FINDING YOUR PORTUGUESE ROOTS
by Cheri Mello


Introduction
 

The filming of the Portuguese records (or the Azorean ones) began in the mid-1980's.  The dissemination of how to bridge the gap between the United States to the location overseas took another 5 or 6 years.  Slowly, the numbers and knowledge of how to use the Portuguese records is building.  This guide was written to give you a brief overview of the records that are available and how to use them to trace your ancestors.  The first part will deal with the records in the U.S. that will lead you to a town overseas.  The second part deals with records overseas and the third part deals with "reading" Portuguese.

Genealogical research is concerned with 3 things: a name, a date, and a place.  These 3 items need to be gathered for each birth, marriage and death of each ancestor you have. If you have American branches, I strongly recommend that you do those first.  Dealing with the immigrant involves some little used sources.  You may not even find your immigrant on the frequently used sources.  It can become frustrating.  To do Portuguese research, you will need an island and a town or village. At some point, your research will lead you overseas.  But let's start at the beginning, here in America.....

PART 1:  Locating the Town by Utilizing U.S. Resources

In the Beginning . . . "Home" Work

 

1. Charts and Forms  You will need to keep pedigree or ancestor charts as well as family group sheets.  Begin by filling these out in pencil and then in ink once the event has been confirmed.  Each person on your pedigree/ancestor chart will also appear on a family group chart as a spouse and then on another chart as a child.  Write it neat the first time!

 

2. Collecting Information  You will need to interview any and all relatives: parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins.  You will need to go back an reinterview them again (at a later date, of course!)  Sometimes, you will ask something in an interview, and they will not remember.  However, it will be enough to get the memory working, and your subject may remember something about that at a later date.  You may wish to tape record these interviews and then transcribe them later, verbatim.  Some techniques you may wish to use to jog your subject's memory are:  world events (did that happen before or after World War II?, etc.) and "How old were you?"  These seem to be particularly useful when the subject says, "I don't know.  I don't remember."

 

3. Bibles  If you are fortunate enough to have literate ancestors, don't overlook the family Bible.  Dates and places may be recorded in the front or in the beginning of the New Testament.  Make sure you copy the date from the front cover of the Bible.  If the Bible is copyrighted 1954 and the dates written in the Bible are from the early 1900s, then you know that the dates were not recorded at the time of the event, but at sometime after.  They are, therefore, relying on someone's memory, which may or may not be accurate.

 

4. Genealogical groups  If descendants are still in an area with a high Portuguese population, you may want to check and see if a genealogical group in that area exists, and put a query into their newsletter.  For example, in Fall River, MA, you may want to inquire if the Fall River Historical Society has a newsletter and put a query in it (looking for the parents of José Silva....).  You can find this information from The Handybook for Genealogists, published by Everton Publishers, 1991 or The Genealogist's Address Book, by Elizabeth Petty Bentley, published by Genealogical Publishing Co., 1995.  Both are probably available at your local library.  Also, you may wish to join genealogical groups that specialize in Portuguese:  American-Portuguese Genealogical & Historical Society, P. O. Box 644, Taunton, MA 02780-0644; Portuguese Ancestry, Rosemarie Capodicci, 1155 Santa Ana, Seaside, CA 93955; The Portuguese Genealogical Society of Hawaii, 810 North Vineyard Blvd. #11, Honolulu, HI 96817.  All publish 3 newsletters and 1 surname roster a year.  To join any of the above, send $10 and your pedigree chart of your Portuguese lines.

 

5. County histories  If your ancestors have been here a while, you may be able to find them in the index of a county history book.  If you do find them in one, photocopy the page(s) that your ancestor appears on, and also the title and copyright date pages.  You may also want to write down which library you got the book from.  These county history books can be obtained from the LDS church, a local genealogical library, or the public library may have a few as well (the Los Angeles Public Library has a whole floor devoted to history and genealogy with books from all over the U.S.)

 

6.  Documentation  Documentation comes in 2 forms: primary and secondary.

     a. Primary documentation  A primary documentation is something that is generated AT THE TIME OF the event, such as a death, marriage, or birth certificate.  You need only 1 one of these to prove a date.

     b. Secondary documentation  A secondary documentation is something that is generated AFTER the event.  You will need to get 23 of these to agree with the date that you are trying to prove.  Some secondary sources are: tombstones, family histories, delayed birth certificates, county histories, books of marriage records, federal and state censuses.  Weak secondary sources are considered circumstantial evidence.

 

Note: Much of this information was obtained from a basic genealogy class that I took, as well as Unpuzzling Your Past by Emily Anne Croom, published by Betterway Publications, 1995.

