As a nation state, Italy has emerged only in 1871. Until then the country was politically divided into a large number of independant cities, provinces and islands. The currently available evidences point out to a dominant Etruscan, Greek and Roman cultural influence on today's Italians.
I came across the following situation in my genealogical research:
Filippo lost his wife and son to cholera, then about three years later began having children with his deceased wife's sister, Nunzia. On each child's birth record, Nunzia is called "sua sposa [his wife]" and the couple is referred to as a married couple, though they weren't officially married. They finally married a few months after the death of their third child. The surviving children are named in their marriage record.
Question: What was Sicilian social custom concerning 1) men marrying the sisters of their deceased wives, 2) couples having children together and then marrying? Why would the town official refer to them as married even though they weren't, in an official sense?
In Molise (which was also part of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies), (1) men sometimes married the sisters of their deceased wives and vice versa (2) couples sometimes married after having children, in which cases the children were sometimes named in the marriage record and recognized as the children of the couple (3) couples were sometimes married in religious ceremonies before doing so in a civil ceremony, hence they might be referred to as husband and wife before a civil ceremony.
The Napoleonic Code required civil ceremonies beginning about 1809, but customs die hard and people were accustomed to getting married in the church. As a result, almost all couples were married in both a religious ceremony and a civil ceremony. Sometimes the two were combined, the couple filing a promise to marry with the Stato Civile and then getting married in a religious ceremony, which was then entered in the Stato Civile to complete the marriage record.
The Filippo and Nunzia I mentioned were from Termini Imerese, Palermo province, Sicily.
Thank you for the above information. The marriage record was an "Atto della Solenne Promessa di celebrare il Matrimonio," with the entry for the actual church wedding in the right column, indicating that the couple married in the church three days after they made their official promise to marry. So, they weren't married in a religious ceremony prior to a civil wedding. Your first two comments about men marrying their sister-in-laws and couples marrying after having children were helpful. Has anyone published a study about this--concerning Italian marriage customs? I have read a few books about Italian Americans, and a few on Sicilian customs, but none mentioned this. I would appreciate knowing a few good titles to read that might shed some insight into this issue.
I don't know of any books specifically about Italian marriage customs. My statements were based upon research in the records of a dozen towns in the Campobasso area, hence the qualification that the statements were limited to Molise. Italian Genealogical Records by Trafford R. Cole contains some passages about the reluctance of some Italians to enter a marriage in the civil records after a religious marriage (at page 19). It's a great book that discusses the many aspects of Italian life that affected Italian record-keeping.