Italian surnames changed abroad: legend or reality ?
Some people say (or write) that the story that in Ellis Island many italian surnames were misspelled and changed is only a myth, an old Italian legend.
Well, we were not in Ellis Island at that time, but we have our idea about.
What we know is that abroad there are Italian surnames strange and misspelled if compared at usual Italian surnames.
In our experience on genealogy and even here at ItalianSide.com we had many requests about surnames never recorded or never heard in Italy, usually slightly different from typical Italian surnames.
So we see an “e” becoming “i” or viceversa, an “o” becoming “a”…a “d” becoming “t” and so on…
As a proof of this, you can try to search Ellis Island database: you will check easily by yourself how many “alternative spelling” you can find for each surname.
We have to remember that passports were completed by hands at that time.
And we must remember that the same Italians who came in US (in 1800 and in beginning of 1900), very often they did not speak Italian!
They were used to speak only dialect of little native villages.
So, in this situation, for example, if border officiers could not read exactly a surname in the passport, it was almost impossible to communicate and try to understand better and correct any errors.
Those who say that this a mith, that this could not happen because to help border guards there were always people able to speak Italian, they simply forget that dialects are very different even for close villages.
For noone was (and is !) possible to know and speak all dialects of all italian villages and towns !
Italian as a language was very young (as Italy were young as a nation) in the beginning of 1900.
Moreover, sometimes there were similar errors with surnames in Italy too when people were moving from one city to another.
We think that if you are sure of your Italian roots and you can’t find your Italian surname in normal italian archives, you have to consider the possibility of a “little” change to your surname when your ancestors entered in their new country.
Not a big deal, but it is useful to consider this hypothesis to undertake a serious genealogical research in your country of origin