- familysearch.org: Overwhelmingly the site I’ve used the most. Free with a minimal registration, run by the LDS, contains an almost unimaginable amount of information including how to order copies of microfilms to be shipped to your local family history center. You’ll have to pay shipping, but it’s negligible, something like $8 per film roll.
- ellisisland.org: Extremely useful for searching immigration into Ellis Island. Shows you scanned images of the actual manifests.
- castlegarden.org: Site and search for the pre-Ellis immigrants. This will also return Ellis-era results as well, but will not show you the manifest images of pre-Ellis innigrants. For those, you want to go to the NARA site listed below.
- JewishGen: Despite its name, this site has tons of other non-Jewish records as well. The best, most informative, most flexible Ellis/Castle searches you’ll find, more so than the searches on those two websites.
- Stephen Morse’s website: I can’t say enough good things about this.
- The National Archives Italians to America Passenger Data Files: You can order paper copies of manifests that exist only as microfilms as well.
- www.gens.info: Great for looking at the distribution of your Italian surname.
- italianames.com: A far more useful and detailed Italian last name map.
- PagineBianche.it: Italian White Pages.
- library.phila.gov: Free Library of Philadelphia archive search. Lots of yummy newspaper stuff. No Italian language papers, though.
- Pennsylvania Historical Newspapers: Veddy useful.
- FindaGrave.com: Search on names and see pictures of headstones. Interesting, useful, a little eerie.
- BillionGraves.com: Another very useful cemetery site.
- PA Death Indices: Starting in 1920, you have to use a soundex code for the names. Cortese: C632, Romagnano: R525, Pistilli: P234, Ciancaglini: C522.
- ItalianGenealogy.com forums: Very, very, very helpful.
- Italian Genealogical Group: A NYC-specific search of multiple databases, very useful if you have any NY in your family.
- Italian Genealogy on Facebook
- Southern Italian Genealogy Network on Facebook
These are all freebies, which is why I haven’t bothered with Ancestry.com. It costs more than I want to pay out to gain access to European records that are accessible for free or shipping costs through familysearch.org. Ancestry.com is much more useful for people with little to no Great Migration ancestry. If like many Americans your ancestors passed through the immigration stations at New York and elsewhere during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Ancestry.com is much less useful, and much more expensive.
If you’re looking for a particular person, I’d suggest methodically searching in all of the above sites. All of the databases have subtle differences that enable someone to show up in one and not in another.
Search on the following in all of them:
- First Last name as you know it.
- Potential misspellings and misreadings of old-style handwriting.
Keep in mind age, town of origin, and destination. Strong pings include people listed on manifests containing other names commonly found in their town of origin.