Portugal Project - Research Tips

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These Research Tips are provided to help those that are working on the Portugal Project.


Portugal Project - Research Tips

Researching regions in Portugal can be challenging but very rewarding. If you don't speak or read the language it is even more difficult. Don't fret! There are help pages that can teach you the basics that you need to find records. The most important resource that we have is each other! Don't be afraid to reach out to another WikiTree-er and ask for advice or a second set of eyes for something. If you know someone that can translate documents - do the legwork first and hunt down that elusive record. The actual translation is the shortest part of that journey. And if you find something that helped you out share with others! Once again, our fellow researchers can be our greatest resource.

Below are some tips that helped me along when I started researching in Portugal. There are also links to pages that will help with research in general. When you're ready to start, head over to the Resources page and check out those links. You can work on an Orphaned profile to start (no manager, no pressure), one of your own profiles, or work in a 'Free Space' to work on your skills. If you have any questions feel free to PM one of the Portugal Project Leaders or post in the Portugal Project Google Group. Best of luck with your research (Boa sorte com sua pesquisa)!


  • For some the journey starts with family. Talk to the older family members (ask questions and listen). Someone may surprise you with a story or a tidbit of information that will help you along.
  • Ask for copies of any pictures or documents. This may remind Aunt Joanna that she had that old passport in her stored belongings. Good old Uncle John may have just assumed that you remembered being told at age ten that he had grandpa and grandma's marriage record. You never know what you might find if you don't ask.

Naming Conventions

  • Wikipedia has a great break down on Portuguese names.
  • People from Portugal have two first names, no middle name, and anywhere from one to six surnames. You will generally only see one or two surnames in an official document. The surname is composed of the mother's two surnames, the father's two surnames, and (only used for a short time) the spouse's two surnames.
  • To confuse matters, the 'mother's two surnames' can include any names from the mother's line. Though it is common for females to use their mother's devotional name (surname), and males to take their father's surnames; any names from the familial lines can be used. It's easy to panic at first when you are wondering if that João Silva is really the son of António Pereira Teixeira. Remember to breath and trust the records! Portuguese records, at the very least, contain the parents names and locations. If you are lucky, they contain the grandparents names as well, along with where they were born (and sometimes even their occupations!).
  • The G2G and Google Groups are being used to get input on naming conventions and how they relate to WikiTree (do we put the 'da' in the Last Name At Birth field? etc). Once it's decided, it adds to the continuity of the site and helps each of us with our searches. Follow the latest conversations to see what is happening, or start your own question in the G2G forum.
  • In Portugal there is a list of 'acceptable' names, including archaic spellings, that are enforced by law. Where names in other parts of the world are spelled as the record was, despite the lack of literacy, in Portugal the names are spelled the way they should be. In other words it's ok to type Jose or Joze (z=s in archaic form), or João or Joam (archaic form), or Manoel instead of Manuel; but Maria will never be Marea, Mahrea, or any other spelling. You will get used to what names are allowed and how they are spelled. Pretty soon you'll be rolling your eyes with the best of them at 'yet another Manuel.'
  • In Madeira the first 'first name' is given by the Godfather, not the parents. In other words, mom and dad didn't name little Antonio after his uncle - the uncle chose to give him that name. The second 'first name' is given by the family. How does this effect our research? If you see two Antonia's, two Manuel's and a Maria it does not mean that two of the children have died. The family could have four Maria's but call them each by their other 'first name.' I know. Confusing.
  • When a title is used in a vital record it is important. Capitão (Captain) is a maritime captain that is well educated, and an important person in the community. Dona is a woman of stature. Rarely, but it is possible, you will see the spouse or the sons of a 'Dona' take her surnames.
  • You can look at the psu site for Letter with Accents that give you keyboard shortcuts (hold your 'Alt' key down, push in the four numbers on the right side of the keyboard, not above the letters, let the Alt key go). Honestly, I find it distracting when translating or writing a bio. I keep the main letters in a Notepad doc, then copy and paste when done. Use whichever method works best for you!


