Brazil Church Records
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For information about records for non-Christian religions in Brazil, go to the Religious Records page.
- 1 Catholic Church Records
- 2 Information Recorded in Church Registers
- 3 Locating Parish Records
- 4 Search Strategies
Catholic Church Records
The arrival of six Jesuits in 1549 marked the beginning of organized religious activity in the colony of Brazil. The vast majority of Brazilians were Catholic and were registered in the records of the local parish (registros paroquiais). These records include entries for baptisms, marriages, deaths, and burials. Often two and sometimes three generations are indicated in the registers, with personal information on the family. In addition, church records may include church censuses, account books, confirmations, and other church-related records.
Civil authorities did not begin registering vital statistics until after 1850. After this date one should search in both church and civil records, since there may be information in one that does not appear in the other. For instance, the church records may only list the godparents, while the civil records may list the grandparents.
For civil vital records of births, marriages, and deaths, see Brazil Civil Registration.
Some church records have been lost or have deteriorated because of natural effects like humidity and insects and more dramatic events like fires, floods, and earthquakes. Civil and political strife have also caused the destruction of parish books. Some records were destroyed or damaged because of poor storage. However, many records have simply been misplaced or misidentified.
Information Recorded in Church Registers
The most important church records for genealogical research are baptism, marriage, and burial registers. The type and amount of information and detail recorded in church books varied over time. The later records generally give more complete information than the earlier ones. Occasionally other helpful church records were kept, including confirmations and church censuses. Most records were recorded in Portuguese. A few Catholic records were kept in Latin.
See tutorials in FamilySearch Learning Center on "Reading Portuguese Handwritten Records" for help reading the records.
Children were generally baptized within a few days of birth. Baptismal records usually list:
- The infant’s place and date of baptism
- Parents' names
- Status of legitimacy
- Sometimes grandparents
- Sometimes child’s age
- Sometimes family’s place of residence.
- Death information, if died soon after baptism
- Occasionally, note in margin with marriage information
Couples were generally married in the home parish of the bride. Typically, girls married between 14 and 20, and men married in their 20s. Marriage registers give:
- Date and place of a marriage
- Names of the bride and groom
- Bride and groom's ages
- Bride and groom's residences
- Bride and groom's parents
- Sometimes bride and groom's birthplaces
- Sometimes, the dates the marriage banns were published
- Sometimes whether the couple were single or widowed before this marriage
- If widowed, sometimes name of deceased spouse and how long they have been deceased
- If the bride or groom was a minor, a note indicating guardian's permission for the marriage
Early death registers failed to record much of this information and are not as complete as later death records. Some death records recorded a woman by her maiden name, giving the name of her surviving spouse or stating that she was a widow and thus naming the deceased spouse. Burials were recorded in the church record of the parish where the person died. Death or burial registers give:
- Name of the deceased
- Date and place of burial
- Date and place of death
- Often, the deceased’s age
- Often, the deceased's residence
- Often, the deceased's marital status
- Often, the deceased's cause of death
- Often, the deceased's surviving kin (parents or spouse)
- Often, whether or not the deceased recorded a will
Confirmation Registers (confirmações)
The value of the confirmation record is primarily to verify the information found in other vital records. Confirmation records were not consistently recorded. In larger parishes a separate book was usually maintained, and in smaller parishes the confirmation entries may be intermingled with baptisms. Confirmations were normally performed by the bishop or his authorized representative when they visited the parish. In some parishes confirmations were performed every year, but in the smaller parishes, where it was difficult for the bishop or his representative to visit, the confirmations took place once every few years. You may find that several members of the family were confirmed at the same time.
Confirmation entries normally list:
- The parish
- The individual being confirmed
- The individual being confirmed's godparents
- Sometimes, the individual being confirmed's parents
Other Ecclesiastical Records
The Catholic Church kept many other records that are valuable for genealogical research. These might include census and population lists, wills, account books, property grants to the church, lawsuits, priesthood ordination records, and fraternal groups that assisted in parish activities. These types of records may be available on a local level or in Brazilian archives, but they have not usually been filmed by the Family History Library.
Church Record Inventories
An inventory is a listing of available church records, what years they cover, and their location. Sometimes they indicate which parishes served particular towns at different times. Church record inventories in Brazil have not been obtained by the Family History Library. For more information, see Brazil Church Directories.
Locating Parish Records
Most church records used in genealogy were created at the parish (paróquia) level. By 1900, there were several thousand parishes or vicarages in Brazil, divided between 15 diocese (diocese), within two archdioceses (arquidiocese).
You must determine the parish your ancestor belonged to in order to begin research. If your ancestor came from a large city that has several parishes, you will need to know what section of the town he or she lived in to determine the parish. However, in a large city such as Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo you may find that even if you know the home parish, there were times when the ancestor’s family would go to the cathedral for the baptism of a child or to the parish of a relative in the same city. If you do not find the complete family in the home parish, search the surrounding parishes of the city. If your family lived in a very small village or ranch that did not have an established parish, check a map to determine which nearby town had a parish.
