Overview of Hispanic Research
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Keys to Success: Basic Research Concepts
- 3 General Information
- 4 Preliminary Survey
- 5 Military Records and Decorations
- 5.1 School and Occupation Records
- 5.2 Newspaper Clippings
- 5.3 Diaries
- 5.4 National Identity Document or Personal Document (Documento Nacional de Identidad o Cédula Personal)
- 5.5 Memberships in Private Clubs, Civic or Nobility Organizations, and Political Parties
- 5.6 Honorary Distinctions
- 5.7 Biographies or Autobiographies
- 5.8 Written Family Histories (Published and Unpublished)
- 5.9 Medical Records
- 5.10 Contact Other Family Members
- 5.11 Check Online Genealogical Indexes for Research Previously Done on the Family
- 5.12 Check for Printed Family Histories and Biographies
- 6 Where to Go Next
- 7 References
- 8 External Links
Few people recognize the extent of Hispanic immigration to the United States. Spanish settlement began in the Caribbean Islands and Mexico more than a century before the English settled Jamestown and Plymouth in 1607 and 1620. The earliest Hispanic settlers within the area of the United States settled Saint Augustine, Florida, on the eastern end of the continent in 1565 and New Mexico, on the western end, in 1598.
The Spanish colonial period represents only the beginning, with immigration continuing to this day as hundreds of thousands of Mexicans, Central Americans, and South Americans, as well as Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and others from the Caribbean, flow into the United States. Many of them ultimately will trace their roots through those American countries to Spain. Others will find that their roots beyond those countries are not Spanish but Native American, French, German, Eastern European, Italian, African, and Portuguese. Just as the United States has been a melting pot, so have been the countries of Central and South America.
Before the end of the colonial period (around 1820), an estimated 12 million Spaniards emigrated primarily to Mexico and Central and South America. The immigration that followed in the next century was even greater. Of a total of 55 million people who emigrated from Europe to the American continents between 1820 and 1920, 22 million went to Latin America—primarily to Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, and Uruguay. Large numbers of them came from Italy, Spain, and Portugal. The flow of immigration did not stop with the Great Depression. From 1946 to 1957, 1.75 million immigrants traveled to Latin America, primarily from Italy and Spain. Spanish immigration was not, of course, entirely to Latin America. Many Spaniards, among them large numbers of Galicians, Basques, and Andalucians, came directly to the United States.
Throughout the years, the descendants of those early immigrants to Latin America have continued to make their way to the United States. Between 1900 and 1930, Mexico alone is estimated to have contributed 2 to 3 million immigrants, half of whom entered the United States illegally. From 1820 to 1906, approximately 20,000 legal immigrants arrived from South America, and from 1907 to 1926, 77,000 more arrived. It is estimated that from 1951 to 1975, 421,000 South Americans came to the United States. These numbers do not include the extensive immigration from Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Central America. In the 1980s, Cubans, Salvadorans, and others fleeing from political oppression and civil war joined with the larger flow of Mexicans and others who came for economic reasons. Recently, an increasing number of Argentines have also come for economic reasons. Immigration authorities often include the Portuguese within the Hispanic population. In addition to extensive migrations from Portugal to the United States, Portuguese immigrants may travel to Brazil and the Azores, and from these last two to the United States.
Unless Hispanic immigrant ancestors came to the United States within living memory, the greatest challenge to the family historian is often identifying the place of origin in the mother country. Fortunately, there are many good records available to Hispanics that can reveal such a place. Nothing is more exciting than a discovery that ancestry leads back to Mexico or bridges the ocean back to Spain. Whether the mother country is Argentina, Cuba, Mexico, Spain, or another Latin American or European country, the types of records to be searched and the process of searching those records remain basically the same. The emphasis of this chapter is on Spanish-language records available in the United States. For a complete understanding of this process, English-language records are briefly discussed where appropriate.
Keys to Success: Basic Research Concepts
Clues to the place of origin can be challenging to find, especially in records created in the United States. As with any other aspect of family history research, thoroughness is extremely important. Search for all information about the individual, his family and any known friends, and the surname within his specific locality.
Begin with the Known—Move to the Unknown
Many researchers make the time-consuming and frequently unproductive mistake of attempting to locate a link with Spain or Mexico by jumping to the assumed place of origin first. Effective research best begins in the United States, even in the researcher’s own home, because the best records for identifying the place of origin in the mother country are found at the immigrant’s destination. With one or two exceptions, records that yield information about the place of origin in the mother country—vital records, legal documents, and so forth— will be the same as those used throughout the research process.
Start with a Thorough Preliminary Survey
Once again, following basic rules of good research is important. With each new piece of information—the name of a new family member, a new surname, the port or vessel of arrival, a possible place of origin or at least a former residence—follow the steps of the survey phase. Those steps, as they relate to tracing the Hispanic immigrant, are discussed later.
