FamilySearch

Microfilming and digitalization of the Portuguese parish records by the GSU

FamilySearch1, a brand of the Genealogical Society of Utah (GSU), provides one of the largest reference sites for the world community of genealogists. GSU is responsible for the microfilming and digitalization of the Portuguese parish records, through a agreement with the Portuguese government signed in 2006. The GSU is the genealogical research branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS, also known as the Mormon Church), which provides through the FamilySearch brand, the FamilySearch.org website, and the Family History Centers (FHC). Genealogical research is of special importance to the followers of this religion, as it preaches that only the souls of the baptized will be saved, allowing however the practice of baptism for the dead2, thus encouraging its followers to discover their ancestors in order to perform this ritual.

Whatever the reasons, the truth is that the partnership with the GSU provided the Portuguese Government with free microfilming and digitailization services, making it possible to freely access the majority of the Portuguese parish records online without the need to visit the respective archive. In practice, however, the quantity of books online varies with each archive, as some have already made nearly all their fonds available, whereas others still have a lot of work ahead of them. One way to obtain immediate access to these books would be the use of the FamilySearch.org website, but unfortunately, and according to the terms of the agreement with the Government (see Article 6), GSU is not allowed to provide them unless the archives fail to do so "within 2 years after the conclusion of each project"3.

Parish records in FamilySearch.org

Even though it's not explicitly authorized by the agreement, the truth it that it's possible to browse in the FamilySearch website the list of parish books already scanned, on the page of Portugal records. Unfortunately, in most cases this will be the reply provided by the site:

This image is viewable: To signed-in members of supporting organizations.

This warning shows up to all users, whether or not your logged in, except to those that have an LDS account,exclusive to Church members. It's not worth to sign-up as an indexer for this purpose, as these also do not have the necessary permissions. In order to upgrade your account with these permissions, you need to become a member of the LDS Church, if not already, and then request that your account be upgraded to reflect your membership status.

The only portuguese colections available to non-LDS in the FamilySearch website are the following:

None of the source archives for these collections are dependent of DGLAB, since the Braga and Coimbra ones are university archives, the Elvas archive is municipal and the one from Vila Real is from the catholic diocese. As such, they're not covered by the access restrictions imposed by the agreement.

How to access the restricted parish records

There's very little that can be done to access these images, but maybe the following advice can help:

  • Try looking here in tombo.pt. If that book has already been published by the portuguese archives, you'll be able to access them easily through this site.
  • Visit a Family History Center. Familysearch maintains a large network of these centers. If the LDS member that staffs it, allows you to use an LDS account, you'll be able to acess the restricted images. In the FHC you may be told that the responsability for the acess restrictions is because of the Catholic Church, which is clearly not true, on one hand because these books are now the property of the portuguese archives, and on the other because it was the Portuguese Government that forbade GSU from providing universal access. In alternative, you can order the microfilm for use in the center's film reader. Browse the microfilm catalog to discover what films are available. Ordering a microfilm will take a few days, and has a small cost.
  • Go to the archive where the book is stored, where you won't have to wait nor pay for the microfilm, but where you may have to compete for the use of the available film readers. In some archives, you'll even be allowed to handle the original parish book (!).
  • Be patient. Publishing these books online is an ongoing project by most of the archives. Visit us regularly to be informed of the newly published books by the archives.

1. FamilySearch and the FamilySearch logo are trademarks of Genealogical Society of Utah.
2. This controversial practice has even led the Vatican to instruct the catholic dioceses to deny the Mormons access to the parish records in 2008.
3. Is any of the projects ever concluded?