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From the dark ages until the mid 1500's, parish priests recorded the births, marriages, and deaths but only for royalty and the nobility. In 1563 the Council of Trent was convened by the Catholic Church to consider some of the reforms urged by Martin Luther. One of the edicts of this council was that henceforth, parish priests would record the events of birth, marriage and death for everyone. About seven percent of the parishes in Portugal had already commenced keeping vital records of the commoners, some as early as 1520.
In 1910 a revolution rejected the royal family, abolished all titles of the nobility, wrote a constitution, and passed new laws. This resulted in all vital records recorded and held by the Catholic Church being 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.
In December 1993 the national archive printed a two volume book under the title, Inventario Colectivo dos Registros Paroquais, (Collective Inventory of the Parochial Records, FHL book 946.9 A3i) listing each parish church and which of its records were in the national archive and which were in one of the district archives.
Many of these original records in the national archives and the various district archives have been microfilmed and are listed in the Family History Library Catalog.