Parish boundary maps, if they exist, can be extremely helpful when determining which parishes had jurisdictions over the place where your ancestor lived. They can also help you identify neighboring parishes if you need to search through the various parishes in a given region.
As the parish books were filled, many times they were sent to the diocese or archdiocese that had jurisdiction over the parish. Therefore, if records are no longer available at the local parish you may find the records in the diocesan or archdiocesan archives.
For addresses to the archdiocese archives and descriptions of their collections, see Brazil Archives and Libraries.
Online Church Records
The following three indexes include various Portuguese localities. The years are an overall range, some localities may be from earlier or later years.
- Brazil Baptisms, 1688-1935 at FamilySearch — index
- Brazil Deaths, 1750-1890 at FamilySearch — index
- Brazil Marriages, 1730-1955 at FamilySearch — index
The following databases are only partially indexed, but have browsable images. They are a collection of baptism, marriage, and death records created by various Catholic parishes and diocese, compiled by state. Additional images and indexed records will be published as they become available.
- Brazil, Bahía, Catholic Church Records, 1598-2007 at FamilySearch — images
- Brazil, Ceará, Catholic Church Records, 1725-1971 at FamilySearch — images
- Brazil, Maranhão, Catholic Church Records, 1673-1962 at FamilySearch — images
- Brazil, Minas Gerais, Catholic Church Records, 1706-1999 at FamilySearch — index and images
- Brazil, Pará, Catholic Church Records, 1930-1976 at FamilySearch — images
- Brazil, Paraíba, Catholic Church Records, 1731-2013 at FamilySearch — images
- Brazil, Paraná, Catholic Church Records, 1704-2008 at FamilySearch — images
- Brazil, Pernambuco, Catholic Church Records, 1762-2002 at FamilySearch — images
- Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, Catholic Church Records, 1616-1980 at FamilySearch — images
- Brazil, Rio Grande do Norte, Catholic Church Records, 1788-1967 at FamilySearch — images
- Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Catholic Church Records, 1738-1952 at FamilySearch — images
- Brazil, Santa Catarina, Catholic Church Records, 1714-1977 at FamilySearch — index and images
- Brazil, São Paulo, Catholic Church Records, 1640-2012 at FamilySearch — images
- Brazil, Sergipe, Catholic Church Records, 1785-1994 at FamilySearch — images
Church Records at the Family History Library
The Family History Library has many Brazilian church records on microfilm.
Some of the records are listed in the catalog under a centralized parish rather than each individual parish. For example, the central church of Curuçá in Pará includes church records from several other parishes and chapels.
The specific holdings are listed in the FamilySearch Catalog. You can determine whether the library has records for the locality your ancestor came from by searching the "Subjects" section of the catalog for the town where the parish was located, not necessarily the town where your ancestor lived as follows:
BRAZIL, [STATE], [TOWN] - CHURCH RECORDS
Church records are cataloged first by the name of the denomination (usually Igreja Católica, Catholic Church), followed by the saint name of the parish (for example, Nossa Senhora da Ajuda, Our Lady of Help), and then by the town and state where it is located (for example, Ilha do Governador, Rio de Janeiro). If the city has more than one parish it will list all parishes by name.
If the Family History Library does not have a copy of the records you seek, you will have to write to the parish for information.
Request Records from the Parish or Dioceses
Baptism, marriage, and death records may be searched by contacting or visiting local parish or diocese archives in Brazil. Brazil has no single repository of church records. Write your request in Portuguese whenever possible.
Information about how to write for genealogical information to local parishes in Brazil is given in the Portuguese Letter-writing Guide.
When requesting information, send the following:
- Money for the search fee, usually $10.00, and an international reply coupon (IRC)
- Full name and the sex of the ancestor sought
- Names of the ancestor’s parents, if known
- Approximate date and place of the event
- Your relationship to the ancestor
- Reason for the request (family history, medical, and so on)
- Request for a photocopy of the complete original record
If your request is unsuccessful, search for duplicate records that may have been filed in other archives or civil registration offices.
Effective use of church records includes the following strategies, used in this order:
- Search only for the ancestor you select. When you find his or her baptismal record, search for the baptisms of his or her brothers and sisters.
- Search for the marriage of the person’s parents prior to the birth of their first legitimate child. The marriage record will often lead to the parents’ baptismal records.
- You can estimate the parents’ ages or try to find their ages from a death record and then search for their baptismal records.
- Repeat the process for both the father and the mother.
- If earlier generations (parents, grandparents, etc.) do not appear in the records, search neighboring parishes.
- Search the death registers for all known family members.