Each village in Trentino has one or more churches. In addition to religous functions, the village church also served social and civil purposes. Since the early 1600s, the village church was the recordkeeper for family events. Handwritten birth, marriage, and death registers have survived in a large number of the villages, many dating to the 1500’s. Most often, these church records are the only source of information available to family researchers. Sadly though, registers in more than a few villages were destroyed. In the post Using Trentino Church Records, I gave a brief overview of the information that can be found in the church records. If all you are interested in is collecting names and dates, then the church registers are enough. But, taking time to research the village church will give you an insight to your ancestor’s village and daily life.
For example, the photo above is the former church of San Lorenzo in the village of Cunevo (in Val di Non), Trentino. The provincial archives contain a document from the year 1327 referring to a small chapel in Cunevo called Sancti Laurenti. Since it was common for our ancestors to remain in the same village for many generations, you can visualize generations of ancestors walking to the same church for hundreds of years.
Eventually, as the village grew, San Lorenzo was too small to serve the community, and a new church was built in the late 1800s. Abandoned for decades, the structure was used as a warehouse, and then as a field kitchen for Austro-Hungarian army troops during World War I. This tells you that during the war years troops were fed and roamed throughout the village, likely mingling with your ancestors.
More recently, San Lorenzo underwent a restoration (one of many over the course of its existence), and the foundation of an ancient altar was uncovered. Unfortunately, during the restoration and improvement of the grounds, many tombstones in the small cemetery around the church walls were damaged or destroyed. Those that survived were placed against the old wall surrounding the church (photo below), while those that were heavily damaged (including that of my grandparents) were buried. These old tombstones can be a source of valuable information (the post Tombstone Photographs illustrates the type of information often available) .
If you visit your ancestral village, there will be old and new structures. Each year, the old wood and stone houses either vanish or are rebuilt. As time passes, they will eventually lose the character they had during your ancestors’ time. One structure that usually survives intact is the village church. Although spruced up, they still retain a strong connection to how they looked when your ancestor worshipped or celebrated events. Below is an interior view of San Lorenzo. Walking about the interior, you can visualize your ancestor doing the same and view the same things he or she did (although reconstructed).