A gazetteer is a dictionary of place names. Gazetteers describe towns, villages, churches and states, rivers and mountains, populations, and other geographical features. They usually include only the names of places that existed at the time the gazetteer was published and often their former names. The place names are generally listed in alphabetical order, similar to a dictionary.
Gazetteers may also provide additional information about a town, such as its:
- Boundaries of civil jurisdiction.
- Longitude and latitude.
- Distances and direction from other from cities.
- Schools, colleges, and universities.
- Denominations and number of churches.
- Major manufacturing works, canals, docks, and railroad stations.
You can use a gazetteer to locate the places where your family lived and to determine the civil jurisdictions over those places. For example, the town of Santa Rosa de Viterbo in the state of São Paulo was created in 1910. By searching a gazetteer one can learn that after 1944 this town was named Icaturama.
There may be many places in Brazil with the same or similar names. You will need to use a gazetteer to identify the specific town where your ancestor lived and the jurisdictions of the municipality, district, and state where records about him or her were kept.
Finding Place Names in the Family History Library Catalog
Place names in the Family History Library Catalog are listed under their modern names and current municipalities and states as they existed in 1993. To find the municipality that a town is filed under in the Family History Library Catalog, you can do a
"Place Search" in the catalog at www.FamilySearch.org. Because of the many changes in place names, the Family History Library uses one gazetteer as the standard guide for listing places in the Family History Library Catalog. Regardless of the names a place may have had at various times, all Brazilian places are listed in the Family History Library Catalog as they are listed in:
Cadastro de Municípios (Survey of Municipalities). Rio de Janeiro: Fundação Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística, 1993. (FHL book 981 E5c)
Although this book is the standard used for cataloging, many items were cataloged prior to 1993, using older gazetteers; therefore, some discrepancies arise. If you cannot find a place in the catalog using the 1993 gazetteer, search an older gazetteer.
Another useful gazetteer that identifies many towns, cities, and geographical areas in Brazil and other parts of the world is found below. This gazetteer is written in English, easy to use, and available through many public libraries:
The Columbia Lippincott gazetteer of the world: with 1961 supplement. Morningside, N.Y.: Columbia University Press, c1962. (FHL book 910.3 C723g)
Modern Place Names
For some research purposes such as correspondence it is useful to learn modern jurisdictions for the area where your ancestor lived. This may also be helpful when finding the ancestral town on modern maps. In addition to the above gazetteer, the following modern gazetteers may be found at large libraries and archives and in the Family History Library:
Cadastro de Cartórios do Registro Civil 1981. (Survey of the Civil Registry Offices). Rio de Janeiro: Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística, 1982. (FHL book 981 J54; film 1667140 item 1)
Guia postal (geográfico) da República dos Estados Unidos do Brasil (Geographical Postal guide of the Republic of Brazil). Rio de Janeiro: Diretoria Geral dos Correios, 1930–1931. 2 vols (FHL book 981 E8d; film 1102988 items 2–3)
Dicionário geográfico brasileiro (Brazilian Geographical Dictionary). Porto Alegre, Brazil: Editora Globo, 1966, 1970. (FHL book 981 E5)
Historical Place Names
Because names and boundaries of some places have changed or no longer exist, you may need to use gazetteers, maps, or local history sources that describe places as they were known earlier. For example, there are four places in Brazil with the name João Pessoa. One of these towns was known as Porto, in the state of Piauí, prior to 1930. Between 1930 and 1944 it was known as Marruás, but it is now known as João Pessoa. A gazetteer will help you sort this information.