27 April 2010


The oldest church register in existence belongs to Nabainhos, near Gouveia, and dates from 1529. In 1563 priests were mandated to keep records of all baptisms, marriages and deaths in the parish. The registers were the responsibility of the Church, until the decree of 16 May 1832. This decree was the first attempt to establish civil registration of births, marriages and deaths. However, it was overturned by another decree on 09 August 1859, which again made it the Church's responsibility. Yet another decree on 28 November 1878 made civil registration for non-Catholics compulsory. In March 1911, another decree made the state the official record keeper. The State Archives took over the old parish registers and other related books for safe-keeping. However, churches continue to keep their own records.
The Catholic Church has been the official church for many years. It has kept the following types of records: baptism (batismo), marriage (casamento) and death (óbito). Parish registers older than 100 years are deposited with the district archives. The public only has access to records older than 30 years and these are kept at the civil registry and at the office of the public notary of each municipality. Churches also keep records of bequests and donations, which contain information of use to genealogy. The documents relating to the Inquisition period (15th-18th centuries) are found in the National Archives at the Torre do Tombo in Lisbon.

Baptism records always contain the child's parents' names. In most cases grandparents are also noted, as are godparents as well as their residence. From the late 1800s, baptism records will sometimes have margin notes indicating the marriage or death of the baptised individual. Marriage records usually contain the parents' and godparents names. Sometimes grandparents are also listed. The bridal couple's places of birth are also given. Death records show the parents' names if the deceased was a young child. Spouse names are noted for married deceased adults. By the 1700s, most death records started showing the age at death and by the 1800s the surviving children were being listed.

Although most church registers have survived, three events caused great destruction of registers in some areas:
the Spanish invasion of Alentejo in 1580-1640
the 1755 earthquake in the Lisbon area
the French invasions of 1804-1814 devastated the provinces of Beira Baixa and Ribatejo

Civil registration in Portugal began in March 1911. These are birth, marriage and death records for everyone within the boundaries of each registry office (registo civil). Knowing which registry office holds the records for which village/town/city, is the key to success. It is important to know how the country is broken down into regions. A region could be the Island of Madeira, within that region there are districts and within each district there are concelhos, which are the same as counties or municipalities. Within each conselho there are many freguesias (small towns and villages). There are also lugars (places) within villages, which are mostly a group of 3 or so houses in a remote spot of the village.

In Portugal, each district has an archive (Arquivos Distritais) where all records for the district are kept. Records such as church records, property records, wills and emigration records can be found there. Records older than 100 years are passed on to the Regional Archives and the National Archives.

Libraries keep newspapers, which are useful in genealogical research, especially if you know where your ancestor lived. Historical books are also useful, especially those dealing with a region's early beginnings.
Cemeteries can be useful but if the grave dates prior to the 19th century, it becomes a difficult task. Most people could only afford a wooden cross and headstones were far and few between. Portuguese universities keep records of all their graduates in their archives.

Military records are kept by the Military Archives, whilst the Navy has its own Naval Archives.

District archives also keep records of those who are ordained priests or become nuns or monks.

Foreigners who have applied for Portuguese nationality are recorded in the National Archives of Torre do Tombo in Lisbon.

Wills date back to the early 15th century, for ancestors who owned land or other property. Wills are kept in the local Notarial Registry (Carterios Notarais) and are transferred every 30 years to the District Archives.
Portugal has a heraldic institution, the Conselho de Nombreza, set up in April 1945, which grants coat of arms and titles. The Instituto Português de Heraldica also undertakes genealogical research.

Passports were first issued in 1757 and are found in the District Archives. They list names, date and place of birth, date of voyage and destination.

The Pearl of the Atlantic, Madeira, was known to the Romans as the Purple Islands. The original natives of Madeira were farmers - the island having been settled by Portuguese squires. Today the largest single economic activity outside of Funchal is farming on smallholdings, most of which are less than 1000 square metres. Many of the popular festas that are celebrated around the island are linked to a product such as the cherry, the chestnut, sugar cane and the vine. When crops failed and the land was subdivided beyond subsistence level, many Madeirans started emigrating. Some 750 000 people, mostly resident in South Africa, Venezuela, the USA, and other EU countries, call themselves Madeiran.

The Madeira Islands, a volcanic archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, 400 miles west of Morocco, constitute the Madeira Autonomous Region of Portugal. It is made up of the following islands: Porto Santo, Desertas group of islands (Deserta Grande, Bugio, Ilhéu Chão and Prego do Mar), Selvagens islands (Selvagem Grande, Selvagem Pequena and Ilhéu de Fora). The Desertas and Selvagens islands are uninhabited.

