European Ancestors – Portuguese Surnames

255px-Flag_of_Portugal.svgRather similar to Spanish surnames, Portuguese ones are divided into:

  • First names – Nomes Proprios
  • Last names – Apelidos

Last names are formed from surnames representing the heritage from both sides of the family.

Such as:

  • First names – Jose Maria
  • Surnames –
    • Mothers side = Almelda
    • Fathers side = de Pais Vierra.

According to Portuguese law, there can be a maximum of two first names and up to four family names. Each name can be a simple one, such as Almelda or a Composite name, such as de Pais Vieria. An additional complication is that siblings may take on different surnames from their heritage, so a different surname does not necessarily mean step siblings or half siblings.

Women are not expected to change their surname upon marriage and if they do, they cannot drop their existing name. The married name “simply” tacks onto the existing name.

Men can legally change their name to that of their wife and have been able to do so since the 1970’s but in 2014, it was estimated that only 5% of men had actually done so.

Portugal has a list of “approved” names that must be adhered to when naming a child and some are listed as gender specific.

Posted in European Ancestors, Genealogy, Portugal, Surnames | Leave a comment

European Ancestors – Regions of Unified Italy

Continuing with the migration of the European Ancestors material. Italy is divided into 20 regions. Those marked with * indicate they have a degree of autonomy and can enable legislation at a local level. The Country is broken down further into 109 provinces and 8,101 municipalities.


Map courtesy of FamilySearch


  1. Abruzzo
  2. Aosta Valley *
  3. Apulia (Puglia)
  4. Basilicata
  5. Calabria
  6. Campania
  7. Emilia-Romagna
  8. Friuli-Venezia Giulia *
  9. Lazio
  10. Liguria
  11. Lombardy (Lombardia)
  12. Marche
  13. Molise
  14. Piedmont (Piemonte)
  15. Sardinia (Sardegna)
  16. Sicily (Sicilia) *
  17. Trentino-Alto Adige *
  18. Tuscany (Toscana)
  19. Umbria
  20. Veneto
Posted in European Ancestors, Italy | Leave a comment

European Ancestors – Spanish Surnames

spanish flagContinuing with the European Ancestors material.

In Spain children typically are given their first name followed by two surnames.

The first surname represents their father’s surname and the second represents their mother’s surname.

Since 1999, the gender equality laws have made a provision for some surname transposition and where parents are unable to agree the order of the surnames the decision is made by the official presiding over the birth registration.

Posted in European Ancestors, Spain, Surnames | Leave a comment

European Ancestors – Researching in Portugal


courtesy of Wikipedia

The obligation to keep church parish records began on 11 November 1563 following a session of the Council of Trent.

There are three distinct phases of that researchers in Portugal should be aware of.

  • Between 16th and the end of 17th Centuries information recorded in Portuguese records was at the decision of the Priest. Some recorded more details, whilst others recorded just the minimum.
  • Late 17th Century to around 1860 we see an additional amount of information provided
    • Baptisms recorded the place of birth.
    • Marriage recorded parents of bride and groom
    • Deaths included the name of the widow or widower.
  • 1860-1911 there is the standardisation of records following a Royal Decree in August 1859.
    • Birth records included the occupation of the father, residence of the parents, Grandparents names and residences and the name and addresses of the witnesses.
    • Marriage records included Marital status of the bride and groom, name and residences of the parents of both bride and groom and the same of the witnesses, the age of bride and groom and their occupations from 1900.
    • Death records include the residence of the deceased, names of the deceased parents or spouse. On occasions the records also provide the details of the deceased Grandparents.

In Portugal there are the following archives:

  • National Archives
  • 17 District Archives
  • 4 Regional Archives
  • 3 Municipal Archives
  • 1 Diocesan Archives

The website is an amalgamation of material from all those archives, but does not necessarily mean that all the contents of an archive has been uploaded to the website.

Posted in European Ancestors, Genealogy, Portugal | Leave a comment

European Ancestors – Surnames

If you are researching an European surname there is a chance you are capturing every instance of that surname wherever you locate it irrespective of whether it connects to your own family or not.

The concept of examining the details and focus of a surname is not necessarily an obvious one and yet can provide amazing insight to your ancestry even in the very broadest of terms.

I would recommend that researchers visit the Guild of One-Name Studies website and insert the surname into the search box on the top right. That will enable you to do several things:

  1. Determine if the surname is registered with the Guild
  2. Determine if the surname is recorded in the numerous indexes of the Guild, which are constantly being updated
  3. Access the joining page of the Guild. You do not need to register a surname in order to join the Guild.

Where-in-the-World-Jan-2018-768x538The image shown above is a representation of European surnames registered with the Guild as of  January 2019. Is your Surname there?

