What does ‘Unclaimed Italian Properties’ mean? Between 1861 and 1985 over 29 million Italians emigrated to other countries. About 18 million permanently settled abroad, predominantly in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and Argentina. In 2011, there were 4,115,235 Italian citizens living outside Italy and several tens of millions of descendants of Italians, who emigrated in the last two centuries.
When Italian emigrants went abroad, they often left property and land in Italy. It is a myth that this property was confiscated by the Italian State. The reality is that the property is still here in Italy, unclaimed, and the original owners, deceased many years ago, are still on the title deeds. There are many thousands of these properties and parcels of land across Italy and in many cases the descendants of emigrants living outside Italy could still claim them. Over the years, I have been contacted for help and advice by many descendants of Italian emigrants who want to find their ancestors’ property in Italy. In some cases, people come to me after spending considerable time, and substantial amounts of money.
I have heard anecdotes about people receiving letters from organizations asking for an upfront fee and promising help locating and retrieving an unclaimed family property in Italy. Needless to say, people who respond to these letters never hear anything once the fee has been paid. So, if you get a letter like this, be cautious – look up the company, check its credentials – don’t rely on the information you’re given in the letter.
In the first instance, legitimate researchers will seek unclaimed property through sources made available under freedom of information laws. Since 2014, the Italian Tax Authority has made it possible for the public to search online for land registry records and titles. You will need to register an account, then supply information such as:
- Name of presumed owner, even if deceased (maiden name, if female).
- Exact town of birth in Italy.
- Name of father of the presumed owner.
- Date of Birth (year) of the presumed owner (records only available post 1880).
Interpreting search results can however make a DIY approach difficult. In addition, land registry results may not always be accurate. They could, for example, be out of date or show the name of a previous owner.
If you know, or believe that your family has property in Italy and you need help, make sure you engage the services of reputable and experienced professionals.