 

Obtaining Vital Records from the States

 

The 3 vital records that you will need to obtain for any ancestor are: birth, marriage and death.  It is best to begin with the last thing your ancestor did, which was to die. From there, you work back in time. Not many death or birth certificates exist before 1850. For those, you would need to obtain 2 sources (such as a census and a death certificate that agree to prove a person's birth.)

 

1. Death records  You will need to write to the state's Department of Health or Vital Statistics to obtain the death certificate (DC).  Each state charges it's own fee.  Your local library may have a booklet called, "Where to Write for Vital Records."  The Mormon (LDS) church has this booklet too.  Also the addresses may be obtained from The Handybook .  ***NOTE***A death certificate is a primary source for death only.  Any other information you get off the death certificate (like your ancestor's birthday) is a secondary source.  And remember, the DC is only as accurate as the person (informant) who provides it (It is possible that the informant is the spouse of the deceased, who may be very upset by the death of the loved one).  If you are hunting down your ancestor's parents and the DC doesn't provide it, you may want to try a sibling's DC.

 

 a. Death Indices  Many states have made an alphabetical index of their death registers.  Some states have both the index and the record on film.  If your ancestor died and you don't know exactly when, you will find this a useful aid.  These were filmed and are orderable from your FHC.  You may also want to check with a state archive to see if a death index is in existence if your state is not listed below.  Some information that may be found on a death index:  deceased's name, county died in, Social Security number, spouse's first name (if survived by a spouse), the state number and the registration number and possibly the date of  birth. (* means the death certificate was filmed too).

CA   1905-1993    NJ* 1848-1900

DE*  1855-1888 (certificates up to 1910) NC* 1906-1950

FL     1877-1969    OH 1908-1936

HI  1909-1949    OR 1903-1994

ID* 1911-1937    SD 1880-1990

IL 1916-1942    TN* 1914-1925

KY 1911-1986    TX 1903-1994

ME 1892-1922    VT 1871-1908

MA 1841-1971    WA* 1907-1979 (certificates up to 1952)

NH Pre-1900    WI* 1862-1907

 

Bibliography: Lehmann, Joy. "Are you Using Death Indexes in Your Research?" Heritage Quest (magazine), Issue #67, Jan/Feb 1997, page 15.

 

 b. Obituaries  While you are waiting for that death certificate to arrive in the mail, you may wish to check for an obituary on your ancestor.  You can access obituaries from your local public library.  Your library may have "Newspapers in Microform" and/or "Union List of Newspapers".  The Gale Directory of Publications has more current newspapers.  Most states also have a bibliography of newspapers.  Three things to keep in mind while reading obituaries: Who said it?  When did they say it?  and How did they know?  The obituary may give you a birth town, the island or maybe just "Azores," "Madeira," or "Portugal."  It will list the surviving spouse (if any) as well as surviving offspring.  It may list places of where the deceased lived, and may even give you a time line.  It may include the ancestor's occupation and how long in that occupation.  Sometimes, you will find an article in the newspaper about the deceased, especially if your ancestor was prominent, or possibly died in a tragedy.  A side note on newspapers here: some older newspapers have "Society" sections where they may say the Mr. & Mrs. ____ went to visit their daughter in ____.

 

2. Marriage records  When looking for your ancestors' marriage (if they married in America), make sure you get the record or registrar.  The license gives lot of genealogical information, but it doesn't prove the marriage. Also, getting a photocopy from the church marriage books could give the town, particularly if they married in a Portuguese community.  The witnesses to the marriage could be relatives.  The parents of the bride and groom could be listed.  Some things you may run across when looking for the marriage are the bond (money put up by the groom) or a consent affidavit (parents saying OK to the marriage).  Most marriages can be easily found from 1600 on at the place where it occurred.  In New England you may find them at the town level; most other states you find them at the county or state level.  To approximate a year for marriage, subtract 2 years from the birth of the oldest child.

 

3. Birth records  Birth records didn't really begin until about the turn of the century (1900).  A person who needed a certificate and didn't have one filed the information on a form themselves (this began around 1937).  This is called a Delayed Certificate of Birth.  For the birth of ancestors before the records were kept, you would need to use the U. S. Census, family Bible, or baptismal records.  But if you are dealing with your immigrant, he may not have an American birth certificate.  You may want to get the birth certificates of the ancestor's offspring.  It may offer you other clues.

 

4. Baptisms - If your ancestor had children here in the States, it may be beneficial to hunt down all of the children's baptisms.  You will have to know the area your ancestor was living in, and then access the yellow pages for that area to find the Catholic Church there.  Once again, do not settle for the church certificate.  Ask for a copy from the book (send them a donation).  It could give you the town overseas!

Copyright 1998 by Cheri Mello.  All rights reserved 

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