Genealogy Research in Portugal: Finding Ancestry Documents

30 de January, 2024

Genealogy Research in Portugal: Finding Ancestry Documents

Discover the ease of genealogy research in Portugal to find certificates of ancestors and initiate the Portuguese citizenship process.
Homem sentado em uma pilha de papeis em arquivo público para encontrar certidoes de antepassados
Reading: 6 min

If you are planning to apply for your Portuguese citizenship, finding ancestry documents and certificates is a prerequisite to start your process. Some families usually keep information about their ancestors, such as photos, names, and dates, as well as their grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ birth and marriage records. If this is not your case, there’s no need to panic. You can easily conduct a genealogy research in Portugal and locate everything you need for the nationality request.

The good news is that Portugal has about 89% of its civil documentation digitized. Certificates dating from 1400 to 1911 are already available online, a true example of civil registration computerization. This facilitates and speeds up access to information, making the citizenship dream possible even for those who do not know the full names of their ancestors.

In this article, you’ll learn how the documentary search works, where to search for certificates, what the biggest challenges are when it comes to locating old family documents, and some curiosities about the topic.

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Finding Ancestry Documents

Before starting your research, talk to as many relatives as possible to gather detailed information about your ancestors to characterize the family’s Portuguese heritage.

  • Location and date of birth of the Portuguese individual.
  • Full name of the Portuguese individual.
  • Names of the parents of the Portuguese ancestor.

Other information that may be useful includes: Where did he live? Was he married? Was he married more than once? Did he have other children? The more information you have, the easier it will be to identify his/her documents. And better yet: the cheaper it will be to conduct this documentary search.

It’s worth noting that Portuguese citizenship is only possible directly for a child of a Portuguese citizen and a grandchild of a Portuguese citizen. In the case of a great-grandchild of a Portuguese citizen, it’s only possible if one ancestor is alive and applies first and then transmits it subsequently. And one detail: it’s not possible to apply for citizenship for deceased individuals.

And if I don’t have the birth certificates of the Portuguese ancestors?

Don’t despair, as there are still chances, especially in Portugal, where the archives are well-preserved. Even if you don’t know the full names of your ancestors, but only know that they are Portuguese and their region of origin, it’s already a start to begin the documentary search.

How to assemble a family tree

The assembly of the family tree starts from the most recent generation towards the oldest. To create yours, gather documents containing information about the living relatives around you. This is the first – and fundamental – step to start the work.

There are excellent genealogy programs available to facilitate the beginning of this process:

Start by creating a pedigree chart and family group sheets for your parents, grandparents, and close relatives. Download free forms from websites like FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com, or use a genealogy program. The sheets help record crucial information such as birth dates, marriage, death, burial locations, and spouse names. Interview living relatives, note significant events, and add this information to your records to build a solid foundation during your research.

Where to search for Portuguese certificates

Before 1911, birth, marriage, and death records were predominantly kept by the Catholic Church, in parishes and freguesias (ecclesiastical districts). With the implementation of the Civil Registry, this responsibility was transferred to civil authorities. The oldest certificates have been digitized and can currently be found online on various websites. Therefore, depending on the Portuguese individual’s date of birth, it’s possible to search in different sources. Here are some suggestions:

  • Nós, Portugueses : Ideal for finding ancestors’ certificates, prior to 1911. Search by “Surname” (last name). You can also view the geographic distribution of the surname and search directly by the full name of the Portuguese individual.
  • Tombo: Holds parish records of Portuguese births.
  • Ancestry: Gathers documents both nationally and locally, from parishes, public libraries, and registries.
  • Geneanet: Gathers genealogical information and some digitized files.
  • Family Search: Surname search tool.
  • My Heritage: Genealogical tree assembly search site.

In the United States, many records are available online or on microfilm at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. This library has an extensive collection of records related to Portugal, including books, microfilms, and other records from all regions of the country. The library also has smaller centers around the world and provides access to billions of transcribed and indexed records online at FamilySearch.org.

How long does a genealogy research take?

A genealogy research can take as little as 5 days or as long as months! This will depend on the specific circumstances of each case. Let’s explain with an example.

Imagine the situation:

Manuel Silva, son of Antônia Silva, a single mother, decided to emigrate to Brazil in the late 18th century. Upon arriving there, in the new country, he decided to open a business. He knows the name of his father, who never registered him, Carlos Ferreira. He then decided to make his Brazilian documents with his mother’s (Silva) and father’s (Ferreira) names. The option of a longer name was common at the time to avoid homonyms in trade. Although illegitimate, that new surname will remain for the family (Silva Ferreira), but in Portugal, it has no legal force because Manuel was never registered by his father. And worse: in Brazil, due to a spelling error, he became: Manoel Silva Ferreira. Therefore, when the family searches for this name independently, that is, without relating Manuel to his relatives, the chance of finding him will be close to zero. Imagine how many Manoel Silva’s exist in Portugal??

This shows that the documentary search is a complex process, done in a chain. It’s not about a name, but a story. It’s not about one person, but an entire family.

Why is there so much nominal divergence?

In 19th-century Portugal, the church made registrations in each parish. The constitution of each first and last name was not standardized. Sometimes, girls only took their mothers’ surnames and boys took their fathers’. The order of names was not always respected. To make things even more complicated, some children could also have the surnames of their godparents. Imagine the confusion!! When it came time for marriage, new names were added to the list. All this ends up causing a huge nominal divergence when locating certificates for citizenship applications.

How much does it cost to find ancestors’ certificates?

The total cost to find ancestors’ documents can vary significantly, influenced by various factors. The number of relatives to be identified and the number of certificates required to reach the Portuguese ancestor who will enable citizenship are determining factors. Additionally, the location where the certificates are issued, which can vary from country to country or even within a region, is another factor that can significantly impact costs. For example, in Brazil, a certificate issued in Belém for 500 reais may cost only 20 reais in Brasília. Contact us and request a personalized quote.

Where to request documents from relatives?

If you have precise information about the Portuguese individual in question, such as the place of birth, full name, and date of birth, you can request the document directly on the CRAV website – Portuguese Archive Network and issue the certificate by paying 10€. If any rectification is needed in the document (which may happen with older ones), there is an extra cost.

If you prefer the paper format, you can request it personally, through a friend or family member, or a specialized service, at one of these locations:

  • Conservatórias do Registo Civil (Conservatories of Portugal);
  • Lojas do Cidadão;
  • At the service desks of the Instituto dos Registos e do Notariado – IRN.

The Conservatories of Portugal do not send certificates abroad, so it is necessary to make the request in person, with subsequent dispatch by a representative.

Hiring the documentary search service: How it works

If you are sure that your ancestor was Portuguese but do not have all the necessary information to locate the documentation, or want to simplify the process, the best option is to seek professional help.

But how does a documentary search work? Our goal is to trace your immigrant ancestors back to their place of origin and locate the records they left behind.

Atlantic Bridge has an exclusive database and collection with information that is not available in any other database. We have a genealogy team established in Spain, Portugal, and Brazil to find your ancestors’ certificates.

In more complex situations, our team goes directly to the city where the Portuguese individual resided to personally visit the parish that may hold the essential documents for the process. In some cases, our genealogists also visit ports, search passenger lists of ships, naturalization petitions, censuses, military records, vital records, obituaries, and cemetery records. In short, a real hunt to make your citizenship possible. Contact Atlantic Bridge now and start your Portuguese citizenship process!

Silvia Resende


Silvia Resende

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