this bibliographic study describes brazilian scientific production on informal caregivers to elderly in graduate nursing theses and dissertations from 1979 to 2007; identifies goals, issues, and theoretical models of this production; reports on the concept of caregiver used; and socio-demographically describes these caregivers. data was collected from 27 thesis and dissertation abstracts from the center for nursing studies and research, resulting in 15 complete papers. results showed 18 qualitative and 15 theoretical dissertations from southern and southeastern brazil. the majority sought to comprehend care from the caregiver perspective and family care offered to elderly patients with chronic degenerative disease. most caregivers were women, daughters or wives, 40-60 years old, married, with little formal education and homemakers. the study showed concern from nursing in learning of family care from the caregiver's experience. despite increased scientific production in the theme, this study reveals the need for further investigation in this area.