Learn Specific Emigration, Immigration, and Migration Patterns
Most areas throughout the world have followed basic patterns of immigration, as people moved from one particular region or country to another. An awareness of the patterns unique to the particular time period and area where your ancestors settled can perhaps help identify the region and, in some cases, even the place of origin.
Some migration patterns are generally true for a region over an extended period of time. A good example of this type of pattern is the movement of the Spanish colonial frontier in Mexico into what is now the southwestern United States. Most such migrants to early California came from Baja California, or Sonora, Sinaloa, and Nayarit in Mexico. Migrants moving into Texas were from central Mexico up through the Coahuila area. An understanding of these patterns should be coupled with an awareness that current political units and even the international boundaries may not reflect original patterns of migration and settlement. For example, two regions of Texas have different migration patterns than the central pattern just described. El Paso was traditionally part of the New Mexico area, with a settlement pattern coming up through Chihuahua into the El Paso region and further north into New Mexico. Likewise, the portion of Texas between the Nueces and Rio Grande rivers was, until 1848, politically part of the province of Nuevo Santander. Hence, its migratory patterns relate to the development of that part of northeastern Mexico rather than the development of central Texas.
Similarly, large migration patterns can exist in specific time periods from an origin country into specific countries or regions. Nearly all migrants from the northern Spanish ports of the Basque countries during the last quarter of the nineteenth century were destined for the island of Cuba. Early twentieth century immigration from Galicia centered extensively on the Rio de la Plata area of South America as well as Brazil, where the commonality between the Gallego language and Portuguese assisted the new immigrants. Within the recent past, Italians and southern Germans have also migrated to those same areas.
In addition to broad migration patterns, there have been numerous specific migrations of groups in more limited repetitive patterns. For example, many Spaniards, primarily from the Andalucia and Valencia regions, migrated to Hawaii after being recruited to work on sugar plantations there. They and the next generation of their descendants then migrated primarily to the western United States. Similarly, during the same period a great number of Basques from the Spanish and French Basque regions sought work as sheepherders and farmhands in California, Idaho, and Nevada. Today their descendants can be found throughout this same area, and the largest collection of Basque historical and cultural materials in the United States is housed at the University of Nevada at Reno.
In some cases the research pattern is even more specific: an entire group moved from one area to settle a specific region. Such was the case in the Canary Island migration to found the city of San Antonio in 1730, and also for a series of Canary Island settlements in the Louisiana area between 1766 and 1800. Similarly, and even more specific, a group of colonists was recruited in Guadalajara in 1797 and brought from the port of San Blas to Alta California.
The key for the researcher is to identify immigration patterns to determine whether or not they can point to an immigrant ancestor’s place of origin or if they can add insight into the ancestor’s life and background. The broad migration patterns discussed previously can be found in general history books of a regional nature. For example, information concerning migration patterns in settling the Spanish Borderlands area of the United States can be found in David J. Weber’s The Spanish Frontier in North America. Books of a broader nature that deal with immigration are also available. Peter Boyd Bowman’s Indice geobiográfico de más de 56 mil pobladores de la América hispaña deals with the earliest immigration into the Spanish colonies. Carlos Sixerei Paredes’ A Emigración is an excellent historical analysis of emigration from Galicia covering the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries.
The References section at the end of this chapter illustrates the kinds of books that can be used as a starting point to identify areas and periods of research. The catalogs of major university collections, many of which are available at local universities or major public libraries through computerized search systems and interlibrary loan, are a logical next source. Items of interest may also be found in local libraries in the area where an immigrant ancestor settled in the United States. In addition, an occasional perusal of the Family History Library Catalog may yield a new acquisition of particular relevance (see chapter 2, General References and Guides). There may also be articles published in major historical and genealogical periodicals that could relate to the immigration patterns for a particular locality or time period.
As these searches are done, the researcher should check each index under migration, emigration, and immigration, as well as the specific localities, in the United States, in the prospective country, and, ideally, in the region of origin. For example, someone whose ancestor is known to have come from Spain to Cuba and from there to the United States might identify a family tradition that the ancestor came from northern Spain in the late 1800s. The individual would then check under Spain, as well as the regional names for the northern Spanish regions: Galicia, Asturia, Santander, and the Basque provinces, as well as Cuba. Such a search would lead the researcher to find books such as those by Juan Carlos de la Madrid Alvarez, El Viaje de los emigrantes Asturianos a América, and Maria Pilar Pildain Salazar, Ir a América: La Emigración Vasca a América (Guipuzcoa 1840–1870), both of which provide detailed information concerning migration patterns from these areas in the late 1800s. The first book specifically emphasizes migration to Cuba as the principal migration pattern. The latter book presents a list of immigrants from the Basque province of Guipuzcoa, giving their home parishes taken from passenger lists and other documents from that Spanish province. Once again, the search for the immigrant ancestor is most likely to be rewarded by continued and thorough research, including not only normal genealogical sources but broader historical reference sources.
