Maranhao, Brazil Genealogy

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A genealogy guide to Maranhão, Brazil civil registration and church records to trace ancestry and compile family history.


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Most of your genealogical research for Maranhão 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.

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. Since 1827, the government has accepted marriages performed in the Catholic Church as official marriages.

Civil registration records are kept on a municipal level by local civil registration offices. Records are subsequently sent on to a municipal, district, or delegation office. People from small villages often reported their births, marriages, and deaths to a nearby central municipality office. Many towns in Brazil are very new. If you do not find records for the city you need, you will need to determine when the city was founded and from which older city it was created (try a Google search). Origins of cities are also given in the reference book, Cidades e vilas 1998, which can be consulted online from a Family History Center computer.

1. Online Digital Records for Civil Registration

For localities several in Brazil, civil registration records have been filmed, and digitized online copies of the records are available through FamilySearch Historical Records. Filming continues and more records are added as they become available. Until records become available for Maranhão, research should rely mostly on church records. The majority of birth, marriage, and death events would be recorded both in civil and in church records.

2. Writing for Civil Registration Certificates

It is possible to obtain civil registration records 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. This method is not always reliable. Officials might or might not respond. Using available church records is advisable first.

Write a brief request in Portuguese to the proper office using this address as guide replacing the information in parentheses:

Cartório de Registro Civil
(postal code), (city), Maranhão
BRASIL

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 Brazilians were Catholic and were registered in entries for baptisms, marriages, deaths, and burials in the local church records. Often two and sometimes three generations are indicated in the registers, with personal information on the family. Church records are the main source prior to 1850, when civil registration began. After this date one should search in both church and civil records, since there may be information in one record 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.

1. 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.

2. 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. These microfilms may be viewed at Family History Centers around the world. To find a microfilm:

a. Click on this link to see a list of records for Brazil, Maranhão.
b. Click on "Places within Brazil, Maranhão" 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. Clicking on the camera will take you to an online digital copy of the microfilm. Clicking on the microfilm reel will lead to information on how to rent the film. Family History Center staff will assist you in ordering the film.

3. Writing to a Catholic Priest for Church Records

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. This method is not always reliable. Officials might or might not respond.

Write 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), Maranhão
BRASIL


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:

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 Brazil such as Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, or others, 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.

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.




Resources

  • Annães Historicos do Estado De Maranhão (Historical Annuls from the State of Maranhão) by Bernardo Pereira De Berredo - This book contains correspondance between the author (who was Governor of  Maranhão in 1849) and the Portuguese Crown. It also contains a detailed history of the area of Maranhão (which included initially the regions of Ceará, Maranhão, Pará, and Piahui) from its discovery in th 1500s till 1718. It can be accesssed online for free through Google Books by clicking here.