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Civil registrations comprise the vital records made by the government. Records of births, marriages, divorces, and deaths are commonly referred to as "vital records" because they document critical events in a person’s life. Civil registration records (Registros Civis) are an excellent source of accurate information on names, dates, and vital events.
Civil records are important for genealogical research in Brazil. They can be used along with church records. Since 1827 the government has accepted marriages performed in the Catholic Church as official marriages. In 1850 a law was passed requiring registration of births and deaths throughout the country. Until 1870 the Catholic Church was required to keep this record. After 1870 these records were to be kept by the justices of the peace.
Civil records kept track of all the population, including the Catholics and the non-Catholics. Because of the influx of non-Catholics after the 1880s, these records are important in recording this section of the population as well. Because the Catholic Church continued keeping records after the creation of the civil registration in the late 1800s, two types of records may be available for births, marriages, and deaths. Be sure to search both records.
Some civil registration records in Brazil date back to the 1860s and 1870s. Some civil records in Brazil date back to 1889. However, some areas did not begin keeping records until as recently as the 1920s. Because they cover such a large percentage of the population, civil registrations are an extremely important source for genealogical research in Brazil.
At times the Catholic Church stopped keeping death records because the civil authority was keeping them. Occasionally there were disputes between the Catholic Church and government authorities concerning the legitimacy of marriages performed by each authority. Therefore, it is important to check both the civil records and church records to understand the issues completely and to get all the genealogical information about each event. For birth, death, and marriage records that were created before civil records began in a particular area, see the "Church Records" section of this outline.
Information Recorded in Civil Registers
The information recorded in civil registration records varied over time. Later records generally give more complete information than the earlier ones.
The most important civil records for genealogical research are the birth, marriage, and death registers. These records may be either handwritten or typed and are most often indexed by given name rather than surname.
Other civil records include emancipações (emancipations) made by fathers when their sons reached 18 years of age (not required after 21 years old), land sales (imóveis), and corrections of children’s names (comunicaçes). For the most part, only birth, marriage, and death records have been filmed by the Family History Library, and these will be of most help in doing genealogical research.
Births were usually registered by the infant’s father or by a neighbor of the family within a few days of the event. A birth record includes the day and time of the birth; the newborn’s name; the parents’ names; the town where the birth occurred, which may be different than where it was registered; and the address of the house or hospital the birth took place in. Family information may be included, such as the parents’ ages, birthplaces or residences, marital statuses, and professions and the number of other children born to the mother. You may also find information about the grandparents.
Corrections or additions to a birth record may have been added as a note in the margin.
Early civil marriage entries simply contain the name of the bride and groom and the marriage date. In later years more information was entered, such as the bride’s and groom’s ages, occupations, civil statuses, and residences. Sometimes their parents, grandparents, and birthplaces were listed. In current civil marriage records even street addresses are given.
Because divorce was not common until the 1980s, Brazil has very few divorce records. People would get a desquite, which is a legal separation, but the Catholic Church forbade divorce.
Early civil death records are especially helpful because they may list people whom there are no birth or marriage records for, and they may provide information about the person’s birth, spouse, and parents. Deaths were recorded within a few days of the event in the town or city where the person died.
Death records generally give the deceased’s name, date, and place of death. Depending on the clerk who registered the death, the record may also include the deceased’s age or date of birth (if a child), residence, occupation, and cause of death; burial information; and the informant’s name (often a relative). They often provide the name of a spouse or parents.
Be aware that information in a death record about the deceased’s parents, birth date, birthplace, and so on may be inaccurate since the person who gave the information may not have had complete information.
Locating Civil Registration Records
Civil registration records are kept by all the states on a municipal level. There are over 3,700 municipalities (municípios) in Brazil, with offices of civil registration. The populace register in their local civil registration offices. The records are then sent to the municipal office, district office, or delegation office.
Several small villages will sometimes report births, marriages, and deaths in one central municipality office. Sometimes municipalities existed for a few years and were then dissolved. In villages where this has occurred, births, marriages, and deaths are reported in a neighboring municipality.
Duplicate copies of all civil records are made in separate books. Copies of surviving records and duplicates from the municipality archive are sent to the Arquivo Geral dos Tribunais in the federal district and to the judicial or state archives in the various states.
Records at the Family History Library
The Family History Library has microfilmed the civil registration records of many municipalities in Brazil. Civil records from the late 1800s to the 1920s and 1930s, and often up to the 1990s, have been filmed for the states of Pará, Ceará, Pernambuco, Alagoas, Bahia, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Paraná, Santa Catarina, and Rio Grande do Sul. Some civil registration records have also been filmed for the states of Rio Grande do Norte, Sergipe, and Paraíba.
You will need to know the town your ancestor lived in. Although more than one town may comprise a municipality, the civil records are listed in the Family History Library Catalog for each town and not just by the municipality. Some municipalities are small and only have one civil registration office, but in the larger cities there might be several civil registration offices.
The specific holdings of the Family History Library are listed in the Family History Library Catalog. To find civil registration records in the Family History Library, search in the "Place Search" section of the catalog under:
BRAZIL, [STATE], [TOWN] - CIVIL REGISTRATION
The library’s collection continues to grow as new records are microfilmed and added to the collection.
Locating Records Not at the Family History Library
Birth, marriage, and death records may be found by contacting or visiting local civil registration offices or district and state civil archives in Brazil. The present location of records depends on whether the local office has sent its records to the higher jurisdiction. Most recent records will be found in the local civil registry offices. Older records may be found in the municipality, district archive, or state archive.
Civil registration records in Brazil can be obtained by writing to the local civil registry in the municipality. Civil officials will generally answer correspondence in Portuguese. Your request may be forwarded if the records have been sent to state archives.
After deciding who has jurisdiction over the records for the time period you need, write a brief request to the proper office. 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 state or ecclesiastical archives.
Directories of the civil registration offices of Brazil for 1981 and 1993 are available through the Family History Library. The following publications list the addresses of the municipality civil registration offices and will help you identify the municipality a particular town belongs to:
Cadastro de cartórios do Registro Civil 1981 (Survey of Offices of the Civil Registrar 1981). Rio de Janeiro: IBGE, 1982. (FHL book 981 J54; film 1667140 item 1)
Cadastro de municípios 1993 (Directory of Municipalities 1993). 2 vols. Rio de Janeiro: IBGE: 1993–1994. (FHL book 981 E5c)
A 1994 edition also lists addresses for each of the municipalities:
Cadastro de municípios 1994 (Directory of Municipalities 1993). 5 vols. Rio de Janeiro: IBGE, 1995.
Effective use of civil records includes the following strategies, used in this order:
Search only for the ancestor you select. If you can find the person’s death record, it will help identify his or her age or birth date. When you find the birth record, search for the births of his or her brothers and sisters.
Search for the marriage of your ancestor’s parents prior to the birth of their first legitimate child. The marriage record will often lead to the parents’ birth records of the parents.
You can estimate the parents’ ages and search for their birth records.
Repeat the process for both the father and the mother.
If earlier generations are not in the record, search neighboring municipalities.
Search the death records for all family members.
Brazil, Rio de Janeiro Civil Registration: a free Internet index and images to the Brazil, Rio de Janeiro Civil Registration can be viewed on the FamilySearch Record Search site. For a description of the collection see Brazil, Rio de Janeiro Civil Registration article
Brazil, Pernambuco Civil Registration: a free Internet index and images to the Brazil, Pernambuco Civil Registration can be viewed on the FamilySearch Record Search site. For a description of the collection see Brazil, Pernambuco Civil Registration article