Using the Clues You Find
As a researcher gains experience with family history, he or she develops an intuitive sense about small details that can connect to other records which may reveal the place of origin of the family. For example, a reference to a Cuban ancestor in a newspaper stating that he served his adopted country in war and in peace might lead a researcher to check military records. Another researcher, finding that an ancestor served in the military prior to 1832 in Puerto Rico or 1820 in Mexico and that the word “Don” appears before the ancestor’s name, would then want to search nobility records. Finding the term doctor or bachiller in a reference to an ancestor, another researcher might ask what university the ancestor possibly attended. In each case, two steps take place: first, the researcher has recognized a small detail or fact in a known record and questioned what that detail could mean; second, the researcher has determined what records might substantiate, expand, or verify that detail in the ancestor’s life. The ability to make these creative connections cannot be taught; however, the process of knowing how to analyze people’s lives and then asking what type of records may exist can be learned by experience.
A great uniformity exists in Spanish-language records, because the basic principles of recordkeeping in Spain and the types of records used were transmitted to her colonies during the colonial period—even in areas of the United States once under Spanish or Mexican dominion. For general information on working with records in Latin America and for a discussion of immigration patterns there, as well as for detailed information on specific Latin American countries, consult Lyman D. Platt’s A Genealogical Historical Guide to Latin America. Several guides to research in Latin America can found at http://www.familysearch.org. Also helpful is George Ryskamp’s Finding Your Hispanic Roots. This latter book will serve to guide the researcher in using Spanish-language records found in the United States. For work in Spain, consult George Ryskamp’s Tracing Your Hispanic Heritage. In many cases, the Spanish American researcher will, of course, need to use U.S. records that are neither Spanish nor Mexican in origin.
One of the major challenges genealogists face in any language is learning to use and understand older language forms and handwriting styles. Of great assistance to the beginner is Spanish Records Extraction, published by the LDS Church to train record extractors, many of whom speak no Spanish, how to read Spanish-language Catholic parish records. Its workbook approach is an excellent way to learn to read those records. Both of Ryskamp’s books also offer help with reading old handwriting. Other more detailed texts are found in the References section.
The ability to read early records develops slowly and can only be obtained through actual experience. Do not try to absorb, in a single reading, all the material written in the old script or unfamiliar Spanish. Instead, have available one or two of the reference works described while attempting to read an early record until an instinctive knowledge of the techniques develops.
You can compensate for any deficiency in formal Spanish instruction by study, patience, and a determination to understand the records. Consulting a good beginning grammar book (and possibly one of the quick introductory Spanish courses), and always having a dictionary at hand will also help to compensate for any deficiency. Do not be discouraged from performing research by a lack of formal training in the Spanish language.
A detailed preliminary survey, particularly for those whose ancestors immigrated during the twentieth century, is extremely important. In many cases—if not most—the immigrant ancestor’s place of origin will be found in this phase. As new information about the immigrant ancestor’s family, friends, and surname is discovered, the researcher will return to this phase and repeat the third and fourth steps discussed in the following text.
The preliminary survey has a two-fold objective: first, to learn all that one’s relatives know about the history of the family; and second, to identify all the research already done on the family. The preliminary survey is accomplished in four steps:
- Check all home and family sources.
- Interview other family members.
- Check online databases for information about family history research done on the family.
- Check for any printed biographies or histories dealing with the family or its individual members.
Check Home and Family Sources
The beginning researcher is frequently unaware of the wealth of genealogical and family history material in his or her own home. Search in basements, attics, and garages for anything about the family and its early members—at the bottom of that old trunk upstairs may be a letter from a great-grandfather in Spain to his son in Uruguay. You might also find copies of military papers showing that a grandfather fought in the Mexican army during the Mexican Revolution of 1911; or perhaps the long-forgotten birth certificate of one’s mother might reveal the name of the small town in Cuba where she was born. Especially significant would be an ancestor’s photographs, clothing, or tools, which would give a greater sense of reality to his or her life. After the researcher’s own home has been thoroughly searched and all of the various family sources, documents, and personal objects are gathered together in a single place, a similar search in the homes of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and even cousins should offer further source material.
The following list of home and family sources that a person of Hispanic ancestry may encounter will guide the beginning genealogist in searching through his or her home, as well as in asking others to search theirs. Because lifestyles vary from one nation to another, this list includes sources that might be found not only in an Anglo American home but also in the home of a family from Latin America or Spain.