  • Always remember, 'location, location, location!' It may seem at first like there are thousands of Manuel Silva's out there. But when it comes down to it, there is probably only one Manuel Silva Teixeira born in Calheta that has a wife named Maria da Conceição that was born in Magdalena do Mar that are living in Magdalena do Mar during the estimated years you are looking for. Really. Look at the first record that you know is right. If little Maria married Domingos Aguiar and you have that record, pay close attention to the names and birth places (naturaes) of her parents. In Madeira, you can search the Marriage Index to look for that combination of names. Chances are they married in the mother's parish. If you aren't researching in Madeira you can go back twenty years before Maria was born and look in her parish for her baptism record and any siblings she may have. Once you have found a number of children for the family it really narrows down the year span that the parents married in.
  • For migrating families or couples, finding the parish of origination is a must! Without a place, you can't confirm that you have the right couple. For Madeira you can search the Passport Indexes. (Right click your mouse and see if you can 'Translate to English' to see the field titles, 'Show Original' to change back to check for names). For the Azores or the mainland you can do a general search on the Archives sites, or check the resources page for that region and look for passport information.
  • The official name of the country changed over times, as often happens. The correct location name at the time that ancestor lived is the one that belongs in the location fields (birth and death). You can add the current name in the Biography section.
    • 1139-1910: Reino de Portugal (Kingdom of Portugal)
    • 1910 to 1926: República Portuguesa (Portuguese Republic)
    • Current: Portugal


There is nothing worse than coming upon a profile that has no birth or death estimates, and no locations. A purist might say they are waiting to find the actual date and place. Honestly, you are better off estimating both dates and locations. That is one of the things the 'uncertain' radio button is for. If your great-grandma Maria was married in a certain year, you can 'guess' that she was at least seventeen when she married. You can further guess that her mother was at least seventeen when she married, and that her father was age twenty. Those are not unreasonable guesses. This gives you a starting place to hunt for possible marriages, and allows others to see which era they belonged in. This is also a fail-safe for you if you have to step away from your research and return later on.

Common Terms

These are terms that are frequently used in vital records. If nothing else, learn to look for 'filho' (son of) to find a father's name or the word 'legitimo' (legitimate). There are also web resources such as or using Google Translate (type 'translate portuguese' in your browser. Then try this term: eu amo minha família). (See the Glossary of Portuguese terms for more terms)
filho legitimo = legitimate son
filha legitimo = legitimate daughter
filho/filha natural = natural child of (parents not married, but they can if they want)
filho/filha ilegitimo = illegitimate child of (one parent is already married and can't be named)
mulher = wife
pai incognito = father unknown/unnamed
exposto = abandoned/orphan child (a lot of these, from what I know, were children that were born in poor health, and the parents didn't know if they would make it. It was an acceptable practice to leave them with the church, who would assign godparents and baptize them)
primeiro do nome = first of their name
paterno = paternal grandchild of
materna = maternal grandchild of
casado = married
com = with (the bride's name will be after this word)
Consangüinidade = consanguinity, kinship - there must be a dispensation from the church if they are closer than a fourth degree of consanguinity
contrahentes = contracting parties
d'idade = of the age
ja defuncta = already deceased
ja defunctos = both deceased
nubentes = the betrothed
sem impedimento algum = without any impediment
sepultado = buried
solteiro = single
Igreja Católica = Catholic Church
nascimento = birth
casamento, matrimônio, recebimento = marriage
enterro, enterrei, enterrado(a), sepultado(a), sepultura = burial
morte, falecimento, óbito, falecido(a), defunto(a) = death
mês = month
paróquia = parish


