TTL recently posted…Be a Disciplined Investor: Avoid the Behavior GapMy Profile

    Reply
  6. Heather
    Heather says:

    Your grandma wouldn’t be able to pass this on to you based on the bs patriarchal 1948 rule.. only men can pass and women but only if the women were born after 1948. meh.

    Reply
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Agreed, total patriarchal BS! My understanding (corroborated by a company my cousin checked with) is that I qualify because I’m following my great-grandfather’s line via my American-born grandmother.

      Women could receive citizenship, but couldn’t pass it down to their daughters IF the daughter was born pre-1948. My mom was born in 1952, receiving the Italian line from my grandmother via my great-grandfather and then passing it onward to me. Clear as mud! This process is insane…

      Reply
  7. Heather
    Heather says:

    If that’s the case, then make your appointment at the SF consulate asap! I’m in the PNW too & it’s 2 years out to even get an appt and you my friend have a ton of documents to gather 😉

    I had my appointment with them in April and just received my citizenship approval this week. Feel free to email me and we can talk, I’m also in the PNW so I can talk to you about our consulate, don’t waste thousands of euros on a company.

    Ciao !

    Reply

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