Finding Your Ancestors through Portuguese, French, and Italian Archives

Family-Finds-Portuguese-French-Italian-Ancestors_1

What do  online Portuguese records, online French records, and online Italian records have in common?  Many of the birth, marriage, and death records for these countries are not found on major genealogical websites. Nevertheless, many are online for free through national or state archival websites.

In a workshop at the 2019 BYU Family History Conference—“Online Connections: Find Your Ancestors Online through Portuguese, French, and Italian Archives”—Lauren Wake provided help for finding these national and regional French, Portuguese, and Italian records. Here are some of her suggestions.

Italian Records

Historically, Italian records were maintained by the Catholic Church, which established civil records in the early 1800s. These records have been digitized and made available on a central Italian website Antenati. On this website, you can browse records by location or by name. For privacy, names of people born less than 100 years ago or married less than 70 years ago are not searchable.

an archived italian birth record.

To search for your ancestors by location on the Antenati website, do the following:

  1. On the home page, click Browse the registries.
  2. Click the state archive for the chosen province, and then click a time period.
  3. Choose your ancestor’s municipality (commune), and the type of record you seek.
  4. Choose a date range to search, and open the images by clicking the archival number that appears on the screen.

A handwritten original index may be at the beginning or end of a series to help you determine where to look within the collection.
Once you’ve found records for your ancestors, learn how to attach them to your ancestors’ profiles on FamilySearch.org.

an italian family with records in an archive

FamilySearch indexes these records by name and provides copies of the index to Antenati. Use those indexes by clicking Find the Names on the Antenati home page. On the page that opens, you can see if records have been indexed by clicking Check the Indexing Status. A list opens of indexed records by locality and record. Enter the name, record type, location, and year range for the person you wish to find.

These indexes, along with many other parish records, can also be accessed for free at FamilySearch.org.

French Records

Most French online civil records are in individual department archives, similar to county archives in other countries. Although labeled as civil registrations, they often include Catholic Church records up to the French Revolution. As in Italy and Portugal, in earlier centuries ecclesiastical records were the primary French birth, marriage, and death records.

There are three ways to access department records:

  • Simply search Google by using phrase “etat civil en ligne” followed by the department name or department number (if you know it). The department archive is usually the first result.
  • FranceArchives provides a clickable map of France. Click the department for the civil registration page for that department. FamilySearch’s wiki page Using France Online Department Records Archives provides a tutorial to help you navigate these sites.
  • The FamilySearch wiki department page provides links to the digitized pages. Departments are listed on the main page. Click the department, scroll to the section titled “Finding Church Records and Civil Registration Online,” and click the link to the online civil registration.
a French family with records in an archive

Navigation varies on the different department sites. Generally, choose the site’s civil registration collection, then the municipality (commune) for the person of interest, and then the record type. Choose the date range from the 10-year indexes. From there, you can browse page by page through digitized images.

a birth record in portuguese

Portuguese Records

Portugal stores records in both district and national archives. The districts of Beja, Bragança, Castelo Branco, Faro, Guarda, Santarem, and Vila Real all store their records at both the district and the national archives. Search both to find all records for towns in these districts.

FamilySearch is indexing these collections, so before browsing the pages, use the index on FamilySearch.org to find a specific person.

The website Tombo.pt facilitates direct, easy access to church records. Using the sidebar on the left, select the district or region; then select the municipality. The record types show in the middle of the screen sorted by type. Select the record type and date range to see document images.

Tips for Searching International Records

A language barrier might be your biggest hurdle when searching for records from other countries. If you don’t know the language of the records you are searching, try using Google Translate. Type handwritten words into Google Translate from document images. You can also use the FamilySearch wiki for language lists of useful genealogical terms. It's also possible to explore historical images on FamilySearch,

a portuguese family

Research for Portugal, France, and Italy may mean doing a little exploring through local records of the various countries and making use of today’s technology to make sense of it. But it could be an adventure leading to fascinating discoveries about your roots. Give it a try!

The subject of this article and some of its material was taken from Lauren Wake's class, “Online Connections: Find Your Ancestors Online through Portuguese, French, and Italian Archives ,” at the 2019 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy.

The BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy is held annually and offers classes for genealogists and others wanting to learn about their ancestors. Keep an eye on the BYU conference page for announcements about next year’s schedule and when registration opens.

Read More from 2019 BYU Genealogy Conference Archives

About the Author