This category includes government or church records of major life events, such as birth or baptism, marriage, and death. While in some cases such certificates were issued at the time of the event, usually copies found in the home are certificates issued by civil or religious authorities years afterward when they were requested to prove the facts surrounding it. For example, in requesting a passport a person may have had to show a certificate of birth to prove his or her citizenship. Once the passport was issued, the certificate of birth was returned to its owners, who might have filed it away among important but frequently forgotten documents. Birth and baptism certificates are most commonly found because a variety of situations require such proof—for example, obtaining a passport or visa, getting married, or requesting Social Security benefits. Likewise, death or marriage records may have been obtained to settle an estate or to make a claim for a pension. If the family has come from one of many Spanish-speaking countries in recent decades or is currently living in one, a copy of the libro de familia (family book) may also be found in the home. The libro de familia and other vital records are described in chapters 9 and 11 of Tracing Your Hispanic Heritage (cited earlier).
Vital records are particularly valuable because they usually identify the specific place from which the ancestor came and give an exact date from which research can be begun in the records of the country of origin. By providing names of parents and usually, in birth or baptismal records, the names of grandparents, a single certificate may give the researcher a small pedigree from which to begin.
Vital records in the adopted country should be read carefully for clues as to another country of origin. For example, one Spanish immigrant came to the United States and later married and had children. His son’s birth record indicates that the father was from Barcelona, Spain, and the mother was from Cuba. While this does not clearly identify whether it referred to the city of Barcelona or the province, it at least narrows down the area of the search to locate his place of origin in Spain.
Photographs are a particularly important home source. Perhaps more than any single source, photographs make family members seem to come to life. Photographs labeled with names and dates are especially valuable in locating the whereabouts of the ancestor who is pictured. Older photographs frequently have the name of the photographer and the address of the studio, helpful in pinpointing a specific area of ancestral origin.
Photographs can be found in the homes of people of all income and social levels. For example, a local history project of the California State University at Fresno attempting to reconstruct Hispanic local history in the San Joaquin Valley located and identified photographs from the homes of descendants of early migrant farm workers that showed people, places, and details of daily life among Hispanic migrant farm families in the early twentieth century.
Many families have printed, in limited quantities, a wide variety of formal papers for distribution to friends and relatives. The most common of these are wedding invitations. Death announcements were also widely distributed in the past and can frequently be spotted by their black borders. In Catholic Hispanic countries, baptisms and communions were often announced by formal printed invitations or announcements.
Other printed materials commonly found among the effects of Hispanic ancestors are relaciones de méritos (records of merit) and hojas de servicio (service sheets). Similar to modern résumés, they were used in search of work or to list the qualifications of an individual to perform an act in a certain capacity; they usually included a variety of interesting biographical material regarding the individual being described. In addition, business or personal calling cards were commonly used at all social levels in Hispanic countries.
Passports, Visas, Work Permits, and Citizenship or Naturalization Papers
These are documents used in the process of leaving the country of birth or citizenship, emigrating to a second country, and attempting to become a citizen of that country. Passports are now issued by national governments, but at one time they were often issued by the civil governors in the provinces of many Hispanic countries, including Spain and Mexico. Unfortunately for the family historian, the use of passports as a necessary requirement for leaving many countries was not adopted until the twentieth century; before that, a variety of policies and systems governing exit were used. The most popular method involved simply going to a port and embarking on a ship. In most cases, documents proving that a man had already served in the armed forces and had left no debts were the only documents needed to emigrate. In some cases, as with migrant workers coming into the southwestern United States, a work permit issued at the border was necessary to obtain work. Look for such documents preserved among the important papers of the immigrant as they may provide clues to the place of origin in the mother country.
Once in the country of destination, some type of action was necessary to achieve citizenship. In the United States before 1906, this meant first becoming a citizen of one of the states—a process rarely extensive and frequently requiring nothing more than swearing an oath of allegiance to the state. Therefore, from this early period there will probably be fewer citizenship or naturalization documents in existence.
By contrast, the ancestor who immigrated during the twentieth century would most certainly have had some type of immigration, residency, or naturalization papers. Immigration documents, if found, will most likely provide certain very important facts, such as the name of the ancestor as recorded when he arrived, the place of origin or port of departure in the home country, and, perhaps, the date of birth and the town and/or province of birth.
