Madeira Islands, Portugal Genealogy

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Guide to Madeira Islands ancestry, family history and genealogy: birth records, marriage records, death records, census records, parish registers, and military records.

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About Madeira Islands

The Portuguese Autonomous Region of Madeira is composed of Madeira Island, Porto Santo Island, Desertas Islands and Savage Islands. Funchal, the capital of Madeira Island, is on the south coast of the principal island. Read more on Wikipedia…

Research Methods

Most of your genealogical research for Madeira Islands will be in two main record types: civil registration (registros civis) and church records (registros da igreja). This article will teach you methods for locating and searching these two record groups.

Civil Registration (Registros civis)

Civil registration records (Registros civis) are government records covering birth, marriage, and death. They are an excellent source of names, dates, places, and relationships.

Civil Registration has been kept from 1832 to the present.

  • 1832 Required registration of non-Catholics
  • 1878 Universal civil registration with priests functioning as civil registrars for Catholics
  • 1911 Civil registration obligatory. Priests stopped functioning as civil registrars

Civil registration records are kept on a municipal level by local civil registration offices. After 100 years they are moved to the district registration office.

Online Digital Records for Civil Registration

For many localities, digital copies of civil registration can be searched online:

  • Arquivo da Madeira: - Click on Resources and then choose Archives from the drop-down menu to choose a database. When entering names in the search engine, spelling is crucial. Be sure to spell names correctly. If you are unsure of how to spell a name or surname you might want to try Googling the name to see spelling variations. The archive's online collections include the following:
    • 1860-1911 - Baptisms 1860 to 1911 This collection is not complete for all parishes. Visit the archive's website to see a list of parishes that are included in this database.
    • early-1911 - Marriages early to 1911. This indexed collection includes all marriages for the entire archipelago of Madeira.
  • Portugal, Madeira, Civil Registration Records at Tombo.pt - free, browseable images, incomplete for all localities.

"Nascimentos" are births. Matrimônios and "Casamentos" are marriages. "Óbitos" are deaths. "Índice" is the index.

Microfilm Copies of Civil Registration Records Searched at a Family History Center

If the locality and time period you need are not included in the online records, the next step is to find them in the microfilm collection of the Family History Library. Currently, they are being digitized, and plans are to complete that project by 2020. Check back occasionally to see if your records have become available. In the meantime, some of them might be available at a Family History Center near you.
To find a microfilm:

a. Click on this link to see a list of civil registration records for Portugal, Madeira Islands.
b. Click on the town or city you wish to search.
c. Click on the blue links to specific record titles.
d. Choose the correct event and time period for your ancestor.
e. Some combination of these icons will appear at the far right of the microfilm listed for the record. FHL icons.png. The magnifying glass indicates that the microfilm is indexed. Clicking on the magnifying glass will take you to the index. Clicking on the camera will take you to an online digital copy of the microfilm.

Writing for Civil Registration Certificates

It is possible to obtain civil registration records by writing to the local civil registry in the municipality or the district archive. Civil officials will generally answer correspondence in Portuguese.

Civil Registry

For events less than 100 years ago, the records are kept in the local registration office. Use the following resources to address a brief request in Portuguese to the proper office.

District Archives

For records older than 100 years, write to the district office at:

Arquivo Regional e Biblioteca Pública da Madeira
Caminho dos Álamos, n.º 35
Santo António
9020-064 Funchal
Telefone: +351 291 708 400
Fax: 232429668
E-mail: abm.sretc@madeira.gov.pt

For both types of offices, 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


Write your request in Portuguese whenever possible. For writing your letter in Portuguese, use the translated questions and phrases in this Portuguese Letter-writing Guide.

Church Records (registros da igreja)

The vast majority of Portuguese were Catholic and their baptism, marriage(s), deaths and burial, were recorded in the local church records. Often these registers include personal information on the family, including two and sometimes three generations.

