São Miguel Research - Insights from my Recent Trip

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Savannah Quental

Jun 27, 2022, 3:47:11 PMJun 27
to Azores Genealogy

Hello, all! 

I just returned from my first voyage to São Miguel, and wanted to share some insights from my experience with research. I had no idea what to expect but did know what records and information I wanted to find before leaving the states. Again, these are all my own experiences with particular certain townships and their procedures. I know some people haven’t traveled to the islands since pre-COVID. 

Some of these 'insights' may be obvious to the more well traveled and well researched, but these are a few things that I would've found helpful to know before going. It requires patience and a ‘game plan’ to visit various places to get information. You will need to rent a car to get around the island (and you will want one, to see the beauty that exists all around!). 

For reference, my ancestors are from the following places: Arrifes, São José, Furnas, Ajuda da Bretanha, and Lagoa. Here are a few important 'stops' along your research journey and my experience at each: 

  1. The Conservatoria - this is a government building where all civil death, birth, and marriage records are kept from the last 100 years. The ones you cannot find online. In the United States, think of this like the town hall or town clerk’s office. Each concelho has their own ‘conservatoria’ (ex. Furnas in Povoação, Ajuda da Bretanha in Ponta Delgada). This becomes time consuming and a bit tricky if your ancestors (like mine) are from all over the island. In order to obtain records, you need to know the exact year or date of the birth/death/marriage your ancestor/relative. I know this can be difficult as these are the relatives that we generally don’t know the years around. Some workers are patient and will look through the index year for you to find the exact date, if you have only the year. One employee was very kind and even looked through a few years to find my great-uncle as I had a guesstimate of what year he was born. Some are not so patient or interested in helping. I went to the following places:
    • Lagoa
      • I had to go to the Câmara Municipal, as the Conservatoria did not have the records I needed. The Câmara Municipal only had 1965+ (hard book copies, none are digitized). I did not have success here, but I did have success finding the records I needed at the Biblioteca (more below).
    • Ponta Delgada:
      • The employees were very patient and very kind. Everything is hard copy, not digitized. I went here for the records I needed from Arrifes and Bretanha. Be sure to ask for a fotocopia (1 euro per sheet) versus a certified copy, which is much more expensive (thanks JR for that tip!). Currently, this conservatoria has hard copy records from:
        • Births: 1912 - now
        • Marriages: 1923 - now
        • Deaths: 1965 - now
  2. Biblioteca Pública e o Arquivo Regional de Ponta Delgada (the Library) - I visited the main library in Ponta Delgada a few times and had a wonderful experience. Everything that is on the Cultura Acores website (www.culturacores.azores.gov.pt/), they have as hard copy books within the library that you can look through. They also have cool items like newspapers, census records, etc. The librarians are extremely lovely and kind, and let you sit with the books and look through them as you need to, as well as make copies for you free of charge. They also have the records from the last 100 years that the Ponta Delgada Conservatoria does not currently have (Marriages 1912-1922, Deaths 1912-1964). They have these for all Ponta Delgada parishes, but also had Lagoa. I’m not sure the reason, but I was able to get my recent Rósario death records that I could not get at the Câmara Municipal or Conservatoria, at this library. 
  3. Cemeteries - Previously, my experience with cemetery research was in mainland Portugal – with very well kept records. I had two very interesting experiences here. This maybe was the most difficult and sad/humbling part of my research. Every 6-7 years, cemeteries attempt to make room for more remains, due to lack of land area of the cemeteries. They - in some cases - contact the families if they would like to have the remains of their deceased relative, to make room for more of deceased. If they are unable to contact the family member, they keep the remains but in a place that its not visible within the cemetery. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to find some ancestors and maybe even a photo of them on their grave. :) 
    • Lagoa: There is one cemetery. All my ancestors records said they were buried there. If you do not know the number of the grave of your ancestor –like me – you have to go to the civil registry. If you know the number of the grave, and it was a recent death, you may be in luck! The conservatoria or Câmara Municipal may have the number of the grave (if the death was after 1965). Most likely, if they died before 2000-2010, they are no longer in the cemetery. I did have a cousin who passed in 1971 buried there, but his grave was replaced with someone new. 
    • Ponta Delgada: I had two confirmed great-grand aunts/uncles buried here. There is an office on the ‘new’ (north) side of the cemetery and one on the ‘old’ (south) side of the cemetery. I confirmed with both offices of the locations of my deceased relatives. Most likely, if the relative passed before 1980, they are buried in the old section. The new section office will not have information on those who passed previously to this time period. You will have to enter on the south side and they will look through large hard copy books for the plot information. The new section office has all their records digitally. Again, you need to know the full name of your relative, as well as their parents names to confirm this is the correct person. In my case, I had a relative in the old section (1965) and one in the new section (1992). For the new section, I was given her specific plot information, but when I arrived to that section, it was no longer there (grave markers went up to 130, and hers was 156). I was told by the attendant that they recently redid that part of the cemetery and she was most likely removed. **They do not update their digital records with this kind of information, so it can be a bit sad when you do not find them there.** As for my relative in the old section, he died in 1965. They were able to find his plot number in the hard copy book, but when I got there, it was a different person, not my great grand-uncle. They told me that he, too, was removed. Again, this information is not kept up-to-date. 
4. Churches 
  • I didn't come across a priest within any of the churches, but one of the assistants told me the best time to go to chat with the priest was 30 minutes before or after mass. This is where you would go if you would like the church records (i.e. baptism) versus the civil records. I'm sure someone here in this group with more knowledge than me can describe the difference in the information/look of the records. 
I hope this helps anyone with questions about research on the islands. Again, this is just my experience, and every person's research journey differs. It is a beautiful island with beautiful, kind people who are proud to be Azorean.  I will definitely be returning soon. 