Legal papers encompass a wide variety of records usually relating to financial or property transactions, originally written to establish ownership or transfer ownership of property, both real and personal, or contract rights. Because these were official documents they were usually very carefully preserved, even for several generations beyond the period of actual association with the property or rights. These documents can usually be recognized and distinguished from other kinds of papers by the fact that they will have been written and witnessed by a notary and/or carry an official stamp or seal. Included in this category are capitulaciones matrimoniales (marriage contracts), actos de cesión (relating to the relinquishment of a particular right or power), actos de cambio (relating to a change or transfer), actos de compra (relating to the purchase of a property or right), actos de venta (relating to the sale of property or right), actos de donación (relating to gifts of property or powers or rights), testamentos (wills), cuadernos particionales (books relating to the division of properties or rights), contratos de alquileres (lease or rental contracts), derechos de sucesión (succession rights), inventarios (inventories, usually relating to some transfer, sale, or division of property or rights), declaración de herederos (relating to the rights to certain properties given by the courts to the heirs of an intestate person), and tutorias (guardianship papers). In addition, similar papers of a less official nature would be extractos bancarios (financial statements or bank extracts) and polizas de seguros (insurance policies). For the family historian, these documents can offer much information about the activities, interests, and social position of the ancestral family. They may also provide the only link to the locality from which the family originated.
Perhaps more than any other category, letters written by members of the family can provide fascinating information for the family historian. Frequently, biographical notes about the activities of a family member, as well as opinions relating to personal, family, local, and national events, will appear in letters. For the genealogist, such letters may be the only link with the mother country. Such was the case for one family that had come to the United States from Uruguay. A great-grandfather remaining in Spain had written a series of letters over a twenty-five-year period to a son in Uruguay. Sixty years later, as the great-granddaughter began the search for her family’s origin in Spain, the only clues were those contained in the letters. In addition to naming localities, the letters gave important information about the activities of family members. The last of the letters, written on black-bordered paper by a cousin, related the death of the grandfather who had written all the previous correspondence. The collection of letters became not only a treasure of family history and genealogical information, but a source for the clues needed to locate the family’s parish of origin in Spain.
Military Records and Decorations
Since compulsory military conscription has been a regular part of Hispanic life in most countries for at least a century and a half, military documents are frequently among the effects of an ancestor. Such documents usually take the form of papers showing release from military service, as these were often required for an individual to be permitted to emigrate. The document generally indicates the person’s name, the rank attained, the regiment served in and the place of enlistment, in addition to information of a more personal nature such as place of birth, occupation, and age. Besides assisting in locating the place of origin, this information can also be of great value in directing a family historian where to look for additional records relating to military service.
In addition to enlistment and discharge papers, if the ancestor received certain recognitions, such as promotions or decorations for combat service or wounds, such documents will most certainly have been preserved among his effects. These may provide not only research clues but also a particularly exciting view of the person’s life, character, and actions.
School and Occupation Records
School and occupation records cover a wide variety of materials relating to the educational and business activities of one’s ancestors. Those relating to educational activities might include registration information from a particular school or college (colegio o universidad), exam papers, diplomas or titles, awards for particular activities, and records concerning grades (notas) or graduation from one level to another.
Occupational records span an even wider range. To cite just a few possibilities, they might include special permits, such as those issued to street vendors, bakers, and many other classes of workers in the cities, or personal business cards or advertisements, such as those sent out by a tailor, or even membership documents for the gremios or sindicatos (unions, guilds, or syndicates) organized in some larger cities and among some rural farm workers. Of special interest would be work permits issued by immigration authorities.
Frequently, newspaper clippings have been preserved by family members and friends. In the native country, mention in a local newspaper would most likely be limited to those of the upper class. However, an individual who arrived in the Americas may well have achieved local status, and information relating to his or her activities and origins may be found in local newspapers. Since these articles would have been written based upon information given by persons no longer alive, they may provide a unique source of information relating to the family, its activities, and its origin.
Unfortunately, the keeping of a personal diary was not generally characteristic of Hispanic culture. Unlike many nineteenth-century Americans who, at one point or another in their lives, kept some form of personal diary, most Hispanic immigrants did not. Nevertheless, some circumstances may have led an immigrant to keep a diary, such as the influence of Anglo society or a unique position as the founder of an American branch of the family or the designation as unofficial recorder of an event or trip.
National Identity Document or Personal Document (Documento Nacional de Identidad o Cédula Personal)
In most Hispanic countries, beginning in the late nineteenth century or early twentieth century, laws were passed relating to the issuance of a personal document (cédula personal), which all citizens were required to carry. Locating such a document among the personal effects of an ancestor can be significant, because the point of issuance would probably be the civil register of the district in which the family resided at the time.
Memberships in Private Clubs, Civic or Nobility Organizations, and Political Parties
There appears to be inherent in the Spanish temperament—perhaps in that of everyone—a desire to belong to an organization, particularly elite organizations. A wide variety of organizations have been available to Spaniards at different points in history. Among those available to the noble families were the ordenes militares (military orders), reales maestranzas (royal riding clubs), and the cofradias nobles (noble fraternities). For the past century and a half, following the initial seizure of power by those of more liberal political orientation, other types of organizations appeared that were less restrictive about membership. Among these were Masonic orders, political parties, and debating clubs (ateneos), which appeared in most major cities. In addition, many local parishes had cofradias which were open to both nobles and commoners, although frequently on a hereditary basis. Membership, and especially offices held in any of the previously-mentioned organizations, may have been certified by a diploma, certificate, or other type of document which may be found in the collection of family sources within one’s home. Such documents can be particularly significant, not only as a glimpse into the active social life of an individual ancestor, but because they can lead to more extensive records kept by the organization. Records of this type are kept in such a wide variety of locations that the only reasonable clue to locating an individual’s membership may be in finding some mention of it among home and family sources.