Useful Resources

  • Surname Research Guide FTM CoverThe Surname Research Guide by Julie Goucher & The Guild of One-Name Studies published by Family Tree Magazine (UK) and issued with April 2019 magazine (print and digital)
  • The Surnames Handbook by Debbie Kennett, Published History Press, 2012, ISBN 978 – 0752468624
  • The Seven Pillars of Wisdom: The Art of a One-Name Study, Published by the Guild of One-Name Studies, 2012, ISBN 978 – 1903463161
  • Our Italian Surnames by Joseph G. Fucilla, Published Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc, 1949 (reprinted 2003) ISBN 978 – 0806311878
  • Surname Atlas by Archer Software (based upon the UK 1881 Census)
  • Pharos Introduction to One-Name Studies
Posted in European Ancestors, Genealogy, One-Name Studies, Pharos - Introduction to One-Name Studies course, Surnames | Leave a comment

European Ancestors – Channel Islands

The Channel Islands is made up of five different islands, each one represented by their own flag, as 1407312087illustrated here. The islands are Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark and Herm.

The islands are located in the English Channel close to the Normandy coastline and are a crown dependency. The islands are governed by two Bailiwicks – One representing Jersey and other Guernsey. The Channel Islands was the only territory within the crown dependency to be occupied by Germany in the Second World War.

Whilst the Channel Islands falls outside of the remit of European Ancestors, I have nonetheless provided a set of links and general information for the island to assist you in your research.

General Sites

Genealogical and Historical Sites

Recommended Books & Papers

Posted in Channel Islands, European Ancestors | Leave a comment

European Ancestors – Isle of Man

IOM FlagMost well known as the venue for the TT Motorsport races, the island is located in the North Sea between Great Britain and Ireland

The Isle of Man is a British Crown Dependency, which is self governing, however, Britain is responsible for it’s defence and external affairs. Britain also retains some powers to legislate the Island should the needs arise.

The Isle of Man is not part of the European Union.

The island has been inhabited since 6500 BC and is one of the Celtic nations. Manx language is a branch of Gaelic and it’s cultural influence began as early as the fifth century.

Whilst the Isle of Man falls outside of the parameters of European Ancestors, I felt it was worth including it here regardless and have therefore provided a set of links and general information for the island to assist you in your research.

General Sites

Genealogical and Historical Sites

Posted in European Ancestors, Isle of Man | Leave a comment

European Ancestors – Surname Distribution Maps

Surname distribution maps are very helpful in identifying a presence for a surname in a particular country. Below there are a list of Country specific distribution maps.

On a global scale is best site is World Profiler – this site which is run by a university in the UK has had issues for a while. The site takes a surname, asks for an email address and the gender of the requester, these are for statistical purposes. The site also uses Adobe Flash Player and coupled with the statistical material it often sends some browsers into a panic!

I have used the site initially successfully with Chrome, then Microsoft Edge without issue. Sadly the site is, at the time of writing (23 May 2019) unavailable and I hope it returns, which is why I have left the link in place. If you find it working, please do leave me a comment! In the meantime, you can see an example below for the surname of Orlando

World Profiler - Orlando

Surname distribution for the name of ORLANDO

Posted in European Ancestors, Genealogy, One-Name Studies, Surname Distribution Maps, Surnames | Leave a comment

European Ancestors – Migration Links Polish in Persia (Iran)

From 1942 until the end of the Second World War there was a population 120,000 strong of Polish migrants in Iran, this was part of around 300,000 Poles that had been forced out of their homeland by the Russians and forced into the east of the Soviet Union and Siberia.

The details are fascinating and strictly speaking outside of the remit here, but they should not, and if you are researching Polish ancestors, must not be overlooked.

  • Iranian Documentary, “The Lost Requiem” produced by Khosrow Sinaiin 1983. This film took twelve years for the producer to make as he researched, filmed and interviewed as many people as he could locate from the former Polish community which spent the years from 1942 in Iran. The film has been made available by the producer and can be found at YouTube.

Other Links

Posted in European Ancestors, Genealogy, Poland | 6 Comments

European Ancestors – Bulgarian Research

bulgarian flag

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Continuing with the migration of the European Ancestors material. The flag shown here is of Bulgaria since 1990 until the present day.

Bulgaria is the oldest state in Europe to have kept its original name since AD681 and most of the population are descendants of the Bulgarian invasion of the South Danube. On two occasions during the medieval period Bulgarians managed to establish empires. On 22nd September 1908 Bulgaria was proclaimed an independent state.

The history of the Balkans is a complex one due to the invasions, petitions and general chaos in the region. By the 20th Century Bulgaria was ruled by a Monarchy which during the Second World War joined forces with the Axis powers. In 1944, after the death of King Boris the Soviet Union backed the alternative regime and a Republic was declared.

The Republic was Communist and those who were against the Regime or believed to be against the regime were observed, challenged and on many occasions interned into the Labour camps, very similar to those that existed in Russia.

