National Hispanic Heritage Month runs from September 15th – October 15th. This 30 day period covers the anniversaries of independence of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua (all on 15 Sep 1821), Mexico (16 Sep 1810) and Chile (18 Sep 1810), as well as Puerto Rico’s “Grito de Lares” (23 Sep 1868) and Columbus Day or “Día de la Raza” (12 Oct 1492).
To celebrate, let’s explore some of the resources we have available for Hispanic genealogy.
Hispanics have a greater chance at being successful in their genealogical research than many other ethnic groups. Spanish church and civil records are the oldest and most complete in the world. Catholic Church records became mandatory after the Council of Trent in the 1560’s, but there are records in existence that are even older than that. Beginning in 1790, baptismal records in Spain and Latin America include the names of the child, both parents and all four grandparents, and in some cases lists where they were all born. The Civil Registration records for Spain and Latin America begin in the late 1800’s, and they also list all of the grandparents’ names and places of birth. With just one document, you can find enough information to fill in three generations in your ancestor chart!
Another advantage is the unique Hispanic naming system. Hispanics have two surnames; first is the father’s last name and second is the mother’s maiden name. Women never change their last names, even after they get married, so the name in their birth certificate is the same as the name is their death certificate. This makes it a lot easier to trace maternal lines and no need to do exhaustive research to find maiden names!
Also, working-class families in Spain usually stayed in the same region and practiced the same profession for many generations. Most people didn’t move away unless their occupation required a lot of travel or they belonged to a higher social class. If you find a name in the civil registration or church records for one place, it’s more likely that the rest your ancestors will be there, too!
Are you ready to give your Hispanic genealogy a try? Here are some tips on how to get started:
Start with yourself. Write down everything you already know: names, dates and time periods, place names, etc. We have forms available in our beginning genealogy packets that you can photocopy and use.
Ask your family. They might have original documents, newspaper clippings, family bibles, yearbooks, photo albums or family letters with information and clues to help you figure out where to go.
Go to the library. Your local public library might have local history and genealogy information. We have microfilm of newspapers and vital records. We subscribe to online databases that the public can use. If we don’t have what you need, you can request items through ILL. Not all libraries have the same resources, but they should be able to direct you to genealogical societies, family history libraries, vital records and archives.
Our Special Collections Center has the following print resources:
Spanish Records Extraction, Published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Salt Lake City, Utah, 1981. This is an instructional guide for transcribers of Spanish language civil and church records. It has examples of different handwriting styles, common phrases to look for, and practice exercises.
Tracing your Hispanic Heritage (1984)and Finding your Hispanic roots (1997) by George R. Ryskamp. Includes extensive information on how to do your research, what types of records are available and what information can be found on those records.
Census Records for Latin America and the Hispanic United States by Lyman D. Platt, 1998. What was the earliest Census taken in Mexico? Is it available on Microfilm? Find out here.
Hispanic Surnames and Family History by Lyman D. Platt, 1996. Alphabetical listing of surnames, including the most common names and a bibliography of names found in historical sketches and family histories.
Hispanic Confederates by John O’Donnell-Rosales. Alphabetical listing of Hispanics that fought in the Civil war.
Go online. There are subscription and free websites for genealogy research from home. Not all documents are available on in the internet, but you might be able to find indexes and catalogs you can search for genealogy information.
Subscription sites like Ancestry can be expensive, so why not “check it out” at your library? We have Ancestry library edition, Heritage Quest and Footnote available to use at all of our branches. Davenport Library cardholders can also access Heritage Quest and Footnote from home through the main library website.
The Social Security Death Index , Family Search, and PARES are all free and available to anyone with an internet connection. The Social Security Death Index will give you death dates and last known residence. Family Search has vital records available for a number of countries, some are even searchable!
(posted by Cristina)