Savannah Quental

Jun 27, 2022, 6:37:24 PMJun 27
to Azores Genealogy
Sorry - there's a typo above...

The Conservatoria in PD has deaths from 1956 - now! (not 1965!). The library has from 1912-1955.

Patricia Gray

Jun 27, 2022, 6:37:32 PMJun 27
to azo...@googlegroups.com

Thank you for this information. My sisters and I will be visiting
Terceira in a few years and this will be very helpful.

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Cheri Mello

Jun 28, 2022, 1:07:19 PMJun 28
to Azores Genealogy
Just to make it VERY clear, everything will depend on which Civil Registry, which Biblioteca, and which churches you want to visit. Even if you went to the same ones that Savannah did, you may have a different employee. It may be a completely different experience.

The Civil Registry (or conservatoria) will vary. Sao Miguel island has 6 of them. Yes, they should hold about the last 100 years worth of records. On a visit in 2002 with Shirley Allegre, the Civil Registry in Vila Franca called upstairs and a bilingual gal came down to help us. Yes, we should have had the dates, but we didn't (it was a death after 1906). We told her we wanted to search whatever years for 1906 onwards. We said we would stand there at the counter and look and not ask the man who was working behind the counter any questions. She reluctantly agreed. She brought us a stack of books for the years we wanted (maybe 10 years worth, maybe 15, I don't remember) and we went through them, took notes on any relative that looked vaguely familiar, and thanked the man at the end. The following day, we went over to Povoacao. The fellow behind the counter was bilingual. No, we could NOT look ourselves. But he would search and get back to us. So we gave the name of the ancestor and a date range for the event. He wanted our contact information and said he would call back. That never happened. So two very different experiences. I think we lucked out at Vila Franca. They allowed us to search ourselves with no dates. Generally, the Civil Registries want you to have a date as they don't want to do broad searches. Joao Ventura, the archivist, has the most experience with practically ALL the Civil Registries of all 9 islands (about 20 Civil Registries exist in the Azores). Generally, they want a date.

Note on when the books are sent from the Civil Registries to the Biblioteca: The Civil Registry would send over 5 years worth of books on years divisible by 5. So in 2020, the Civil Registries should have sent over books from 1916-1920 (and the Biblioteca in 2020 would be current with books up to 1920). Then in 2025, the Civil Registries should send over books from 1921-1925. BUT, the Biblioteca in Ponta Delgada ran out of room. They were having the Civil Registries hold their books. The only council that they accepted records from (before they ran out of room) was Ponta Delgada. Maybe they were able to accept some from Lagoa and that is why Savannah has success. Maybe they made more room since my visit in 2018. Who knows.

