Genealogy is the history of the family relations between individuals, where the researcher (i.e. genealogist) studies it's own ancestors. One popular way of organizing this data is the creation of a Family Tree.
Even though its possible to carry out this research without resorting to any software tool, the use of one is highly recommended as the volume of data to organize will eventually grow, and the use of genealogy software will simplify the process. Also, in addition to the simpler management of your genealogy research, it enables you to easily share your research data with your family or other genealogists.
To start your research, it's best to start by contacting your older relatives and to ask them everything they remember about the family history. Besides being a fun time well spent with them, you'll be told details that would otherwise be impossible to get (immigration, unknown relatives, etc.). This is also a good time to scan your older family photos, and to ask your relatives for help in identifying the unknown persons in those photos.
The study of genealogy is based mostly on the primary vital records: birth, marriage and death. In a later stage, or simply because of it, you may use some secondary records: passports, wills, priesthood blood purity (de genere) processes, etc. These are not as common as the primary, but may allow you to proceed with with your research when the former are missing.
In general, the recommended steps are the following:
- Get the person's birth record. Recent records contain the name, age and place of origin for both parents and the grandparents names. There may also be side annotations, with information on the person's marriage or death. In some cases, the witnesses/godparents may indicate other family relationships that may prove useful.
- Get the wedding record of the parents of the above person. This will contain the name, age and place of origin of the bride and groom, and the names of their parents. There may also be side notes on the dissolution of marriage.
- If the person is deceased, also get the death record, using the information obtained in the previous records.
- Repeat the above steps once for the father and for the mother. Continue the process until you exhaust all sources of information.
Depending on personal preferences, you can choose to start with you, your parents or grandparents. If, as recommended above, you opted to use a software tool, you should start with you unless you want to maintain multiple separate databases, as it is always mandatory to indicate some relationship with someone already in the database.
To obtain the records indicated above, it is necessary to proceed differently according to the year in which the event took place:
- Civil records: For events less than 100 years old (in practice from 1911 to today)
- Parish records: For events older than 100 years (in practice between the second half of the sixteenth century and 1911)
For events less than 100 years old, the records you need are in the Civil Registry Office (Conservatória do Registo Civil or CRC) of the respective municipality. Nowadays the CRCs are networked, which means that it is not required to travel to the respective place, as the records can be requested in the most convenient CRC.
Before going to the CRC, draw up a list with the following data for all desired records: Full name(s) of person(s), type of record, date (the exact year is sufficient) and location of the event, and the name of the parents. Depending on the employee's workload, or in case it is necessary to request the data from an external CRC, you may have to return a few days later.
Depending on the record type, it's likely that it may already have been digitized. This means that, instead of the handwritten and signed original, you'll get a printout of the data as they were inserted into the database of the IRN (Institute of Registries and Notaries).
At the time of the request, clearly state that you need 'uncertified copies', since they cost much less than the 'certified copies' (1-2€ instead of 20€). If you don't indicate it, the CRC employee may assume that you need an authenticated certificate, and once this process has taken place you will have to pay for it. Unfortunately, in the Certificates Online service where you can request this type of records online, the only option available is the authenticated certificate. If you live outside of Portugal, it is advisable to ask a family member to travel to a CRC to make the request in person.
For events older than 100 years, the data you need is in one of the District Archives or in the National Archive of Torre do Tombo. Before 1911, the Civil Registry did not exist in its current form, and in most cases the desired records are the parish records. Fortunately for Portuguese genealogists, in 1911 the parish records were taken over by the newly-formed Republic and are kept today under the care of the regional archives to ensure their preservation for future generations. This also allowed the Genealogical Society of Utah - through a protocol with the Portuguese Government - to microfilm all parish records since 1984, and since 2007, to publish online digital versions, which is still a work in progress. There are already several thousands of these books available in the sites the various archives. This site - tombo.pt - simplifies this research, by listing in a single page all the books relating to a given parish, regardless of the archive where the book is physically located.
There are three major periods for the parish record types:
- from the 16th to the end of the 17th centuries: free format by the parish priest, these records contain only the bare essentials, making it impossible to cross-check the data
- Baptisms: names the child, parents and godparents and the date.
- Marriage: names the grooms and witnesses, and the date
- Death: name of the deceased, possible widow status and the date
- from the late 17th century to 1860: even though they vary between dioceses, these records allow some data cross-checking
- Baptisms: includes the place of birth of the parents
- Marriage: place of birth of the grooms and the name of the parents
- Death: name of the widow
- from 1860 to 1911: the parish records were standardized because of the royal decree of August 19th, 1859, and contain very detailed information
- Baptisms: names of the grandparents
- Marriage: age of the grooms, place of birth of the parents
- Death: names of the parents, and place of birth
In order to understand the older parish records, it is also necessary to have some basic palaeography knowledge on both the calligraphy of the time, but most important on the abbreviations used. The following resources are recommended to advance your knowledge of palaeography:
- Basic Portuguese Paleography, The Genealogical Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 (data from the Family History Research Wiki)
- Paleografia Portuguesa Básica (in Portuguese), The Genealogical Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1978.
- There's an edited version of this text here.
- Abreviaturas paleográficas portuguesas, Eduardo Borges Nunes, Faculty of Letters of the University of Lisbon, 1981.