History of the Portuguese archives

In Portugal there are: 1 National Archive, 17 District Archives, 4 Regional Archives, 3 Municipal Archives and 1 Diocesan Archive in whose collections can be found parish registers. Each of these entities makes records available on their own Internet site. One of the goals of tombo.pt is the agglomeration of the information of these 26 Archives.


To understand the reason for this dispersion it is necessary to understand the history of the Dioceses of the Catholic Church in Portugal and the Territorial Organisation of Portugal. The Portuguese Dioceses have an ancient history, some of which predate the foundation of Portugal (5 October 1143). In simplified form, the present dioceses correspond to the present 18 districts and 2 autonomous regions of Portugal. The only exceptions are the Diocese of Portalegre-Castelo Branco and the Diocese of Lamego (the only one whose seat does not correspond to a district seat). The second case leads to one of the exceptions in the Parish Archives: the parish books of the Diocese of Lamego are not in the possession of the State, being part of the collection of the Diocesan Museum and Archive of Lamego. Of the many dioceses that have since become extinct, one deserves special mention: the Diocese of Elvas, which was extinguished by Leo XIII in a papal bull of September 30, 1881, whose books were never transferred to Portalegre, and are still located nowadays Historic Archive of Elvas.


In the royal decree of 18 July 1835, the territory of Continental Portugal is divided into 17 districts: Aveiro, Beja, Braga, Bragança, Castelo Branco, Coimbra, Évora, Faro, Guarda, Leiria, Lisboa, Portalegre, Porto, Santarém, Viana do Castelo, Vila Real and Viseu. The present autonomous regions were divided in 3 districts: Ponta Delgada, Angra do Heroísmo and Funchal. This situation was changed with the decree of March 28, 1836 in which the district of Horta is created by division of the district of Angra do Heroísmo. Finally, on December 22, 1926, the district of Setúbal was created, being until then part of the district of Lisbon.

Regional Archives

The island districts have since been dissolved with the creation of the Autonomous Regions of the Azores and the Madeira. These included the following islands:

To each of the old island districts corresponds, still today, a Regional Archive, namely the Public Library and Regional Archive of Ponta Delgada, the Public Library and Regional Archive Luís da Silva Ribeiro (Angra do Heroísmo), the Public Library and Regional Archive João José da Graça (Horta) and the Regional Archive and Public Library of Madeira. The three archives of the Autonomous Region of the Azores provide the parish registers in a single site: the Centro de Conhecimento dos Açores (CCA).

District (and Municipal) Archives

In mainland Portugal, the whereabouts of the parish books is somewhat more complicated. In general, up to 1859, parish registers were guarded by local parish priests, often in precarious conditions of preservation and subject to robbery or fire. The decree of August 19, 1859 orders the passage of the same to the Ecclesiastical Chambers. With the Republic the Civil Registry is established with the publication of the Civil Code of 19 February 1911. Since then, most of the existing parish books are in possession of the Portuguese State. In February 18, 1916 the Archive of Parish Registries and Civil Registry is created, attached to the National Archive. Between 1916 and 1965 the various District Archives were progressively created:

Many of the Archives created in 1965 would only actually open many years later. In addition, most of these recent Archives never received the books prior to 1860 that were in the then District Archive of Lisbon. The only exceptions are Aveiro (transferred from Coimbra in 1976), Setúbal (transferred from Lisbon in 1969), Viana do Castelo (transferred from Braga in 1985) and Horta. This is why there are books from the districts of Beja, Bragança, Castelo Branco, Faro, Guarda, Santarém and Vila Real in the collection of the Lisbon District Archive. Also in Lisbon there are two books from the parish of São Gião of Oliveira do Hospital (district of Coimbra) possibly because it was part of the municipality of Gouveia (district of Guarda) between 1852 and 1902. The Municipal Archive of Mafra preserves for some reason 13 parish books of parish of Santo Isidro. And finally, there is a 1801-1828 baptism book from the Ucanha parish in the National Library from a private collection. There are still some parish books in the country owned by the local parish priests, by refusal of their predecessors to hand them over to the state in 1911, and others in private hands. We appeal to those responsible in these cases to proceed according to the interest of the collective memory and to take the necessary steps to incorporate these books in the respective archive.