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In 2013 our researcher, Giovanni Cena, began finding additional records he thought would be useful in researching our Waldensian ancestors. Among these documents are tax, census, and records of Waldensians who converted to Catholicism.

Tax and Census Records

Governments have always been interested in raising all the revenue they could. That resulted in taxes of various kinds. The need to sustain funding led to taking a census: Knowing how many in the jurisdiction could labor allowed any ruler to better calculate how to meet expenses and maintain the desired lifestyle.

The information recorded was focused on assuring the regular receipt of funds for government officials. The need for income had to be balanced with the need for enough records to assure that everyone paid their share of the load without substantially increasing the amount of money being expended to get that information. So the records weren’t elaborate—and they weren’t regular.

Among the Waldensians, historically the annual Town Council, comprised of an annually elected major and town councilor members, plus the heads of households, made basic decisions. (“Heads of households” functioned in the biblical patriarchal mode—the father represented his sons, even grown and married with children unless one or more of them had been formally “emancipated” by the father.) The central government assigned a given amount to each community, and the assessors elected in the Town Council assessed each family’s portion of the amount, based on their ability to pay—and figured out how to collect the amount.

It seems that a need was felt to further regulate matters in 1628, as lists for taxing vegetables exist for many of the areas, with lists for taxing salt, grains, and animals being somewhat less widespread. Another group of such lists exist for 1698 or 1700 for some communities.

Surviving Census Records (called “Bocche Umane”—literally, “Human Mouths”) were used to determine how many people in a town or village could work. Thus, sometimes ages are provided, indicating not only how many could work but how hard they could labor.
As noted, these records were not very systematic, and so it is recommended that you compare these lists carefully with your ancestral families.

For instance, the Luserna and San Giovanni area provides lists for both 1698 and 1700. Carefully comparing those lists can help you identify a family member who may not appear in the parish registers nor in the notary records.

The records are provided by town and then by the type of record: Tax on salt (Italian: sale), food (vettovaglie), grains, livestock, or census (Bocche Umane), with the year given. It’s important to scan through the entire record for the locality where your ancestors lived.

Some lists contain only heads of households while others include all family members. Pedigree summaries where family information is available is an aid provided in the abstraction process and is not found in the original record.

Convertiti - Those Who Converted to Catholicism

At various times in their history, Waldensians were coerced into renouncing their religion and becoming orthodox by joining the Catholic Church. Refusal to convert often had dire consequences. At times, property was confiscated and children removed from the family and raised in orphanages or with Catholic families. Some who refused to convert paid with their lives. Under such duress, many became Catholics, most in name only. Many later returned to Waldensianism when the danger passed.

Census and Tax Records

Convertiti - Records of Those Who Converted to Catholicism

We are grateful to the State Archives, Torino for providing access to these records, and to Giovanni Cena for his generous efforts to abstract them.