Learning volumes about family history

UMD’s Portuguese American Archives receive microfilms of Azorean vital records

DARTMOUTH — Thanks to the donation of a collection of microfilmed reproductions of thousands of original birth, death and marriage records from Azores, the Ferreira-Mendes Portuguese American Archives is taking the first step to meeting a growing demand.

“The most common questions I get, from all over the country, are genealogy based, from people who are looking to get family records,” said Archivist Sonia Pacheco. “People know we’re the only institution with Portuguese-American archives, so there is a certain assumption that we have genealogy related materials.”

However, the institution’s focus has been to collect and promote efforts to preserve Portuguese heritage, identity and representation in the United States.

“Our archives focus on what happened after they immigrated, and they are interest in what happened before immigration,” said Pacheco.

The materials in the donated collection cover all nine islands of the Azores during the period of 1541 to 1898. They were a gift from FamilySearch, the largest genealogy organization in the world, which is operated by the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints (Mormon Church). The majority are Catholic Church documents recording births, deaths, marriages, baptisms, and adoptions, but government records and several genealogical books are also included.

Michael J. Hall, Deputy Chief Genealogical Officer of FamilySearch, who has family ties to this region and the Azores, was instrumental in making the donation happen.

“I saw that it was something they needed greatly. I am in a position where I could help out, and I took advantage of it,” Hall told O Jornal in a phone interview from Utah.

Individuals interested in their Azorean roots, or other aspects of Azorean genealogy, can now access and consult these materials, which are referenced as MC 151/PAA, and located in the microfilm area of the 3rd floor of the Claire T. Carney Library at UMass Dartmouth. The records will be available to the general public during normal library hours.
Although written in Portuguese, they can be relatively easy to consult.

“There is a pattern, once you have that pattern it’s easy,” said Hall. “I started doing this with a pocket dictionary because I did not read Portuguese at the time.”

Hall, whose maternal ancestors immigrated from Relva, S. Miguel, to Fall River, said genealogy is gaining popularity as there is a growing mainstream interest in family history.

“People are fascinated with it. They want to know where they came from,” said Hall, who holds a degree in Anthropology from Brigham Young University and has written various genealogical guides and been asked to speak on the subject around the world.

Some partially credit this rise in popularity to the fact that the Mormon Church provides access to family records through the free and national service he works for.

Mormons have collected one of the world’s greatest genealogical archives perhaps because it helps an expansion of its posthumous congregation.

“If a living Mormon can establish a family relationship with someone deceased, then the deceased can be welcome to the faith retroactively,” noted Pacheco. “We have a positive relationship with the Mormon Church, but we’re not supporting it. We’re supporting genealogy and Portuguese-Americans on their genealogy quest.”

Although Catholicism is the most common religion in Portugal, Hall said the Mormon Church is interested in these records because there are Mormons of Portuguese descent around the world.

“Our doctrine helps people understand who they are,” he said. “Family is forever, eternal.”

FamilySearch also has a collection of records from mainland Portugal, Madeira and Cape Verde. There is a possibility that those might also be donated to the Portuguese-American archives.

“We’re working on that,” concluded Hall.

For more information, please contact Sonia Pacheco at 508-999-8695 or send an email to spacheco@umassd.edu.