Maybe you’ve always known that your ancestors came from the Azores. Maybe you’ve just found out. Either way, finding out more can be very time-consuming, and made even more difficult by challenges created by language differences and geographical distance. So, where do you start?
First, capture and document what you already know, and remember that word-of-mouth family history needs to be verified. Word-of-mouth genealogy is a lot like the telephone game from the recess yards of so many years ago. Someone starts a story, tells it to the person next to him, who tells it to another person, and then the last child delivers a vastly different story to the child who created the original.
A solid family tree starts with contemporary records – those that were created closest to the events you are researching.
The bad news – The priests, ministers and government officials from centuries past weren’t making those records for us. They were just doing their jobs and complying with laws passed by people they didn’t know who lived far away. If they didn’t have to document the specific island or town of your ancestor’s birth, they didn’t. Some cared about their handwriting; some just did the least required of them to make it through those long-ago days.
Genealogy Records from the Azores
To make the jump over the pond and into Portuguese records – you’re going to need to know the island, county, and parish where your ancestor’s baptism, marriage, or death happened. You’re also going to need to know the approximate date of the event. Or you’ll need a lot of time to sift through records in one of those ‘needle in a haystack’ searches. These Portuguese records are not indexed.
How To Start Researching Your Azorean Ancestors!
1. Go to the website. Time-saving tip: Save this link. It’s difficult to navigate to the genealogical records from the homepage of the Direção Regional da Cultural.
2. Select your ancestor’s island, county, and parish. This is made easier by the pull-down menus.
3. Click procurar (search).
4. You’ll be whisked away to a page showing you which years are available for that parish. Some of these listings go back to the 1500s! The clarity of the pages and handwriting varies widely!
5. Select the book containing the year and type of record you need. The books tend to cover more people and fewer years as you progress forward in time. Baptism records contain the most extensive information, followed by marriage records. Death records are spotty at best.
6. Find the priest’s record of your ancestor’s baptism, marriage, or death. The records are the scanned pages of the priest’s original entries. The priest recorded all events as they happened, i.e., chronologically. So, the more exact your date, the easier it will be to find your record.
An example: if you are trying to confirm that your ancestor was born in São Mateus da Praia in the Concelho of Santa Cruz on the island of Graciosa in October 1878, he should pop up in the 5-10 baptism listings for that month. If he doesn’t, you may have some incorrect information. Maybe he was born earlier or later, or in another place. In most cases, at least in the more recent 19th century records, priests included the names of your ancestor and his or her father in the margin of the page (see A below). This makes scanning unindexed files much easier.
Baptismal Records are Amazing – Once you find them.
The Portuguese love to load their documents with details. You’ll not only see the full name of your ancestor (B); you’ll also see the day of his baptism (C) and birth (D). You’ll also see the full names, occupations, and places of birth of his or her parents (E), and the names of both sets of grandparents (F). The godparents will be there too (G).
Of course, all of this great information is handwritten into the records in Portuguese, but the good news is that it follows a fairly predictable template. So, once you figure out where the information is in one baptismal record, it generally will be in the same location in others.
This is great family history information, but now what?
Once you have the exact place and date of an ancestor’s birth, it’s much easier to find the records of other relatives and ancestors too.
Generally, in a world before easy, instant communication, people didn’t move far from their families. For generations. One branch of my family lived in the same village for nearly 400 years.
This makes genealogy much easier.
Marriages bring people together.
…And help you meet your ancestors. Generally, marriages are the easiest records to find in unindexed documents. Why? Because there are fewer of them to sift through and because they apply to two ancestors instead of just one.
Following Ancestors into the Distant Past
Once you know when and where your ancestor was born, switch to the book of marriage records at that date, and flip back from there. If your ancestor was an oldest child, you shouldn’t have to look too far back for a marriage – generally a year or two before the baptism. Worst case, if he or she was the youngest, you might have to go back 15-20 years. But, once you have their marriage, you then know the range of years in which siblings were born, and they become much easier to identify.
Marriage records show the date (A) and place (B) of the marriage, the names of the bride and groom (C), and their places of birth. And, they show the names of each set of parents too (D).
And once you have those marriage dates, you can subtract about 20 years from those dates, switch back to the baptismal records, and find your ancestor’s parent’s birth records.
From there, you can switch back and forth between the baptismal and marriage records until – the handwriting becomes so atrocious that your eyes ache from just looking at the screen or until the records run out.
Here’s one of my ancestors from 1754:
And you can do this for a really long time – all the way back to … the 1500s.
Word of Warning: These oldest records tend to be in the worst shape – both physically and organizationally. But, keep in mind that they are more than 400 years old. Note that date on the top right hand corner of the left page!
Rediscover Lost Branches of Your Family Tree
Genealogy is time-consuming. But, the discoveries awaiting those who are patient can be fascinating and extend your family tree back into the centuries of the distant past. Who knows how many ancestors lie hidden and waiting to be rediscovered within the pages of these books, written long ago and now available anywhere in the world, at any time of day, for no cost at all?