Locating Colonial Records of Genealogical Value
Describing the location of all of the varied materials available for the Spanish and French colonial periods with an accompanying bibliography of guidebooks, inventories, indexes, and published transcripts is far beyond the scope of this chapter. Rather, descriptions of the archives, libraries, and microfilm collections where a majority of those records may be found, as well as useful Internet sites, appear in this section, followed by specific descriptions of local civil records, census records, and Catholic Church parish records on a state-by-state basis.
Archives in Spain
The archives of Spain are rich in material about the colonial period in the United States. That treasure house has been mined for decades, and excellent guides, indexes, and inventories have been prepared, some to collections in the archives generally, others aimed specifically at the Americas and even at particular regions in the United States. Description of these archives and their collections, including virtual visits, can be found at http://www.cultura.mecd.es/archivos/; computerized access to these collections is available at http://www.aer.es. The following three are the most important, both in quality and quantity of their collections relating to the U.S. Spanish colonial period, but literally hundreds of other libraries and archives in Spain have collections with materials relating to the Americas.12
Archivo General de Indias, Seville, Spain, is the primary archive for Spanish colonial documents. Governmental, judicial, commercial, and military records for all of the colonies in the Americas are found here. Local government reports, passenger lists, censuses, and a multitude of other records, often intimately local in nature, are found here. Of particular interest are the Papeles de Cuba section, which contains extensive documentation relating to Florida and Louisiana, and the various subsections in the Gobierno, Justicia, and Contratación sections that relate to New Spain.13
Archivo General de Simancas, Valladolid, Spain, is the oldest national archives in Europe. In 1790, all of the sections relating entirely and specifically to the administration of the colonies were sent to Seville to create the Archivo General de Indias. There remain, however, many records relating to the Americas that were integrated in collections that covered all of the functions of Spanish government.14 Notable are those for Títulos de Indias,15 describing appointments to numerous government positions in what is now the United States, and Hojas de Sevicio Militar en América, which includes military officers’ personnel sheets from posts stretching from Saint Augustine, Florida, to San Francisco, California.16
Archivo General de Segovia, Segovia, Spain, as Spain’s premier military archive, contains material about military operations in the New World. Of particular interest is the fully indexed section dealing with officers’ service files, which includes many who served in military posts in what is now the United States.17
Archives in France
Many French archives have material relating to Louisiana and Quebec.18 Of interest are the Department Archives in port cities such as La Rochelle and those of the navy. By far the largest collections of such materials is found in the:
Le Centre des Archives d’Outre-Mer (CAOM), Aix-en-Provence, France. This is the archive for records of the French overseas ministry and the former French colonies, including Louisiana and Quebec.19
Archives in Cuba
Archivo Nacional de Cuba, Havana, Cuba. Although not currently available to U.S. researchers, the national archives of Cuba has many documents relating to Louisiana and Florida.20
Archives in Mexico
Archivo General de la Nacion, Mexico City, Mexico. Censuses, correspondence, reports, and diaries concerning political and financial administration, military affairs, eccles-iastical affairs, relations with indigenous peoples, explorations, expeditions, mining, and much more are all found in this collection. Originating as the archives of the viceroy of New Spain, this is the richest collection of Spanish Colonial materials concerning the United States, consisting of 115 record groups containing more than 41,000 volumes.21
Those working in the Southwest should be sure to search the excellent index now available online at http://www.agn.gob.mx, especially for the Californias and Provincias Internas sections.
The Mexican states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Coahuila, Sonora, and Baja California all have state archives with material relating to the southwestern United States. Chihuahua and Sonora have notarial archives with relevant materials.22
The large and growing set of digital documents and images is at http:www.agn.gob.mx/inicio.php?cu=ic&sc=ic.
Libraries and Archives in the United States
Universities and other libraries and archives in the United States have collected large amounts of materials relating to the Spanish and French colonial periods. Many are copies or transcripts of those found in foreign archives, as well as originals acquired by Anglo-American document collectors in the past. As a researcher moves beyond the basics of parish and census research, the catalogs for these collections should be consulted. In each case, a website is provided to gain more information about these collections, and many offer catalogs, indexes, and even digital documents.
Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah. The world’s largest collection of microfilms of original documents of genealogical value, the FHL has microfilms of many of the records described elsewhere in this chapter. Anyone researching Spanish colonial records should check to see what is available here, as most can be sent to a local Family History Center for minimal cost. Go to FamilySearch.org under Family History Library Catalog, and check for any record source mentioned under “place search” using first the town, then the county, then the state to search for records during the colonial period. If all else fails, try a creative search using keywords.
University of Texas, El Paso, has microfilm holdings relating to the Borderlands area that number over 160 sets, including copies purchased from other microfilming sources such as the University of Texas at Austin, the National Archives, and so forth. For details, go to http://www.utep.edu/border.
University of Texas, Austin has two very large collections containing Borderlands materials: Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collections and the Center for American History’s Research and Collections Division.
University of California, Berkeley. The Bancroft Collection provides original and secondary materials in a variety of formats to support research in the history of the American West, Mexico, and Central America, with greatest emphasis on California and Mexico from the period of European exploration and settlement onward. For details go to http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/collections/bancroft.html.
National Archives, Washington, D.C., has materials concerning those portions of the United States under Spanish or French control during the colonial period.23 Go to http://www.archives.gov/research/tools for details.
University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana, has manuscripts documenting the history of the Catholic Church in the United States, including correspondence of early missionary bishops, papers of prominent Catholic religious and lay people, and records of significant Catholic organizations, including the originals or microfilms of records for many Catholic colonial parishes and the diocese of Louisiana and Florida. Go to http://www.nd.edu/~archives.
The Documentary Relations of the Southwest (DRSW), Arizona State Museum, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, houses an extensive collection of microfilm relating to the Southwest. Online at http://www.statemuseum.arizona.edu/oer/index.shtml, one can access the Master Bibliography and Indexes, which contains over 17,000 records. These records describe an estimated total of 500,000 pages of primary documents dealing with the greater Southwest from 1520 to 1820, which corresponds to the Spanish Colonial era. Documents included cover an extensive geographical area bounded by the 22nd to the 38th parallel of north latitude and by the 92nd to the 123rd meridian of west longitude. This approximates the colonial frontiers of northern New Spain. The documents indexed come from a total of thirty-one archives in Europe and the Americas, including significant materials from the following archives: Archivo General de Indias (AGI-Sevilla); Provincias Internas of Mexico City’s Archivo General de la Nación (AGN-Mexico City); Spanish Archives of New Mexico (Santa Fe, Mexico); Archivo de San Antonio de Béxar (to 1790) (University of Texas, Austin); Archivo de Hidalgo del Parral (Parral, Chihuahua); as well as fifteen smaller archives.
Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. The Latin American Collection of the University Library has the oldest Latin American manuscript collection in the United States, as well as approximately 435,000 printed volumes, plus newspapers and microfilms. Go to http://www.yale.edu/las/lcollections.html for more detail.