Parish records and the Civil Registry

The main sources in genealogical research are the so-called vital records: birth, marriage, and death records. Depending on the years in which these events occurred, they take the form of parish or civil records.

Parish records

Although there were sporadic cases before, the obligation to keep parish records in all churches began with the November 11th, 1563 session of the Council of Trent which decreed:

The parish priest shall have a book, which he shall keep carefully by him, in which he shall register the names of the persons married, and of the witnesses, and the day on which, and the place where, the marriage was contracted.

Council of Trent, XXIV Session (Decree on the Reformation of Marriage, Chapter 1)

Before that, the Diocesan Constitution of Lisbon of August 25th, 1536, already required the registration of baptisms in its area. On June 17th, 1614, the Roman Ritual of Paul V, expanded the baptism and marriage records with the addition of the death records.

A few centuries later, with the Decree of May 16th, 1832, Portugal starts the attempt to create a Civil Registry, independent of the Catholic Church, extending to non-Catholic citizens the right of registration. However, and despite successive legislation such as the Decree of July 18th, 1835 and the Administrative Codes of 1836 and 1842 which entrusted the Administration of the Municipality with the organization of the Civil Registry, it still faced great difficulties to become a reality. The decree of August 19th, 1859 recognized the advantage of keeping the parish records, and the imposition of a uniform structure helped to significantly improve them. The Portuguese State gave up on maintaining a completely secular Civil Registry with the Decree of November 28th, 1878, in which it gave the parish priests the task of registering the majority of the population, limiting to the Administrators of the Municipality the acts of Civil Registry concerning the non-Catholic minority. This situation would last until the end of the Monarchy.

The Catholic Church continues to maintain parish records to this day. Most of the books until 1911 were delivered to the State, and later books are to be found in the Diocesan Archives or in the parish of origin.

The Civil Registry after 1911

With the proclamation of the Republic, the Portuguese State is finally able to impose the existence of a Civil Registry for all, with the publication of the Code of February 19th, 1911. This law code not only mandates the use of civil registry to record the birth, marriage and death (among others) but also imposes the primacy of the civil registry against the religious version. The compulsory delivery of all parish books for use in the Civil Registry offices established in this code resulted in these books being currently in the shelves of the District Archives.
Later, in 1932, an improved version of this code is created, and the 1940 Concordat between Portugal and the Holy See re-introduced the recognition of religious ceremonies, requiring however the transcription of the parish record in the books of the Civil Registry of the area of ​​this parish. The next version of 1958 stipulates in its Article 37 that "records of books that are more than 100 years old [...], shall be sent every five years" to the Archives. This obligation was maintained, with some changes to the respective article, until 2007 when the 1995 code was amended in order to revoke it, and Article 15 of the Law Decree 324/2007 of 28 September came into force:

  1. Books whose records have been digitized are transferred to the entity responsible for the national archives.
  2. The provisions of the preceding paragraph shall apply to the record books for which the date of the last entry has elapsed:
    1. More than 30 years, regarding the books of death records;
    2. More than 50 years, regarding the books of marriage records;
    3. More than 100 years, for the remaining record books.
  3. The provisions of the preceding paragraph shall apply to the documents that have served as the basis for the records referred therein.

For more information, it is advisable to consult more detailed information at the Instituto dos Registos e do Notariado.