When it comes to Genealogical Research in Madeira, there is a lot going for you! There are two websites that hold the majority of church records for Madeira! Why is two better than one? The images were taken in different times and in different ways. FamilySearch.org has digitized microfilm records. The Regional Archive and Public Library of Madeira (Arquivo Regional e Bibliotheca Publica da Madeira) also has publicly available images. These images are much newer and are in color. In some cases, they are also available on FamilySearch.org. I recommend being familiar with both sets, because you will likely come across something that is impossible to read in one medium and legible in the other.
Overview of Madeira: Madeira is an archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean consisting of Madeira Island, Porto Santo Island, the Desertas Islands, and the Savage Islands. The Desertas, or deserted islands, have never had many inhabitants, as they are not suitable for farming. They and the Savage Islands are known for their wildlife. Madeira is part of Portugal, but it is autonomous, meaning it governs itself. The first known inhabitants of these islands were Portuguese explorers who discovered them in the 15th century.
Much of Madeira research can be conducted using the records of the Catholic Church, which can be found online. More recent records have more information, while earlier records contain minimal family information and maximal abbreviations. While the church records are quite useful, there are also a host of interesting records held in the regional archive that could aid in your search and help you to really get to know your ancestors. New collections are always being added.
FamilySearch (familysearch.org): FamilySearch has two different recordings of the church records for the islands of Madeira as well as some civil registration records, which are found in the Catalog. By starting at this page, you can navigate to the correct parish, or you can simply type the location into the “Place” search. One copy of the church records was microfilmed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints decades ago and can be accessed digitally by all who make a free FamilySearch account. Because they were originally microfilmed, the images are in black and white, which has some advantages and disadvantages where legibility is concerned.
The second option for church records is a more recent collection of digital images, which was created by the Madeira Regional Archive and Library (Arquivo e Bibliotheca Regional da Madeira). These images are in full-color, but they are unfortunately not available to all FamilySearch users. Some may be advised that they must view the images at a FamilySearch center. The contract for each record set is different, which can sometimes complicate things. However, if you are unable to view them on FamilySearch, these images are available for free to the public on the Madeira Archive’s website. The only advantage to viewing them on FamilySearch is the ease of access and browsing. Users can easily skip to any page in the collection from the grid view or use the arrows to navigate forward and backwards one page at a time. The format of the archive’s collection is different and makes it more difficult to browse through multiple images at a time.
It is important to keep in mind that FamilySearch may not have all of the records available for every location, so make sure to check each of the resources mentioned. When I am working in Madeira, I am constantly moving back and forth between the different websites.
Archeevo: The Madeira Regional Archive and Library (Arquivo e Bibliotheca Regional da Madeira) has made the Madeira church books, some passports, and some court proceedings available on their website. Some collections are only indexed, while others, most notably the church books, are available in full-color, high-definition images. Their image viewer can be a bit slow and sometimes just doesn’t work, perhaps owing to the high quality of the images. For this reason, I prefer to find church records on the microfilmed copy of FamilySearch records, because it is easy and quick to switch from one image to another. To be honest, I still have not been able to access the digital images directly from the ABM website, but Tombo.pt makes the job easy by providing direct links to the individual collections.
The greatest feature of the Arquivo website is its digital indexes, accessible under the “Access to Documents” tab under “Archives.” The Main Database includes some images, while the other databases contain only text, including the date and book where the entry can be found. In the main database, you get a lot of information, and depending on the search, this is great. However, I have found that the individual databases can give a better overview of a single record collection while eliminating other distractions. The following collections of church records have been indexed in individual databases:
- Baptisms from all parishes 1860-1911
- Marriages from all parishes 1539-1911 and from all civil registries 1911-1962
The greatest collection is the digital index of all Madeira marriages to 1962. I have yet to find a marriage record that could not also be found in the index. Other indexed collections include passport records from Funchal 1860-1975, as well as works projects and inheritance taxes.
The archive is also home to many other documents, which may be of use to your research, but you can likely get quite a bit done using just what you can access from the comfort of your own home.
Tombo.pt: Tombo.pt is an excellent resource for Portuguese family history. It is organized according to the jurisdictions of the Catholic Church. The website is in Portuguese, but if you right-click on the page, the dropdown menu will have an option to translate the page to English. Click the option, and you will be able to view the page’s contents in English. The downside to translating it is that some places names may be translated, making it more difficult to find what you are looking for.
Tombo.pt is not an archive, but it is a pathway to other repositories and archives. It is, in my opinion, the easiest way to find and view the images available at the Madeira Archive website. It is a work in progress, but João Ventura, author of the site, is constantly adding to it. The site uses paid advertisements to remain free to all users, and these can sometimes be a distraction and break up important text. Keep that in mind, and this site will soon become a great resource to you.
You can navigate to the records for your location using the place name bar on the left side of the page or use the search bar at the top. The places are arranged according to the jurisdictions of the Catholic church. First, you’ll want to find the Madeira region, then choose your island, counsel, and parish. Wikipedia can help with obtaining this information.
Why Worry About Multiple Collections? There are always advantages to using multiple collections, including improved legibility and ease of access. Stay tuned for Part 2: The Methodology
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