The Background and History of BGRG

Some years back, a number of us met through the internet when we found we had a common interest in researching our roots from Barga. In several cases we learned that we were distantly related. We formed the Barga Genealogy Research Group to help each other and to share our genealogy efforts. Our members are dispersed throughout the world and are primarily in contact through the internet and emails. As time went on, our Group grew as other people with Barga ancestors learned about us. We currently have over 100 members dispersed in the USA, England, Scotland, Canada, Germany, Brazil and Italy.

When we began the step was to gain access to important historical records. As we began doing so we learned about the frailty of these old books. It was obvious that each time one was opened there was the possibility of damage. So our mission became one of preservation in tandem with our interest in research. We began photographing pages of the old books, creating indexes of their contents and then compiling this work onto compact discs which we would present to the parish priests. Since the church has historically maintained records of births, baptisms, marriages and deaths - people requiring information about their extended families will rely on parish priests to perform genealogical research for them. By providing digital copies of records with detailed alphabetical indexes of their contents, we help the priests in their work, we help protect the frail, original documents, and preserve the information for generations to come.

In doing our research, we found that the civil record in Italy prevented us from taking our genealogy research back much earlier than the mid-1800's. We learned that Church records went back to the 1600's and earlier. These records were stored in the various parishes in Barga (Barga, Loppia, San Pietro, Castelvecchio, Albiano, Sommocolonia and Tiglio). A few of us were able to visit Barga and look at these records. We got verbal permission from Archbishop Plotti, bishop of Pisa to film these records. The main requirements were that people's privacy be protected and that the records be used for personal use only. We handled the first concern by filming only to up to around 1900 which was fairly conservative since Italian privacy law requires a 70 year limit which, at the time, would have been 1928. The second requirement is met by having all members agree to use the information only for personal use. Before becoming a member each person must sign a waiver to this effect. By requiring a username and password to access the site, we can control who can see the records and we can monitor how it is used.

As genealogical researchers we feel we very proud of the many relevant and fascinating collections of records on our website. Primarily there are Church records which we have filmed to date of the seven parishes within the comune of Barga. (Barga, Loppia, San Pietro, Castelvecchio, Albiano, Sommocolonia and Tiglio) In addition, we have an index of the census which was done in 1841 for the Grand Duke of Tuscany, a list of people from Barga who died the WWII. Many of the Church records have been indexed by our members to make research easier. The information in the indexes vary depending on how thorough the person was. All of the indexes include the picture number, the person's first and last name, date, and parents' names.

Besides helping people do their research, our Group has helped members better understand their Italian roots and why their ancestors left Barga and Italy. In September of 2007 we had a Group reunion in Barga. About 80 members and their families came. We showed them the villages where their ancestors lived, the churches where they worshiped, and the cemeteries where some were buried. They were able to walk the streets walked by their ancestors, meet the people living there now, and appreciate their Italian heritage. For many this was the first time they had been to Italy and it was an emotional event for them.

People from Barga have done well in their adopted countries. However, those of us, who are their descendants living in other countries, find our current national roots to be shallow and we have a need to understand where our ancestors came from and why they left. Genealogy helps to fulfill this need for us. This is not the case for most Italians who have remained in Italy; they have lived in the same houses and towns for generations and have deep roots there with relatives and friends nearby. They do not feel the need to research their ancestors.

Our filming effort is also a way to preserve the records and allow people to conveniently access the information they contain. By filming the records, it will no longer be necessary for researchers to handle the books containing the original records themselves. Each time a book is handled there is the potential that the old pages will be damaged. There is also the risk that the books could be stolen. The digital photographs can now be viewed on a computer via the Internet.

After we photograph the records, we give the local priests copies of the images on CD's so that they can also access the records without referring to the original books themselves. We have also given them copies of the indexes we have done both on the CD's and also in printed form in alphabetical order. This allows the priests to find a record quickly when they receive a request for information from someone researching their ancestors. Today with so few priests and with so many tasks they need to do, it is important that we lay people help our priests to do their work in any way we can.

The other part of our effort is to have these records available on our website rather than in a safe somewhere. Few of our members have the time or money to travel to Barga to do this research. Many are older and do not speak Italian, so a trip to Italy would be difficult or impossible. Building a family tree takes time and requires studying documents and piecing together the events of the past. Sometimes an ancestor moved from one parish to another either for work or marriage. Being able to see the records online allows the researcher to follow the trail of his ancestor from birth, to marriage and to death. Having access to the records online avoids having to contact the local priest and asking him to do the research.

We believe that it is the responsibility of the diocese and church to preserve these records. Most of the people in them were simple farmers and workmen. These records are the only information of their lives and that they even existed. We also believe that the information stored on these records belong to everyone and especially to the descendents of these individuals. In doing our family tree we acknowledge these ancestors and that their lives were meaningful.

We hope to continue to index the records and we will continue to share these indexes with the local pastors. These indexes could be incorporated into the Archivio della Parrocchia da San Cristofano di Barga and any subsequent documents for the other parishes.