Stato delle anime: parish census

“Status animarum” or Parish Family Books

After the Council of Trent, church priests, in Italy, were commanded to write daily statements of what was a real set of church censuses, called “stati delle anime” (”state of the souls”). The State of Souls was a register, where –mostly in Easter time-, the priest was visiting every house of the Parish, and recording information from every family. These records were introduced in order to control whether parishioners fulfilled the obligation of confession and Easter communion, since it was a Catholic Church requirement, that people could confess and receive Communion at least once a year and on the occasion of Easter, at the month of April. By this reason, oldest States of Souls do not register children and disabled parishioners, who were unable to receive the sacrament of communion.

Here is a list of websites with information about Italian Parish Censuses available for consultation online.

State of Souls regulations

The parish family books were prescribed in the Rituale Romanum published in June 20th 1614 by Pope Paul V, and then, there were established some standards for the preparation of the states of souls. Besides these regulations, it didn’t exist another standard about the Stati delle Anime. The way in which these records were written could vary significantly depending on the period, the region, and the level of education of every priest.
Usually priests started a book every certain period of years, and in every visit, they were pointing who moved, where they had moved, and all kind of relevant information, making these books a rich source of information. We can see in those books cross shaped marks, to signal that some member of the household had died, or moved, to neighbor communes, or maybe to a foreign country. In many cases we can find records of people immigrated to America.
The books could also register full names, age and relationship to the head of household of each of its members. Wives of household owners were also registered with their first and maiden names, a very important information, because in Parish records before 1850, it was only recorded the wife’s mother first name, not her last name. Other relatives as potential in-laws, nephews or people who were living together in the house at that time, were also recorded.
The State of Souls is the first available official census in many Italian communes. All the information we can find in these books is fundamental for our genealogical research, considering that “anagrafe” offices didn’t exist yet at that time. In some villages, the State of Souls were kept in two books, one for the urban section of the Parish, and the other one for the rural section, the “campagna”.
The practice of the State of Souls is still used in some Parishes.

About the information contained in the State of Souls

The Rituale Romanum of June 20th 1614, prescribed detailed regulations about the State of Souls.

1. A C means that that parishioner was confessed.
2. A second C means that he or she received the sacrament of communion.
3. A third C (occasionally) indicates that the sacrament of confirmation was received.
Usually, for children, no C was reported, or in some cases only one. Sometimes, at the end of the list it was indicated who remain still unconfessed, plus, the reason of that (for instance: “absent for a long time”, “mental illness”, and so on). In this way, adults were identified as CCC, adolescents with C or CC, and kids were not identified with any C, because they had only received the sacrament of baptism.

This priest marked the book with C and CH
This priest marked the book with C and CH

Some church priests had their own system:
• cr for cresimati (confirmed people)
• con for confessed people
• com (who received the communion)
The C for confirmation was not always used. In fact, in some State of Souls it also looks like nobody was confessed, because that C of “confession” is always missing, and, also, an X, meaning that somebody was next to the confirmation, was sometimes used and in other books not used at all.
Women civil status were indicated in relation to a man: figlia = daughter (with the meaning of “unmarried”), moglie (wife) meaning “married”, vedova (widow).
There were no other regulations for the Stato delle Anime. The books were made accordingly with the own general criteria of every church priest. A lot of inaccuracies and misstatements seem to show that, often, priests performed this task in a quite negligent way.

This priest used his own codes: Ch, Con, Com. An X for those who were to be confirmed, and a cross for the dead. He used the same book between 1880 and 1889, adding information about marriages, emigrations, and deceases.

This priest only recorded people names.


This priest registered only people ages.

Many of them used a (uncommon, but very effective) system to save time and labor. Instead of visiting houses every year, they did it once, and then in every Easter, they just update the data, increasing the age accordingly, one more year every year, adding those newly baptized and removing the deceased.
When parishioners went to take communion, the priest put a mark next to his name in the book.
In many dioceses, and probably in all of them, the parish priest gave each person attending Mass, a small paper with his or her name. When they went to receive the first communion, that paper was required by the priest, just to add another C in the book.
Some Parish family books were designed to be used along several years, as the one partially exposed in this article.

Pre-printed Parish family book, supplied by a dioceses to its parishes. It didn’t allow enough space to register the spiritual condition of parishioners (CCC).

Other times, since the state of souls was made annually, it was preferred to use single sheets instead of complete books. And probably, this practice helped facilitate their dispersion or destruction.

Another pre-printed Parish family book, supplied by a dioceses to its parishes, with titled columns: cresima, confesione, comunione. Moreover, it has columns for further registration, as marriages, deceases, and so on.

Parish family book used during the period 1847-1857.