Honorary distinctions are usually limited to the upper classes in Spain and include such distinctions as honorary doctorates or political awards issued by certification of the universities or cities that made the awards. Military decorations (mentioned previously) could also be included in this category, as well as documents relating to particular literary, artistic, or scientific awards. Also noteworthy, although of a more concrete and less honorary nature, are certificates for the register of industrial and intellectual property, the equivalents of patents or copyrights for literary, scientific, or artistic works.
Biographies or Autobiographies
Biographies are most commonly found for the nobility or for people of political or artistic renown in Hispanic cultures. However, the move to a new country, with its resulting new position in society—as well as the distance from family origins in the mother country—may have prompted a Spanish immigrant, or those around one, to record information about his or her life or the lives of immediate ancestors.
Written Family Histories (Published and Unpublished)
Written family histories are much more common among the nobility of Hispanic countries than in the lower classes. However, as with biographies, immigration to another country may have spurred an individual to record his or her family origins in a family history. Because many of these were of interest only to the family, they will be found in manuscript form rather than published.
Documents in this category will probably be found only for more recent ancestors. Medical record cards, x-rays, medical analyses, and dental and eyeglass prescriptions can all contribute to a knowledge of the ancestor and how he looked. Naturally, such information will most likely be limited to the twentieth century due to the more extensive availability of doctors during this century.
Contact Other Family Members
The second step in a preliminary survey, after a thorough search for home sources, is to check with other family members. The first purpose for this is to make a record of memories and feelings about the family and its ancestors. Older family members such as grandparents, great-aunts and uncles, or cousins from a different branch of the family very likely have memories that have not been passed on. Frequently, memories of other family members add new dimensions to knowledge of the lives and personalities of direct-line ancestors, and also may provide clues for finding the town of origin in the mother country.
The second purpose in making contact with other family members is to ask for their help in searching their homes for the same sources discussed previously. Often, original documents from the immigrant ancestor will have passed through a different branch of the family and may not be in the hands of even immediate cousins.
Contact with other family members can be accomplished in three different ways: questionnaire, letter, or personal visit. The questionnaire is essentially a form letter with a series of questions relating to the family, such as: “Do you remember your grandfather, Juan Garcia? Do you have any idea where he came from in Mexico? Do you have or know someone who has any old documents relating to Juan Garcia? What memories do you have of your parents talking about Juan Garcia? Would you be interested in learning more about Juan Garcia and your other Mexican ancestors?” A space can be left for short answers at the end of each of the questions on the questionnaire.
The questionnaire is the least desirable approach in contacting other family members, since it is the least personal and least likely to get an interested response. This survey approach can best be used to reach a large number of relatives and identify those who have documents or are interested in developing a family history.
A second and better approach is to write a personal letter to each relative. This letter could include many of the same items as the questionnaire. Ideally, the letter would serve as an initial contact that could be followed up by a personal visit with those who show interest.
The most effective form of contacting family members is a personal visit. Through contact with other family members, a researcher can collect a variety of material for use in compiling an interesting and human family history. Some of the most fascinating material will be family tradition gathered through oral interviews. Exercise caution, though, in relying on oral or family tradition, such as descent from royalty or the ancestor who is said to have “accompanied Cortez in the conquest of Mexico.” Frequently, the natural desire to improve upon the prestige of the family will cause many such traditions, while based on fact, to become exaggerated with time. While family tradition may help to locate a place of origin in the mother country or pinpoint the original family home or in other ways further the genealogical search, they should be verified by documentation before they are accepted as true.
Check Online Genealogical Indexes for Research Previously Done on the Family
After a thorough search of sources available within one’s own family has been completed, the researcher should evaluate, as the third step of the preliminary survey, what others have done while tracing family histories and genealogies that could tie in directly with the family. In working with sources outside the family, most family history researchers first check the indexes and records found on the Internet. Several very large collections of records exist, foremost being those gathered and prepared by the LDS Church, which can be found at http://www.familysearch.org and those gathered at http://www.ancestry.com. Of specific interest to the Hispanic researcher at the FamilySearch.org site are the following: the International Genealogical Index, Mexican Vital Records, Pedigree Resource File, and the Ancestral File.
