Are you thinking of starting to research your family history but don't know where to start? If that is the case, then maybe I can help. This page is meant only to give you a brief idea of how to get started on your research, where to go for help, and where to find out more information.
The first thing you should do, is to write down everything you know about your ancestors, beginning with your own information. As you're doing this, try to collect as much documentation as you can lay your hands on. In other words, try to get copies of birth, baptism, marriage, and death records. You may be lucky enough to get some of these from living family members, but you may have to get them from the County or State office that has them in the locality you are interested in.
As you are collecting this information, you will be interviewing all the living family members that you can talk to. Ask all the important questions such as names, dates, and places. Write everything down as it is very easy to forget these details. Don't be too discouraged if the family member, especially an elderly person, says they don't remember. It has been my experience that, often, just asking the question, gets a person to thinking about the past they thought they had forgotten. It's always a good idea, then, to interview these people more than once. You might find a gem of information the second time around that they did not remember the first time you talked to them.
While you're choosing family members to interview, don't neglect older aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. or even friends of the family. They often have valuable information to offer that you may not find anywhere else. That was my experience. My family name is ANDRADE, and so, of course, I assumed that many of my ancestors carried that name back in time. I had no idea that the family name brought to this country by my great grandfather, was MACEDO. I found this out quite by accident. My Dad had called an elderly aunt of his to ask some questions about our family. In the course of the conversation, this great aunt said, "Well, you do know that your name was actually MACEDO, don't you?" My Dad didn't know either! When my great grandfather came to this country, his name was actually Joao Andrade de MACEDO. In the early days, he often used MACEDO in Portuguese documents and ANDRADE in legal US documents. I would never have been able to trace him back to Candelaria, Pico if I had not found the MACEDO connection.
There are many other sources of information available to us here in this country to help find our ancestors. These include family Bibles, land records, court records, census info, immigration and naturalization, and Church records. Also, if your ancestor was not a citizen of the United States during WWII, he would have had to fill out an Alien Registration Form.
Once you discover where your ancestor came from in the Azores, it may be time to start researching the microfilmed records of the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). If you are researching your family's genealogy, your local Family History Center or FHC (as it is commonly called) is the best place you can start your search of foreign records. The LDS has gone around worldwide filming all sorts of records which they make available to everyone. You may go to any FHC, whether you are a member of their Church or not. Each one is staffed by knowledgeable volunteers that will help you get started. Besides the microfilms and microfiche, you can make use of their computerized databases to search for available records and also information on your family that may have already been submitted. For a small fee (approx. $6.00) you can order a microfilm of any of the records they have. Most of the baptismal, marriage, and death records of the Azores have been filmed. If you check the Maps and Villages page on this website, you will find a map of each island with a listing of the records and the dates that have been filmed. To find your nearest FHC, just check the Yellow Pages in your phone book under Churches -- then Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
When I began to do my research, I didn't speak or read any Portuguese, so the thought of having to learn the language seemed overwhelming to me. The good news, though, is that you DON'T have to learn a lot of the Portuguese language in order to read the records. I bought myself a pocket dictionary that translated Portuguese to English and back again at a local book store. As you begin to read the records, it will get easier. You will learn the key words in the record and get better at picking them out. Here are some examples of records you might find.
Also, available at your local FHC is a "Portuguese Genealogical Word List." It gives the most common Portuguese words you will find in the records and their English translation. A very helpful tool that is quick and easy to use.
Another bit of information on these records . . . . .it will not be enough just to know that your great grandfather was Joao Silveira Bettencourt (for instance) from Candelaria, Pico. You WILL NEED to know his parent's names in order to find his baptismal record. That is because the baptismal records only give the child's first name along with the parents. It might read something like this: "Joao, son of Antonio Perreira Bettencourt and Maria Silveira . . . . " So, as you can imagine, there will be many records for "Joaos" making it imposible to know if you have found the correct record for your ancestor unless you have the parent's names as well.
At this time, most of the records of the Azores are being put online. They are broken down by island, council, and finally, by village and are a wonderful resource for genealogists to research their family history. Please check the Maps section on this site for the island you are interested in. There you will find links to those online records.
Join the Azores Genealogy Mailing List on Google Groups -- Go to the Azores GenWeb site for the instructions on how to subscribe to this mailing list. The list is filled with knowledgable, helpful folks and is a great place for beginners to get help and information!
Another mailing list for the Azores can be found at Rootsweb.