Civil registers (Registros Civis) present the facts of an individual's life. Civil registrations, comprising the vital records of births, marriages, divorces, and deaths, are an excellent source of accurate information on names, dates, and vital events.
The concept of civil registration became a force of European and world record-keeping following the French Revolution. During the first half of the nineteenth century, movements for civil registration arose in Portugal and Brazil, but were effectively blocked by the conservative elements of society which were dominated by the Catholic Church. These elements feared that civil registration would result in a further secularization of society and a reduction of the control that the church had over the people.
As early as 1832, the Portuguese government passed legislation requiring the births, marriages, and deaths of all residents to be recorded . Civil registration was first instituted as a way for non-Catholic individuals to register their births, marriages, and deaths, while Catholic priests acted as the civil register for the members of their parish. With the formation of the First Portuguese Republic in 1910, Civil registration changed drastically. From 1911 onwards, all residents were required to have their vital events recorded in the civil registrar, regardless if this information was also recorded in their church's parish.
Since 1827 the government in Brazil has accepted marriages performed in the Catholic Church as official marriages. In 1850 a law was passed requiring registration of births and deaths throughout the country. Until 1870 the Catholic Church was required to keep this record. After 1870 these records were to be kept by the justices of the peace.
Civil records kept track of all the population, including the Catholics and the non-Catholics. Because of the influx of non-Catholics into Brazil after the 1880s, these records are important in recording this section of the population as well. Because the Catholic Church continued keeping records after the creation of the civil registration in the late 1800s, two types of records may be available for births, marriages, and deaths.
In some areas, therefore, registration records in Brazil date back to the 1860s and 1870s while others began in 1889 and some as recently as the 1920s. Because they cover such a large percentage of the population, civil registrations are an extremely important source for genealogical research in Brazil. Occasionally there were disputes between the Catholic Church and government authorities concerning the legitimacy of marriages performed by each authority. Therefore, it is important to check both the civil records and church records to understand the issues completely and to get all the genealogical information about each event.
The books of a civil register are organized into three separate sections: births, marriages, and deaths. Generally, there is one volume or more for each year, although in some cases during the early years where district populations were small, a volume may cover more than one year. Often, each volume and/or each year will be indexed.
In the civil register, the format of the entries and the information they contain is similar to that found in parish registers. There is, however, a much greater uniformity within a given country and time period between civil register books than between parish books, due to the fact that the material which the civil register contains is dictated by national law, and the national governments have often provided printed civil register books. The information given in a civil register entry also tends to be much more complete than early parish entries, and even superior to parish entries of the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The completeness of the content of civil registers varies over time and place, but generally provides the major part of the information about the event. All birth and death records have in common the procedure in which a declarant, often the parent or other relative, appeared before the judge or secretary of the civil register and reported the event recorded. The first person described, often with his marital status, age and/or place of birth and/or residence, will be that declarant. These records may be either handwritten or on printed forms and are often indexed by given name rather than surname.
Beyond birth, marriage, and death registers, civil records may includeemancipações (emancipations) made by fathers when their sons reached 18 years of age (not required after 21 years old), land sales (imóveis), and corrections of children’s names (comunicações).
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