The International Genealogical Index (IGI) is an index of genealogical data for over 1 billion persons gathered from a wide variety of records—though primarily vital records, wills, and censuses—from more than ninety countries. Cross-indexing allows for a variety of pronunciations and name spellings. Entries are generally not linked from one generation to another, nor are there connections between entries for a person’s birth and later marriage or appearance as the parent of a child. Significant numbers of persons from Mexico, Guatemala, and Spain appear as a result of a program of extraction of Catholic parish records from those countries, conducted by the LDS Church. The Mexican Vital Records Index is a collection of several million names extracted from parish records that have not yet been placed in the IGI but are available in that separate index, both online and in a CD collection. Similar entries for Spain, France, and Italy are found in a CD collection titled Western European Vital Records, available for use in many Family History Centers worldwide.
The Ancestral File and Pedigree Resource File contain millions of names submitted to the LDS Church since 1978 specifically to be included in these computer files. Unlike the IGI, that identifies individual events such as birth and marriage without attempting to link even the events of a single person’s life together, these computerized files link families and generations. When a search is made for a specific name in the Ancestral File, all persons in the index by the requested name are then listed on the computer screen. From this point it is possible to request detailed information on any individual listed as well as a family group record and ancestral and/or descendant charts for that person. Once a name is found online in the Pedigree Resource File, the extended information with pedigrees and family group records for the person can be consulted through a series of over 100 CDs found in local Family History Centers or for sale at http://www.familysearch.org.
Unfortunately for the Hispanic researcher, the number of Hispanic references in the Ancestral and Pedigree Resource Files is limited. The primary source for those indexes is submissions made by members of the LDS Church, giving data about their ancestors, although those who are not members of the church are encouraged to submit their genealogical research as well. As a growing number of people submit Hispanic ancestral lines, the significance of these files for the Hispanic researcher will increase.
Numerous other websites should be checked as well. Large commercial sites such as Ancestry.com offer databases similar in format to the Pedigree Resource File. These sites offer many other materials on a subscription-fee basis, although only a small percentage of their offerings is relevant to Hispanic researchers.
The strength of Ancestry.com will be its accumulation of vital and military records, censuses, histories, and other digitized records that will be used to further family history research. Two smaller sites that are relevant to Hispanics are http://www.elanillo.com and http://www.ancestros.com.mx. These sites offer name searches as well as general research information. Other sites can be found by looking at Cyndi's List under categories such as Spain, Portugal, Hispanic, and Central and South America, as well as Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California. A surname search can also be made at http://www.google.com.search. When doing this, use the surname plus words such as “genealogy,” “family” or “history” to limit the search to more relevant sites. See chapter 2, “General References and Guides,” for more information.
Check for Printed Family Histories and Biographies
The fourth and last step in the preliminary survey is to find out what printed genealogies or biographies are available for the family or family members. This step involves two separate kinds of searches: (1) searching for family surnames and/or family members in biographical dictionaries and genealogical encyclopedias, and (2) searching for monograph histories of one’s family or a collateral branch of it. The first of these can easily be accomplished nearly anywhere in the world. A wide variety of biographical and genealogical encyclopedias and dictionaries is available for Spanish surnames. The best starting point is online. The World Biographical Index found at this site indexes more than fifteen collections of more than 330 biographical works each. A search for a surname or a specific individual on this site will cover more than 4,500 biographical works from all over the world. Two of those collections relate specifically to Spain, Portugal, and Latin America. The first, originally published by Victor Herrero Mediavila and Lolita Rosa Aquayo Hayle, is titled Indice Biográfico de España, Portugal e Ibero-América. This index identifies approximately 200,000 historically significant individuals from Roman times to the early twentieth century, compiled from 306 biographical encyclopedias, dictionaries, and collective works covering 700 original volumes published from the seventeenth to the early twentieth century from Spain, Portugal, and Latin America. Those works were copied and the references from all volumes were separated and arranged in alphabetical order. That collection was then microfilmed on 1,070 microfiche and is available through Family History Centers of the LDS Church (microfiche sets 6002170-6002172). A second set, indexed online, is also available through Family History Centers on ninety-eight microfiche (microfiche sets 6131531 through 6131558). Be careful to only ask for the fiche that contains your surname of interest.
The most famous and extensive collection, published by Garcia-Carrafa in Madrid, is the Enciclopedia Heráldica y Genealógica Hispano Americana. It was begun in 1920, and the last volume was published in 1963. There are currently eighty-eight volumes covering the letters AA through URR. The first two volumes of this series contain a study of the science of heraldry, and the remaining volumes contain an alphabetical list of noble and semi-noble families from throughout Spain and her former American colonies. Brief accounts of the history of each family are arranged by surname and trace the family’s most notable noble member. Most entries also include illustrations of coats of arms, and frequently there is a limited bibliography that can lead to more extended monographic family histories.
