Brazil History

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Effective family research requires some understanding of the historical events that may have affected your family and the records about them. Learning about wars, governments, laws, migrations, and religious trends may help you understand political boundaries, family movements, and settlement patterns. These events may have led to the creation of records such as land and military documents that mention your family.

Your ancestors will become more interesting to you if you also use histories to learn about the events they may have participated in. For example, by using a history you might learn about the events that occurred in the year your great-grandparents were married.

You may find the name of the place your ancestor came from has changed or that the municipality or state boundaries have changed.

Modern Brazilian history begins with Portuguese settlement in the 16th century. After the end of the Avis Dynasty in Portugal in 1580, a union was established between Spain and Portugal, called the Iberian Union. This lasted until 1640, when the Bragança Dynasty took over Portugal. The Bragança Dynasty lasted until 1910.

The government of Brazil has had various rulers and governments at different times, they can be summarized as follows:

1534–1549 Captaincies, under Portuguese monarchy

1549–1720 Governors general, under Portuguese monarchy

1720–1808 Vice-Reis, under Portuguese monarchy

1808–1822 Period of Portuguese monarchy direct rule

1823–1889 Brazilian monarchy

1889–1930 First Republic

1930 Second Republic

Major cities of Brazil were founded at the following times:

1535 Recife

1554 São Paulo

1565 Rio de Janeiro

1612São Luís (Maranhão)

1616Belém (Pará)

1669 Manaus

1740 Porto Alegre

Important historical dates are also listed in the "Historical Geography," "Military Records," and "Slavery and Bondage" sections of this outline. Besides the above, following are some key dates and events in Brazil’s history:

1494 The Treaty of Tordesillas allowed the Portuguese to claim all the territory east of a north-south line 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands.

1500 Pedro Alvares Cabral claimed Brazil for Portugal.

1548 Portuguese Jews were banished to Brazil.

1549 Tomé de Sousa, the first governor general, was appointed. He established Salvador de Bahia as the capital. He was the supervisor of the captaincies in Portugal.

1549The Jesuit Order was introduced to Brazil. It established the first schools and maintained them until 1759. These schools provided lower education for the aristocracy. Lay students were sent to the University of Coimbra.

1551 Brazilian colony made a separate diocese with the first Catholic bishopric in Bahia.

1580–1640 Portugal and Spain were unified.

1604 The Conselho de Indies (Council of the Indies) was formed in Portugal. It later became known as the Conselho de Ultramarino (Overseas Counsel).

1624–1654 The Dutch presence in Brazil was removed by the Treaty of Taborda.

1695Gold was discovered in Minas Gerais and later in Mato Grosso and Goias.

1727 Coffee was introduced to Brazil.

1730Diamonds were found in Brazil.

1746Portugal encouraged emigration from the Azores and Madeira. Many settled at what is now Porto Alegre.

1759The Jesuits were expelled from Brazil. They were not allowed to return until 1842.

1759New laws guaranteed the Indians’ personal freedom. Each Indian was to receive a Portuguese name.

1763 The capital was moved from Bahia to Rio de Janeiro.

1808–1822 The Braganzas, the royal family rulers of Portugal, resided in Rio de Janeiro during the French occupation of the Iberian Peninsula. After 1815, Brazil was on equal status with Portugal.

1818 Land grants were made to Swiss and German settlers. In 1820, Novo Friburgo, Rio de Janeiro, was founded by the first non-Portuguese settlers, who arrived in 1819.

1822Brazil declared independence and establishesd a monarchy, which lasted until 1889.

1824 Brazil adopted a constitution that provided a federal republic, the United States of Brazil. This constitution provided for provinces and municipal governments, which called for construction of elementary schools in every town and secondary schools in large urban centers. (Private German schools closed in 1917. After 1928 all elementary instruction was to be given in Portuguese.)

1850 German colonists came to Rio Grande do Sul.

1880s There was significant immigration of Germans, Japanese, and Eastern Europeans.

1888Slavery was abolished (see the "Slavery and Bondage" section of this outline).

1889 Brazil became the Republic of the United States of Brazil. A decree declared that all foreigners after that date would be considered citizens unless within a six-month period they went before the municipality to make a plea.

1890Church and state were separated.

1942 Brazil declared war on the Axis powers.

The following books explain more about the history of Brazil:

Herring, Hubert. A History of Latin America from the Beginnings to the Present. 2nd ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962. (FHL book 980 H2h)

Poppino, Rollie E. Brazil: The Land and People. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968. (FHL book 981 H2pr)

Maior, A. Souto, História do Brasil (History of Brazil). São Paulo: Companhia Editora Nacional, 1968. (FHL book 981 H2mh) The volume covers the period of prediscovery to 1967.

Pombo, Rocha. História do Brasil (History of Brazil). 5 vols., Nova edição ilustrada. São Paulo: W. M. Jackson, Inc., 1953 (FHL book 981 H2p) The five volumes cover the period of discovery to 1900.

You can find histories in the Family History Library Catalog under one of the following:




Local Histories

Some of the most valuable sources for family history research are local histories. They describe the settlement of the area and the founding of churches, schools, and businesses. You may also find lists of early settlers, soldiers, and civil officials. Even if your ancestor is not listed, information on other relatives may be included that will provide important clues for locating the ancestor. A local history may also be helpful in identifying other records to search.

Published histories of towns, counties, and states may contain valuable genealogical information. Some state and town histories include separate sections or volumes containing biographical information.

In addition, local histories should be studied and enjoyed for the background information they can provide about your family members’ lifestyle and the community and environment they lived in.

For some localities there may be more than one history. Many histories have been written about local towns and communities in Brazil. A careful search for available histories for your ancestor’s locality is worthwhile.

The Family History Library has a few local histories for towns in Brazil. To find these, look up the town in the catalog and the subject "history." Similar histories are also often available at major public and university libraries and archives.

An excellent bibliography of local histories is:

Boletim Bibliográfico da Biblioteca Nacional (BBBN) (Bibliographical Bulletin of the National Library). Rio de Janeiro: nl.

Library of Congress. Library of Congress Office, Brazil. Accessions List, Brazil: Annual List of Serials. Rio de Janeiro: The Office, 1975–. (FHL book 981 A3u.)

Bibliographies that list local histories are available at the Family History Library. These are listed in the Family History Library Catalog under:



In 1583 Brazil accepted use of the Gregorian calendar—the most widely used calendar today. Few genealogical records are available before 1583.

Online Resources