FINDING YOUR PORTUGUESE ROOTS continued

by Cheri Mello
Copyright 2005 by Cheryl L. Me llo. All rights reserved

Portuguese Vital Records

1. Batismos - Since the Civil Registries are a rather “new” idea, your birth information will come from the church baptism (batismo) records. These for the most part, do follow a format, although you may find slight variations from priest to priest and parish to parish. However, most of these records (especially the ones from the late 1800's) contain a wealth of information that you would not find in American records.

Records in the late 1800's have the child's name in the margin and usually begin with the baptism date spelled out in words, followed by the name of the church; the council; the island (if applicable); the diocese; the name of the priest who is performing the baptism; the sex of the child; the name of the child and how many of that same name; time and date born; child legitimate or illegitimate (yes, they baptized those, too); father's name, occupation and native birthplace; mother's name, occupation and native birthplace; where parents married; where the parents are parishioners; what street they reside on; paternal grandparents; maternal grandparents; and godparents, with occupation and relationship to the child. Not all of these items will appear in your baptisms, nor will the order necessarily be the same. Many of these records seem to be clearer and stick to the format that they are to follow.

As you trace back in time, you will notice that the format changes in the mid-1800's. These records may not be as clear and neat. However, there are a few “nice” changes.

Once again, the child's name usually appears in the margin. Then the records usually begin with the child's name; father and mother; where natives of (church & town); birth date; baptized in this church and date; name of priest; names of godparents and where they live (and relationship to the child, if applicable). Once again, not all of these items may appear in your baptisms, nor will the order necessarily be the same. This format, for the most part, continues back to the late 1600's.

In the 1600's, then child's name usually appears in the margin. Then the records usually begin with the baptism date (no more birth date); father; mother; godparents; and the name of the priest. These records are more bare bones.

Some useful batismo strategies: Sometimes, it may say “defunto” (male) or “defunta” (female) after the name of one of the parents. This means that the parent has died. You now have between that date and about 9 months before to look for that death record. Death of the grandparents are seldom noted.

As you go back in time and records become more sketchy or parts are missing, noting the godparents and their relationship to the child may get you back another generation or two. For example, if the baptism records begin in 1700 and the marriages begin in 1750, there is a problem. You can read baptisms for the godparents between 1700 and 1750, looking for your ancestor as a godparent. It may read something like this: José de Pementel (sic), paternal uncle, son of the family of Manoel de Pementel (sic) and his wife, Jozefa dos Santos. You now know your José's parents!

2. Casamentos - Casamentos (marriage) records, along with the baptism records make up the bulk of your research, and are the easiest to use. Baptisms note only the first name in the margin, marriages note the full name of both the bride and groom. So this makes researching these records a bit easier. These for the most part, do follow a format, although you may find slight variations from priest to priest and parish to parish. And once again, they contain quite a bit of information.

A marriage record from the 1800's will follow a format similar to the following: name of groom and bride in the margin; date of marriage; church; town; council; island (if applicable); diocese; priest; name of groom and bride; impediments (if they were cousins); witnesses; groom's age, status, occupation and parents (where they are natives of, if different town); bride's age, status, occupation and parents (where they are natives of, if different town); and a bunch of church talk. Some casamentos may give the grandparents as well.

As you go back in time, the ages, status and occupation of the newlyweds drop off of the records. The next thing to disappear is the council, island (if applicable) and diocese. Much of the church talk at the bottom (or what is interspersed throughout the document) drops off, too.

Some useful casamento strategies: It is helpful to note whether or not the parents are deceased (if it is just the father, it will say “defunto” after his name; if it is just the mother, it will say “defunta” after her name; if it is both, it will say “defuntos” after her name.) If you get the marriages of your ancestor's siblings, you may see when the parent is allegedly alive. Using those marriages and your ancestor's marriage, you can narrow down the death date for the parents. For example, it says that the father of the groom is “defunto” at the time your ancestor married in 1850. But you have his brother's marriage in 1848, where no notation is made about the father being deceased. You now have a starting point to begin looking for deaths.

Widow (viúva) and widowers (viúvo): Sooner or later, you will hit a marriage where it says your ancestor, Manoel da Ponte, was a widower of Rosa de Jesus, and now he is marrying Francisca de Conceição, daughter of...... In order to find Manoel's parents, you will need to find Manoel's first marriage. Rarely will it note the parents in a second marriage.

3. Obitos - Death (obitos) records are the hardest of all the Portuguese records to research. Many times you don't have any indication when an ancestor has died (unless you are collecting all of the children and their marriages). And once you find your ancestor's obito, it will most likely be inaccurate (age 70, more or less). However, it will mention your ancestor's spouse, and many times, if you ancestor was a widow(er), it will mention the name of the deceased spouse. If you are getting all the deaths of a particular family, be sure to check the FHLC for a separate listing of babies and children (sometimes their obitos are listed separate). Always with children, and usually with single adults, it mentions their parents. In addition to the above information, the obitos give the death date and sometimes the cause of death (if you notice many deaths at once, slowly work backward. The priest may note that the following entries were all due to the earthquake (terremoto) that happened on such-and-such a date.) It will say if your ancestor was buried in the church or chapel (ermida) if he or she was in good standing with the church.

Some useful obito strategies: In addition to what has been mention above, later records (and those in the Civil Registry) may be cross-referenced with death & marriage dates in the margin of the ancestor's baptism.

All of the above religious records will note “scandals” such as divorces, not receiving communion, adultery, illegitimacy, and burial somewhere else (not in good standing with the church). They will note people not of the Catholic faith.

Back to the Top of this page