While the nobility of Spain was very widespread, many families will never trace any of their family lines to Spanish nobility. The right to use the coats of arms associated with each of these surnames is limited to those who have direct ancestral ties with a family, and in many cases is limited to the direct male descendants of a family. For this reason, a person of a particular surname should not assume that the family coat of arms listed for that surname belongs to him or her.
Almost every Hispanic country has national and regional dictionaries and encyclopedias that can often be of even greater value to the researcher because they include many families and surnames which are not noble in origin. Some of these, although by no means all, are listed in the References section. Typical of one type of regional book from Spain is El Solar Catalán, Valenciana y Balear, which follows the same pattern as the Enciclopedea heráldica y genealógica Hispano Americana, referred to previously, but is limited to families (once again primarily noble families) that come from a particular region or country, in this case from Catalonia, Valencia, and the Balearic Islands.
Another type of regional series is typified by Jaime de Querexeta’s Diccionario onamástico y heráldico basco. This six-volume series lists, in alphabetical order, nearly all the Basque surnames that can be found. While it does not give a family history for most of the names, it does indicate if the name is unique to a particular region and may be useful in helping to locate the particular area that should be searched.
The second type of printed information that should be searched while completing the preliminary survey is articles and books that may have been published about the family, giving its history and usually including a list of living members of the family at the time of publication. Once again, these are found primarily for noble families and for families who have achieved some particular status in Spanish or Hispano American society. Lyman D. Platt’s Latin American Family Histories is the single best list of these. Others appear as articles in periodicals such as Hidalguía (Madrid, Spain) and The Americas: A Journal of Latin American History. The LDS Family History Library, as well as many large university and public libraries in the United States and Latin America, have significant numbers of Hispanic family histories in monograph form.
Online library catalogs are numerous. To find a local library of interest, go to Google and type your city of interest and the word “library,” such as “San Antonio Library.” Once you find the library, search its catalog for family histories by typing your surname of interest plus words such as “family history” or “genealogy.” The Family History Library in Salt Lake City can be searched online at FamilySearch.org. Do your search by surname in its surname section.
In a large university or public library, consult a library consortium such as WorldCat or RLIN. These allow you to search thousands of catalogs in a single search. Again search under your surname plus “family history” and/or “genealogy.” Interlibrary loan allows patrons to order many of the books found to be sent to that library for consultation.
In summary, the preliminary survey brings together all the information the researcher and his or her family knows and determines if anyone outside the immediate or known family has done further research on family lines. At this point, organize and evaluate the information from all of these sources to determine objectives and begin doing substantial research in original records to trace the family lines back into the country of origin.
Where to Go Next
Once the ancestral hometown has been found in Spain or a country of Latin America, the process has just begun. Records from these countries are among the most complete in the world. Many have been microfilmed and can be located by consulting the Family History Library Catalog online. Doing a place search for the small town identified as the ancestral hometown should yield Catholic parish records or civil registers or both for that town.
If the town does not appear in the FHL Catalog, then consult a geographical dictionary or ecclesiastical directory to learn more about the place name. That process, as well as how to read and use the various records, is fully described in Finding Your Hispanic Roots by George Ryskamp.
- David J. Weber, The Spanish Frontier in North America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992).
- Peter Boyd Bowman, Indice geobiográfico de más de 56 mil pobladores de la América hispaña (Mexico, D.F.: Fondo de Culturas Económica, 1985). Volume 1, deals with 1493 to 1519; volume 2, from 1520 to 1539.
- Juan Carlos de la Madrid Alvarez, El Viaje de los emigrantes Asturianos a América (Gijon, Spain: Biblioteca Histórica Asturiana, 1989); Maria Pilar Pildain Salazar, Ir a América: La Emigración Vasca a América (Guipuzcoa 1840-1870) (San Sebastian, Spain: Donostia, 1984).
- Lyman D. Platt, A Genealogical Historical Guide to Latin America (Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1978).
- George Ryskamp, Finding Your Hispanic Roots (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1997).
- George Ryskamp, Tracing Your Hispanic Heritage (Riverside, Calif.: Hispanic Family History Research, 1984).
- Spanish Records Extraction (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981).
- Victor Herrero Mediavila and Lolita Rosa Aquayo Hayle, Indice Biográfico de España, Portugal e Ibero-América, 4 vols. (New York: K. G. Saur, 1990).
- A. Garcia-Carrafa, Enciclopedia Heráldica y Genealógica Hispano Americana, 88 vols. (Madrid: AA-URR, 1920-63).
- El Solar Catalán, Valenciana y Balear (San Sebastián, Spain: Garcia Carrafa, 1967).
- Jaime de Querexeta, Diccionario onamástico y heráldico basco, 6 vols. (La Gran Enciclopedia Vasca: Bilbao, 1970-75).
- Lyman D. Platt, Latin American Family Histories (Salt Lake City: Instituto Genealógico Histórico Latinoamericano, 1991).