Each year from September 15 through October 15, we honor the history, cultures, struggles, triumphs, and interconnectedness of the Hispanic American community during Hispanic Heritage Month in the U.S.
With over 700 million searchable Latin American records and a DNA network with 13 ethnicity regions in the Indigenous Americas and Caribbean, as well as 124 communities in North, Central and South America, Ancestry® is a great resource to discover more about Hispanic heritage and its influence around the world.
Knowing more about where you come from can foster meaningful connections and pride within a community. In fact, a recent survey* commissioned by Ancestry found that 88% of Spanish-speakers in the U.S. believe it is important to honor family history and heritage.
In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, we asked Christophe Landry, Ph.D, a specialist in Hispanophone Americas and Europe, to share his top tips for Hispanic family history research:
- Start with what you know - Begin with yourself, your siblings, parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, and great-grandparents then work your way backwards. Because we descend from thousands of ancestors, focus on one branch of your family at a time to avoid becoming overwhelmed. Once you add what you know, Ancestry can begin to deliver hints with additional records for those family members and can help you discover the relatives that came before them.
- Symbols and spelling - As with all historical research, spelling matters! Decode records with a good Spanish-language Paleography Dictionary to wade through unique abbreviations and spelling evolutions. Some abbreviations, like qe for “que” or Ma for “María” are straightforward, while others like Xptval for “Cristóbal” are not as obvious.
- Combine Catholic and civil records - Civil records form an important treasure trove of information for those of Hispanic descent. In addition to identifying birthdays, birthplaces, occupations, and addresses, these records can feature as many as three generations at once. Wherever possible, supplement this research with Catholic church records – these baptisms, marriages, burials, dispensations, investigations, and censuses reach back to the colonial beginnings of many communities.
- Descriptions, explained - You may find physical and ethnic descriptors in these records, which lend some imagery to the names on the page. Examples include indio, negro, blanco/español, mestizo, lobo, mulato, trigueño, pardo, castizo, coyote, and others. Remember it is relatively common to see a single person identified by multiple descriptors throughout their lifetime, so be careful not to assume that each record is for a different person.
- Get comfortable with the language - While it may seem obvious that many records are in Spanish, you might be surprised to learn that it’s not everyday Spanish. You can master this legal and religious terminology by paying attention to the repeated patterns commonly found in these original records. Because they are formulaic, you can expect most records of the same type to be written the same way.
- Relatives relocating - People moved around a lot, frequently crisscrossing national and community borders. If you cannot find the person in the community where you thought they would be, check the surrounding communities, too.
- Pick your preferred language - Ancestry offers a language toggle feature, enabling Spanish-first customers in the U.S. to use the site in their preferred language to view many records. Learn more about how to choose your preferred language here.
By conducting your own family history research – through DNA or by exploring expansive collections of records, newspapers, photos and more – you too can celebrate your roots.
Learn more about Hispanic family history and get started with your own family history research at https://www.ancestry.com/.
*Data from a random double-opt-in survey of 2,010 respondents (evenly split between Latino and Non-Latinos), collected by OnePoll on behalf of Ancestry from August 23-29, 2022.