In 1910, the newly established First Portuguese Republic mandated that all documents with vital information that were previously recorded and held by the Catholic Church be turned over to the government. Some of these records are now in the national archive in Lisbon, called the "Torre do Tombo", some are in archives that were established in each district, and some unfortunately were lost in this transfer.

Online Digital Records for Church Records

For some localities, digital copies of Catholic church records can be searched online:

Batismos are infant baptisms, which are used for birth information. Matrimônios' are marriages. "Óbitos" are deaths. "Índice" is the index.

Microfilm Copies of Church Records Searched at a Family History Center

If the locality and time period you need are not included in the online records, the next step is to find them in the microfilm collection of the Family History Library. Currently, they are being digitized, and plans are to complete that project by 2020. Check back occasionally to see if your records have become available. In the meantime, some of them might be available at a Family History Center near you.
To find a microfilm:

a. Click on this link to see a list of records for Portugal, Madeira Islands.
b. Click on "Places within Portugal, Madeira Islands" and a list of towns and cities will open.
c. Click on the town or city you wish to search.
d. Click on "Church Records" topic. Click on the blue links to specific record titles.
e. Choose the correct event and time period for your ancestor.
f. Some combination of these icons will appear at the far right of the microfilm listed for the record. FHL icons.png. Clicking on the magnifying glass will take you to the index. Clicking on the camera will take you to an online digital copy of the microfilm.

Writing to a Catholic Priest for Church Records

Portugal has no single repository of church records. Baptism, marriage, and death records may be searched by contacting or visiting local parish or diocese archive in Portugal. Write your request in Portuguese whenever possible. This method is not always reliable. Officials might or might not respond.

The following websites provide contact information for parishes

  • Conferência Episcopal Portuguesa - lists websites for the 20 Dioceses of Portugal. Once on the Diocesan website, use the listing of parishes (paróquias) to locate contact information for the parish in question.
  • Catholic Directory lists parishes by town for all of Portugal.

If contact information for a parish is not listed in these records, address a brief request in Portuguese to the proper church using this address as guide replacing the information in parentheses:

Reverendo Pároco
Paróquia de (name of parish)
(postal code), (city)
Madeira Islands, Portugal

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


Write your request in Portuguese whenever possible. For writing your letter in Portuguese, use the translated questions and phrases in this Portuguese Letter-writing Guide.

Reading the Records

  • You do not have to be fluent in Portuguese to read your documents. Genealogical records usually contain a limited vocabulary. Use this Portuguese Genealogical Word List to translate the important points in the document.
  • Online interactive slideshow lessons are available to help you learn to read these records:

Search Strategy

  • Search for the relative or ancestor you selected. When you find his birth record, search for the births of his brothers and sisters.
  • Next, search for the marriage of his parents. The marriage record will have information that will often help you find the birth records of the parents.
  • You can estimate the ages of the parents and determine a birth year to search for their birth records.
  • Search the death registers for all known family members.
  • Repeat this process for both the father and the mother, starting with their birth records, then their siblings' births, then their parents' marriages, and so on.
  • If earlier generations (parents, grandparents, etc.) do not appear in the records, search neighboring parishes.

Tips for finding your ancestor in the records

  • Births were usually reported within a few days of the birth by the father of the child, a neighbor, or the midwife. A search for a birth record should begin with the known date of birth and then searching forward in time, day by day, until the record is found. It might be found within a few days of the actual birth date, but in some instances, it might be weeks or months later.
  • In the larger cities of Portugal, there are several registration offices located throughout the city. If you know in which part of the city your ancestor lived, you should begin your search in the records of the office nearest their home. If you do not know, you will need to search office by office.
  • Some civil registration books have indexes in the front or back of them. These indexes are often by the given name of the child. You may have to check every entry in the index if your ancestor had more than one given name.
  • Marriages typically took place in the hometown of the bride.
  • Death records can be particularly helpful for people who may not have had a civil birth or marriage record but died during the period when civil registration had begun.

Maps

External Links