The close proximity of mainland Greece to Bulgaria meant that there was often natural migration between the two countries. Border changes in the region meant that on occasions overnight Greeks became Bulgarians and were asked to change from the Greek Orthodox religion to Muslim. Once the Communist regime was established there was a lack of tolerance to religions, and those who were not comfortable with the regime naturally wanted to cross the border. Those wishing to leave the Country were seen as traitors and if caught fleeing were interned. Those that did make it out were labelled traitors and could never safely return to the Country.

Bulgarian National Archives can be found HERE (the site has been, and still in under construction).

The state archives of the People’s Republic of Bulgaria was formed on 10th October 1951 and carry out a nationwide policy of collection, storage, organisation and use of archive material. There is very little emphasis on assisting researchers.

In 1839 the Emperor of the Ottoman Empire declared that all subjects in the Empire would be afforded the same rights. It is from this time that we see the formation of Official Registers.

There are also the following repositories which may hold information

  • Bulgarian National Library in Sofia
  • National Library in Plovdiv
  • District State Archives
  • Military Archives in Veliko Tyrnovo
  • Church Archives in Sofia

The district archives use the 28 districts which had divided the Country. Each district had a capital which was responsible for the records in that geographical location. In the 1980’s the 28 districts structure was abandoned and instead 9 larger provinces were established, but the former structure was deeply embedded into the structure of the country and establishment of the provinces merely fragmented the storage of official documents.

The 9 Provinces are:

  • Burgas
  • Khaskovo
  • Lovech
  • Mikhaylo
  • Plovdiv
  • Ruse (Rousse)
  • Sofia (Sofya)
  • Sofrya Region
  • Varna

Documents that can be found are:

  • Birth Records
  • Marriage Records
  • Death Records
  • Index of Funds Records
  • Taxation Records

Because of the historical links to Turkey through the Ottoman Empire there are some Turkish records to be found in Bulgarian records. Documents will be in Bulgarian and some early records in Latin script.

In this region there has always been a Jewish population. In the period of the Second World War whilst there was a complete lack of tolerance to the Jewish religion across the German occupied territories, Bulgaria retained its Jewish population and broadly speaking did not deport them, but did deport around 11,000 of those who were of the Jewish faith during its occupation of Yugoslavia and Greece during this period.

A very useful resource is The Foundation for the Advancement of Sephardic Studies and Culture (FASSAC)

With the demise of the Communist Regime in this region there has been an increased availability of documentation about the Country and individuals and therefore research in the region should not simply be restricted to what is available in Bulgaria. Those who were seen as potential enemies of the regime, whether that was correct or not were observed and records were maintained. The reality is that no one really knows for sure how many more records are potentially available about those who lived in this region during this regime.

Researching in Bulgaria is complex because of being part of the Ottoman Empire, boundary changes with Greece, the alignment with Germany during the Second World War and finally the Communist regime that occurred from 1944. From these few historical facts a whole new set of research opportunities presents themselves.

Top Tips

  • Research Wide – in much of Europe there is a necessity to research generally before drilling down to the details of specific individuals. It is imperative to understand the Country and the social, political and economic stance of the time and how that would have affected individuals.
  • Look at the Surnames and Places. Even through the turbulence of region, religious and political intolerance not everyone left their area or homeland. Some changed faiths and political beliefs and adopted a new way of life.
  • Research the places that your ancestors live. Has the place always been in the Country that it was or is in?
  • What was the dominant religion in that place?
  • Border Countries
  • Other researching in the geographical place
  • Others researching the surname anywhere – where there is a regime of intolerance there is migration – therefore there maybe others researching the same surname in other parts of the world.
    • Identify periods of migration
      • Depending on religion (1930 – 1945) – Whilst the Bulgarian Jewish population were not deported during the Second World War how many fled believing that they were in danger? Potentially someone of Bulgarian Jewish faith living in Greece could have been deported.
      • Migration during the Cold War era. Subjects that left were often subject to interrogation by the Country that they entered – as a way of ensuring that they were genuine and not agents of a Communist Regime.
      • Migration that occurred through border changes (Bulgaria and Greece for example)
    • Understanding the Migration. Those fleeing often did so with very little of anything, in an attempt to hide their impending migration. Did they cross the border into another Country and establish themselves there in order to finance their migration on to the US or other parts of Europe?
      • Where was the nearest port? Which might not have been in the country of origin.
      • Where was the cheapest port?
  • Obtain a history of the Balkans such as:
    • A short history of the Balkans by Mark Mazower, published 2002
    • The Balkans 1804 – 2002: Nationalism, War and the Great Powers by Misha Glenny, published 2012
  • Maps
    • Map of the Balkans showing the border towns with Greece and Romania
    • Map of Bulgaria showing Provinces and towns.
Posted in Bulgaria, European Ancestors | 1 Comment