I'd like to know how I can find church records for Portugal, as these records from the collection Portugal, Faro, Catholic Church Records, 1587-1880 seem to be off-limits to 'non-members' in FamilySearch.

Can someone help me?

  • 2
    I have edited your question to include the link to the collection you linked to in your comment. Now that I see the problem, I see that you are asking about a different set of records than you had in your original question, and I have tagged and re-titled the question to match. I'll try to answer both -- please edit your question again if you want to include more information.
    – Jan Murphy
    Oct 13, 2015 at 21:57
  • 1
    I apologize if I have explained too much, but my goal is to write an answer that will be useful to family historians with a wide range of experience.
    – Jan Murphy
    Oct 13, 2015 at 23:22
  • 1
    No apologies necessary. Thanks a lot for your text. It's extremely useful, even outside of this question. Oct 16, 2015 at 8:59
  • Added a link to a video and class handout to my answer
    – Jan Murphy
    Oct 20, 2015 at 21:22

2 Answers 2


The free website tombo.pt provides access to all the Portuguese parish records, as provided by the Portuguese public archive servers.


Family Search has a short video in their Learning Center (3 minutes) which explains why there are different levels of access to records on FamilySearch.org:

This video helps FamilySearch users understand why FamilySearch has different levels of access to records on its site. It also explains why, when FamilySearch doesn't have the images of records, it links to other sites, even some fee sites.

  • Language English
  • Lesson Owner FamilySearch
  • Skill Level Beginner
  • Lesson Creation Date 31 May 2012
  • Presenter Jacob Draper

The following portion of this answer addresses record visibility and record access, as well as the question as originally written about why access was restricted on vital records.

Civil vs. Church Records

The collection given as an example was part of the collection Portugal, Faro, Catholic Church Records, 1587-1880.

The term "vital records" is sometimes used in the United States to distinguish civil records, which are created by the government, from records which are created by the church. For example, commercial vendors who offer a service of ordering copies of "vital records" generally mean the civil records collected by the state. See FamilyTree.com's blog post "Vital Records: What They Are and How to Find Them" which is written for people just starting out with genealogy.

The two groups of records (church and civil) are often treated as equivalent, and Family Search often lumps the two together, but they are not the same. The distinction is important for two reasons -- in how we find the records, and in understanding their purpose while doing our analysis.

One important difference in the nature of the records is that while both civil records and church records contain records of marriages, civil records record births and deaths, while church records record baptisms and burials. We can infer births and deaths from baptisms and burials but the two kinds of records are not the same kind of evidence.

Privacy restrictions may also be quite different, depending on whether the record is a civil one (where the privacy is restricted by law) or a church one (private by custom). The Catholic Church, for example, might restrict access so that its records can only be viewed by patrons who are at a Family History Center or an affiliate library such as a genealogical society library.

FamilySearch's own indexes / extractions, which are derivative records, are not subject to the same restrictions as the original images are, and can be viewed online. The Wiki lists these in the article Portugal Vital Records Index, following FamilySearch's own (in my opinion, confusing and misleading) usage of "vital records" as a catch-all for both the civil records (what a British researcher would call BMDs) and the not-quite-equivalent church records.

Image visibility

For each collection on Family Search, there are two ways to discover information about the collection -- by reading the catalog description, or by reading the article about the collection in the FamilySearch Research Wiki.

The Wiki article Portugal, Faro, Catholic Church Records (FamilySearch Historical Records) says:

Image Visibility

Whenever possible, FamilySearch makes images available for all users. However, ultimate rights to view images on our website are granted by the record custodians. The Portugal, Faro, Catholic Church Records collection is available to the Family History Library, FamilySearch Centers, and to members of the supporting organization, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The images can be viewed at a FamilySearch Center near you.

As a member of the general public, I cannot view these records remotely because I do not have an LDS account.

The Wiki article Introduction to LDS Family History Centers explains how to use the locator to find a Family History Center near you.

If you were on-site at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City you would want to get help from a specialist with a red lanyard (for collection help) rather than a blue one (for research help).

But remote users can get help on the website from the FamilySearch Help Center Page. Clicking on "Get Help" in the upper right-hand corner of the screen pops out a menu which includes several options for contacting Family Search. I recently used Live Chat and the sister who answered me was very helpful.

If they cannot help you because of the privacy restrictions imposed on them as a condition of getting access to the records you do have other options. You can:

  • view the records at the nearest Family History Center, if the privacy laws in your country allow it (Example: some German records are available in the USA but not in Germany)
  • hire a researcher who can go to the Family History Library or to a Center and get a copy or transcription of the records for you
  • look at the catalog record to see who holds the original records and contact them directly
  • hire a researcher who can go to the archive holding the original records and get a copy or transcription of the records for you

Note that each repository will have its own rules about which records can be accessed and by whom, whether we can make our own image copies, and so on. Before going to any facility or sending someone on your behalf, find out what is allowed and not allowed. Most restrictions are imposed for the preservation of the original records, which should be handled as little as possible, but the local laws about privacy will also determine access to any original records.

A list of church records can be found by searching the catalog, and at the bottom of the Wiki article Portugal Church Records. I suspect most if not all of the Catholic Church records may have the same restrictions as the collection you cited -- check the corresponding Wiki article for more details.

  • 2
    Thanks for the explanation. I'd like to add that pre-1910, we didn't have such a clear Catholic church/State separation in Portugal. The church was responsible for the civil records, and there was a clumsy system in place for non-Catholics to also be provided with legal civil records. Since this corresponds also with the 100-year delay in having these records freely available, in practical terms the only civil records we have are the church records. Oct 16, 2015 at 8:57
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    Thanks for the information. The answer to "When did civil records begin?" will be different for every place and for every kind of record. In the United Kingdom, 1837 is the start of nationwide BMD registration. In the US, many states didn't start collecting births statewide until the early 20th century and anything earlier has to be found at the county where the record is kept.
    – Jan Murphy
    Oct 16, 2015 at 19:11

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