Military Records in Hispanic Research
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The number of peninsular troops stationed in a colony and the extent of the organization of provincial units varied depending on the time period and the colony. Study the history of the military in a colony to better understand an ancestor’s involvement.
Service Sheets (Hojas de Servicios)
These military service records are found in all Hispanic military organizations. Generally, the name of the officer or soldier, the date and place of birth, and the names of his parents are at the top of the sheet. The body of the record is a detailed, date-by-date list of the various assignments and ranks of the soldier’s military service. This may be brief and occupy only single page, as in the attached image, a service sheet for a Spanish officer who served in Louisiana in 1792, or it may contain many pages.
Personal Files or Petitions (Expedientes Personales)
These were generally petitions compiled for a specific purpose, such as to request permission to marry or to request and prove worthiness for a special promotion or pension. In many archives, these expedientes personales may be arranged in special sections, such as expedientes de academía (academy files), expedientes matrimoniales (marriage files), or expedientes de pensión (pension files), or they may be arranged alphabetically with the various petitions for a particular soldier or officer filed together under his name.
Military Parish Records
The various units of the Spanish army, being overwhelmingly Catholic, had their own capellanes (chaplains). These military priests performed sacraments for officers and soldiers and their families, and recorded those sacraments in special parish registers. A soldier had the option of having the sacraments for himself and his family performed by the military chaplain or the local ecclesiastical authorities. It is possible, therefore, to find for a single family within the same generation some baptisms, marriages, and last rites performed by local priests and others by military chaplains.
In Spain, access to the military parish records kept by the Vicariato General Castrense in Madrid requires permission from military and ecclesiastical authorities. Inquiries concerning consultation of these records should be addressed to the Vicario General, Secretaria General del Ejército, Alcalá 9, Madrid, España. This collection covers not only records for Spain itself but also those for colonial military units in Cuba, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico. In Mexico, the presidios (forts) had their own chaplains; those records are not found in military archives but in local church and civil archives.
Published Transfers and Promotions
It was customary in the Spanish army to maintain promotion lists in accordance with tenure as an officer. In addition, at least annually, the official promotion lists were given in published form as orders, which were distributed throughout the military. These lists have been bound into books and are available in several of the military archives. Generally, they apply to the nineteenth century and include officers serving in the military in the colonies as well as in Spain.
These are the individual listings (in some cases on separate sheets called hojas de filiación) of the soldiers in the army, as distinguished from the officers. This is the record that is more likely to exist for the common soldier, while the hoja de servicios and/or the expediente personal is more likely to exist for the officer. Generally, filiaciones have the names of the soldier, his parents, his birthplace, place of residence, religion, whether or not he is married, and a physical description. In some cases, these records will also contain information, such as the hoja de servicio, which shows the various places where the soldier served. Unfortunately, unless arranged alphabetically as part of the initial filing, these filiaciones are much less likely to be indexed and therefore are not easily accessible to the researcher. For this reason, when dealing with a non-officer, it is important to note any information concerning military service found in local or family records. The location of enlistment or the regiment in which a particular soldier served may be the key to finding his record. An excellent collection of those serving during the American Revolutionary period in areas that are now part of the United States has been compiled by Granville Hough.24
Censuses (Padrones) and Review Lists (Listas de Revistas)
Frequently, especially in outlying areas, censuses were taken of military personnel and their families, both officers and enlisted men, serving at particular posts. In addition, it was common to review all the members of a unit in frontier areas, such as in the southwestern United States, where censuses of the presidios (frontier posts) frequently included all of the citizens under the responsibility and protection of the unit, as well as the soldiers. Such censuses are found not only in military archives but also in national archives housing government records of the colonial period.
Locating the records of ancestors who served in the military may require some diligence but is well worth the effort. The major difficulty in searching for a military record is that the records tend to have been preserved in archives that correspond to the type of military service. The records of those who served in colonial areas in the Spanish regular army or who served as officers in the provincial or militia units are likely to be found in the archives of Spain. For enlisted personnel in colonial regiments and for national armies after independence, as well as for all military units in some cases, the records will be found in national archives other than those of Spain. In addition, those for militia units may be found in provincial or state municipal archives.
Military census records, reports, promotion lists, and other administrative records were frequently prepared in duplicate or triplicate during the colonial period. One copy was kept locally, a second was sent to the regional capitania general, and the last one was sent to colonial administrators in Spain. Although this pattern may make it somewhat difficult to determine with certainty the archives in which the records may be filed, it has nevertheless proved helpful in areas where local archives have been destroyed. Some Latin American military records that were primarily local in nature can be found in Spanish national archives. Excellent examples are the military records of the Spanish American Southwest, which are preserved in the Archivo General de las Indias in Seville.