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3 Tips for Overcoming Your Research Brickwalls

Autos de Justificação Conselho da Fazenda genealogy
Autos de Justificação de Bárbara Joaquina do Vale, 1823, Maço 1; Conselho da Fazenda 1435/1836; Arquivo Nacional Torre do Tombo

Brickwalls. Who has never felt that they have reached the end of the line in the research of a family branch because there is no more evident documentation, because it is damaged, because the information previously found is incomplete or not completely accurate? Despite the many years of research, even today I feel very bitter that, for example, there are no parish books from Camarate, Loures, before the 19th century.

I have, therefore, put together three suggestions that even though they can be much more laborious than the usual resources (the wonderful parish records!), can help circumvent or even tear down a brickwall. Not all of these resources are available online. Some can be very difficult to read, especially for someone who doesn't speak Portuguese. And they are often scattered and not indexed. But they are invaluable.

Personally, in research, these three are just part of a group of essential sources to uncover more details about the life of our research subjects. Let’s go.

1. Notary records, or Livros de Notas dos Cartórios Notariais

These are the records written by local notaries and in them you can find the most varied traces of our ancestors' activities: wills, purchase and sale deeds, dowries, and powers of attorney. They are generally organized in the archives of the respective districts, except for notaries in the Lisbon area which are found in the Arquivo Nacional Torre do Tombo. Wills, like property inventories, are excellent ways of checking who the heirs of a given ancestor were and what there was to inherit. The dowry deeds make it possible to check the approximate date of a union, the age of the bride and groom and their addresses, as well as obtain some more information about the close circle of the intervening parties. In conjunction with other resources, such as habilitações and inquirições, this method can even take the place of more straightforward sources such as parish records.

Depending on each district, this resource might be available in a span of a few centuries up to the middle of the 20th century.

2. Autos de justificação do Conselho da Fazenda

For anyone researching individuals with potential links to wealthier strata, this is one of the most wonderful resources.

The Conselho da Fazenda was the body that managed the income of the Portuguese treasury, comprising traffic and commercial expenses of maritime exploration and navigation. From 1761, it got to control the awarding of property and rents. These justification processes were precisely the petitions in which an individual or family requested the right to succession of property. These could be salaries of deceased family members, entails, remuneration, or pensions owed by the Crown. But what makes this instrument fascinating is that, usually, they contain a description of the candidates' genealogy, often with transcripts of parish records, income, ancestors' occupations and possessions. The ones that are catalogued on the Arquivo Nacional Torre do Tombo can often be located with a simple keyword search. You can browse Autos in Conselho da Fazenda up to 1832.

3. Inquirições de genere

Like the nobility justification processes, inquirições de genere were the processes in which the origins of the candidate were investigated several generations back, and, for the most part, they also come with transcripts of original vital records. However, these were intended for admission into ecclesiastical life and/or obtaining benefits, for which the candidate had to guarantee “purity of blood” according to the Catholic Church. That is, there was no trace of Jewish or Moorish ancestry and they were cristãos-velhos (old Christian).

You will hardly find an inquiry for a direct ancestor as these were intended for the clergy. However, it is possible to find brothers, uncles, or nephews of ancestors who have joined the church.

Although certain series of inquirições de genere concerning distant bishoprics can be found in the Arquivo Nacional Torre do Tombo, these documents are generally grouped by the diocese series of the respective district and can go up to the early 1900s.

The GenealogiaFB project does an extraordinary job in indexing records from the Archbishopric of Braga, which brings together processes concerning various municipalities in the north of Portugal.

Finally, it is important to mention that many of these series of documents have not yet been scanned, catalogued, or described in the archives, so in-person consultation is inevitable. Through CRAV (Consulta Real em Ambiente Virtual), you can request copies of documents that you find in Portuguese archives but that are not yet in digital format.

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