The island of Porto Santo was the first to be discovered in 1418 with Madeira being discovered the following year. The discovery was not planned. Two of Infante Dom Henriques' (Henry the Navigator) squires, João Goncalves ZARGO and Tristão Vaz TEIXEIRA, were sent to explore the seas off Guinea. Their ships ran into storms. They found shelter on an island which they named Porto Santo. They returned to Lisbon, leaving half the crew on the island. On the return voyage in 1420 they were accompanied by another squire, an Italian named Bartolomeu PERESTRELO. ZARGO and TEIXEIRA explored another nearby island which was heavily wooded. They named it Ilha da Madeira (Island of Wood). The three squires were granted governorships. The eastern portion of Madeira, with its administrative centre (concelho) in Machico, was given to Tristão Vaz TEIXEIRA. Joao Goncalves ZARGO was granted the western portion with its concelho in Funchal. Porto Santo was granted to Bartolomeu PERESTRELO.

Madeira was made a province of Portugal and in 1425 ZARCO became governor of the south side of Madeira, a position he held for 40 years. He died at the age of 80 and was buried in the old church adjoining the Santa Clara Convent, which was built in 1492. Bartolomeu PERESTRELO's daughter Filipa Moniz married a young map maker, Christopher Columbus (Cristofõm Colon), who lived in Lisbon and Madeira between 1470 and 1485.

The first Madeira settlers came from noble families of Portugal, many from Algarve and Minho. The first children born in Madeira were those of Gonçalo Aires / Ayres FERREIRA, a companion of ZARCO on his first voyage who had taken his wife to the island in 1425. The settlers had to clear land to cultivate. ZARCO set fire to portions of the island in order to clear land quickly. The fire burned for seven years and the wood ash enriched the soil.

Amongst the first Madeira families were the following who arrived with ZARCO:

Gonçalo Aires / Ayres FERREIRA
António GAGO
Lourenço GOMES
Manuel Afonso DE SANHA

Their blood runs through the veins of almost every Madeiran.

In 1508 D. Manuel I, King of Portugal declared Funchal a city. At that time, Funchal was the first city built by Europeans, outside of Europe. In 1580 there were 21 800 inhabitants on Madeira and a 1891 census showed 132 223 inhabitants. In 1766 the Marquis of Pombal and then Prime Minister, granted Madeira the authority to mint its own money.


Calheta Arco da Calheta Sao Braz

Calheta Espirito Santo

Estreito da Calheta Nossa Senhora da Grace

Faja da Ovelha Sao Joao Baptista

Jardim do Mar Nossa Senhora do Rosario

Paul do Mar Santo Amaro

Ponta do Pargo Sao Pedro

Prazeres Nossa Senhora das Neves
Camara de Lobos Camara de Lobos Sao Sebastiao

Curral das Freiras Nossa Senhora do Livramento

Estreito de Camara de Lobos Nossa Senhora da Graca

Quinta Grande Nossa Senhora dos Remedios
Funchal Monte Nossa Senhora de Conceicao

Santa Luzia Santa Luzia

Santa Maria Maior Nossa Senhora do Socorro

Santo Antonio Santo Antonio

Sao Goncalo Sao Goncalo de Amarante

Sao Martinho Sao Martinho

Sao Pedro Sao Pedro e Sao Paulo

Sao Roque Sao Roque

Funchal Se (Nossa Senhora da Assuncao Cathedral)
Machico Machico Nossa Senhora da Conceicao

Canical Sao Sebastiao

Porto da Cruz Nossa Senhora de Guadalupe
Ponta do Sol Ponta do Sol Nossa Senhora da Luz

Canhas Nossa Senhora da Piedade

Madalena do Mar Santa Maria Madalena
Porto do Moniz Achadas da Cruz Nossa Senhora do Livramento

Porto do Moniz Nossa Senhora da Conceicao

Ribeira da Janela Nossa Senhora da Encarnacao

Seixal Santo Antao
Ribeira Brava Campanario Sao Braz

Ribeira Brava Sao Bento

Serra d'Agua Nossa Senhora da Ajuda

Tabua Santissima Trindade
Santa Cruz Santa Cruz Divino Salvador

Santo Antonio da Serra Santo Antonio

Agua de Pena Santa Beatriz

Camacha Sao Lourenco

Gaula Nossa Senhora da Luz

Canico Santo Antonio
Santana Santana Santa Ana

Arco de Sao Jorge Sao Jose

Faial Nossa Senhora da Piedade

Sao Jorge Sao Jorge

Sao Roque do Faial Sao Roque
Sao Vicente Sao Vicente Sao Vicente

Ponta Delgada Senhor Bom Jesus

Boaventura Santa Quiteria
Porto Santo whole island Nossa Senhora da Piedade

I have, through my interest in South African genealogy and through my Madeiran roots, collected genealogical data on Madeirans who immigrated to South Africa through the years. I am fortunate that my family has a rich oral history of Madeiran families. The island is very small, genealogically speaking - everyone knows who's who in their village and neighbouring villages. If you have Madeiran roots, especially if your family came to South Africa, I might have information in my database.

Typical information that I need in order to see check the database:

1. Full names and Surnames of the person or people you're looking for.
2. Dates and places of birth, death and marriages, if known.
3. Details of spouse, if known.
4. Details of children, if known.
5. Details of parents, if known.
6. Any other information that may assist me.
Email Anne