This tutorial will introduce you to basic record formats; that is, it will focus on the specific information contained in each record and locate where that information can be found.
Reading old records written in Portuguese is not the same as reading, for example, a modern newspaper written in Portuguese. Besides having to become familiar with a different set of words, you will need to adjust to such things as old styles of handwriting, unfamiliar abbreviations, misspelled words, ink blotches, and torn pages. While some of these things may cause you concern, you will find that in a very short period of time, you will be able to read old Portuguese records with ease and accuracy.
When the records you will be reading were written, the inhabitants of Portugal and her ultramarine colonies were almost entirely Catholic. Of all the records mentioned on this site, Catholic records are the most important for family historians and genealogists with Portuguese ancestry. Beginning in the sixteenth century, the Catholic Church required that each of its parishes keep records of the sacraments, baptisms (christenings) and marriages, performed in the parish. The church also prescribed the form in which these records, or parish registers, were to be kept. During the nineteenth century, Brazil adopted Civil Registration Laws, and Portugal adopted civil registration in 1905. In Brazil, civil registration started to recognize the marriage of non-Catholic people around the middle of the nineteenth century; yet, it was in the year 1875 in which it began to be implemented in large municipalities after a decree issued in 1874, particularly in the city of Rio de Janeiro. However, the civil registration laws in Brazil were only universalized in 1888. These laws prescribed the form and content of all records such as birth, marriage, and death records.
Although the specific requirements for keeping registers have changed from time to time, the formats of entries have stayed basically the same. This tutorial will introduce you to those basic formats; that is, it will focus on the specific information contained in each entry and locate where that information can be found.
As you begin reading through records in Portuguese, consult the topics that appear in the sidebar under Techniques & Tools, beginning with the Overview and then the Seven Practical Suggestions. As you do this, be reassured about your ability in learning to read old Portuguese records. Three things will help make your task easier. First, some words in Portuguese are very similar to English words that you already know. Second, the handwriting style in most Portuguese records is basically the same style we use today. Third, the information that you have to read will be in roughly the same place in each record. Now to begin, go to Overview or go to Seven Practical Suggestions.
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