All 3 arquivos (there are 3 for the Azores) will vary. I've been to the one in Angra (where Joao Ventura works) and the one in Ponta Delgada. In Angra, I've used the dispensation records. All dispensations are in Angra since the diocese seat for the Azores is in Angra. I filled out the request, say for a marriage that took place in 1856 in the Sao Miguel Arcanjo in Vila Franca over on Sao Miguel island, and they brought out a stack of books that may have been for 1850-1870. The dispensation may or may not exist. You just look through and hope for the best. I did assist a woman from America who wanted to locate her ancestors but did not have her freguesia. She had the immigration date to America however. So I told her to request the Passaportes. They did bring that out her in the physical book. I helped her look, we found her ancestor and the freguesia, then I had her request the baptism. I think they brought out that book too. I showed her how she could access the digital copies through Tombo.pt when she got back home. Now over in Ponta Delgada, if I've requested something that has already been digitized, they sit me down in front of the computer. They don't hand you the books anymore. They only way I've been able to get the book is to show them I can't read the copy. Then they will ask the director and bring me the book. For the most part though, I don't want to do research that I can do from home. I want to do research for the stuff that's not available online.

Yes, the archive or biblioteca has newspapers. I'm not fluent enough to read them. I know of no census records. I'd like Savannah to elaborate on this more. Do you still have the copy of your request so we know what you ordered in regards to these censuses?

Also, the archive in Ponta Delgada has the inventories for those who have died. It's basically an inventory of the estate or home of the deceased. The more recent ones have a copy of the death record and many name the surviving descendants and where they live. Some of these were many pages (over 100). I just took pictures with my cell phone camera. I don't know what the Angra or Horta archives have in the way of inventories.

The archive in Ponta Delgada also has the indices of Ernesto do Canto. This has not been digitized. He did not index every parish. He indexed the freguesia and the years he was interested in. I have the list of what parishes and years he did if anyone is going over there and needs this information.

The cemeteries there rent the plot. The deceased is left for 7 years. Unless the family continues to pay rent, the remains will be exhumed and the bones placed in an ossuary somewhere in the cemetery.  I have never done any cemetery research since my ancestors left over 100 years ago.

In regards to the churches, I wanted a death from 1961 or later. I didn't go to the Civil Registry because I didn't have a date and my range was a guess (he died supposedly over 100 years old so that would be after 1961). I was told to make an appointment. I asked Eliseu to do that for me. Eliseu did that for me and when the day and time came, we went to the church. The church secretary looked through the books with us. We couldn't find him. It made no sense to look for someone who would have died over 110 years of age (the year 1971), so we went back in time. The secretary found him dying at 93 years of age in 1954. So much for being over 100 years old! She allowed me to take a picture of the record with my cell phone, as well as a couple of other records that I found that mentioned family members. I made a donation the church for allowing me to look. Would another church do the same? I don't know. I was very lucky to have Eliseu's assistance in setting up the appointment.

I can't find the copy of that church death from 1954 on my computer (it's here somewhere), but it's pretty close to the form that you see in the early 1900s deaths. Because it's a church record, it will mention the religious aspect, such as if he received his Last Rites. It doesn't list civil things, such as his cause of death. That would be in the Civil Registry records. I contacted Joao Ventura and asked if he obtained the death for my ancestor in 1954 if I would receive the cause of death. He said that information would be blocked out or no longer extracted as it's considered a privacy issue. My ancestor didn't have an inventory, or I would have gone looking for the death record that would have been placed there.

So that's how my experiences over the years have varied. Yours will too, depending on the archive, which employee you encounter, and when you go. They could change their rules next year.
Cheri Mello
Listowner, Azores-Gen
Researching: São Miguel island: Vila Franca, Ponta Garca, Ribeira Quente, Ribeira das Tainhas, Achada

On Mon, Jun 27, 2022 at 12:47 PM Savannah Quental <sav.a....@gmail.com> wrote:
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