If you know numbers in Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, or other languages this will be easy. If not, trust me, you'll learn them fairly quickly. In the meantime, print them out and compare them to the document. You can also copy and paste them into a Notepad document on your computer.
0 - Zero [zeh-ro] (In Spanish - cero)
1 - Um [oon] / uma [oo-mah]
2 - Dois [doh-eesh] / duas [doo-ash]
3 - Três [treh-sh]
4 - Quatro [kwa-troo]
5 - Cinco [cin-koo]
6 - Seis [say-eesh]
7 - Sete [set]
8 - Oito [oy-too]
9 - Nove [noh-vee]
10 - Dez [desh]
10 - Dez [desh]
11 - Onze [on-zee]
12 - Doze [doh-zee]
13 - Treze [tray-zee]
14 - Catorze [ka-tor-zee]
15 - Quinze [keen-zee]
16 - Dezasseis [deh-zah-say-eesh]
17 - Dezassete [deh-zah-set]
18 - Dezoito [deh-zoy-too]
19 - Dezanove [deh-zah-nov]
20 - Vinte [veent] or [veen-tchee] in Brazil.
10 - Dez [desh] or [day-ss] in Brazil.
20 - Vinte [veent] or [veen-chee] in Brazil.
30 - Trinta [treen-tah]
40 - Quarenta [kwa-ren-tah]
50 - Cinquenta [cin-kwen-tah]
60 - Sessenta [seh-sen-tah]
70 - Setenta [seh-tayn-tah]
80 - Oitenta [oy-tayn-tah ]
90 - Noventa [noo-vayn-tah]
100 - Cem [saing]
100 - Cem [ceing].
200 - Duzentos [doo-zayn-toosh].
300 - Trezentos [treh-zayn-cen-toosh].
400 - Quatrocentos [kwa-tro-cen-toosh].
500 - Quinhentos [Keen-nyientoosh].
600 - Seiscentos [seh-eesh-cen-toosh].
700 - Setecentos [seh-tay-cen-toosh].
800 - Oitocentos [oy-toh-cen-toosh].
900 - Novecentos [noh-vay-cen-toosh].
1000 - Mil [meal]


The Portuguese months are similar to those in English.

Document Changes

Many of the early records contained the bare minimal information required (for a marriage: the date and the names of the betrothed and the name(s) of the witness(es)). Later records contain much more information. Spelling changes occurred as well so indexes will use the 'modern' spelling as opposed to what is actually written in the record. When documenting your ancestors the translation should use the spelling as it was when the record was created.
Some Changes:
  • 1562 The Council of Trent required parish priests to record all births, marriages and deaths
  • 1850's Baptisms required the addition of Parent's residence, Father's occupation, Grandparents names and residence, Witness(es) residence.
  • 1850's There was an additional requirement of marital status of bride and groom, names and residence of their parents, names and residence of the witnesses parents
  • 1850's Burial records had to have the deceased's residence parish (and occasionally they added the grandparents names)
  • 1900 Marriage's had to have the profession of the bride and groom and their age
  • 1910 All records created by the churches had to be transferred to the government (the archives)
  • 1911 Silent s abolished
  • 1945 eliminates the trema (cêrca = cerca)
  • 2009 eliminated silent letters (baptismo = batismo)

Be Brave

  • Remember to have faith in yourself as you go along. These journeys aren't meant to be easy. Feel just as good about those little finds as you do for big break throughs. And remember to congratulate yourself for taking that extra step to learn new things in order to honor your ancestors.
We inherit from our ancestors gifts so often taken for granted. Each of us contains within this inheritance of soul. We are links between the ages, containing the past and present expectation, sacred memories and future promise.
Edward Sellner

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  • Public Q&A: These will appear above and in the Genealogist-to-Genealogist (G2G) Forum. (Best for anything directed to the wider genealogy community.)
Comments: 5

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Mindy it appears I am arriving late for the party (looks like you started this effort in 2018). I appreciate the introduction to Portuguese ancestry and look forward to learning more about WHERE in Portugal did my ancestors live? After almost 500 years in the West Indies and United States I am finally getting back to my Father's ancestors in Portugal. Thanks for all your help and encouragement.
posted by Bill Henriques
Hey William, fantastic job going that far back! Digitised documents that ancient are quite scarce here (most are after 1700), but if you need any transcription or translation help you can ask me.
posted by Marcos André Amores Oliveira
edited by Marcos André Amores Oliveira
Let me know when you get them past Kingston, Jamaica on WikiTree! I'm excited to see where your branches go.
posted by Mindy Silva

It is greatly encouraging to have read your post. The naming conventions, let along the regional names, has been an impediment for my Portuguese mother's side, and now I'm realizing that has been an impediment her entire life. We are working to discover what we can of her long gone ancestors, and we have stumbled about, found helpful natives, and learned much. I do wish we had started with what you have summed up so well. I am quite new but would like to learn what I can do to support this project, as I myself learn.

posted by Steven Harlan
Hi Steven, I see that you are about mid 19th century with your Azevedos. Do you know where in Portugal they were located?
posted by Mindy Silva