Research methods for finding ancestors in Latin America vary only slightly from tried and true practices used in English speaking countries. One variation is the record types used to identify ancestors. In a previous post we discussed the most common record types used in Latin America so now the question is what methods are best for using these record types to learn more about my ancestors? Below are the three best tips I know.
- Always begin with what you know, which is hopefully well documented, working toward the unknown.
This means use what you already know about your ancestor to begin searching for the next generation. If you know the names of your ancestor’s parents, but not where or when they were born, you might want to begin by looking for their marriage.
If you don’t know the name of your ancestor’s parents, but you know the name of his spouse, start by looking for his marriage or death record. If you don’t know the name of your ancestor’s spouse, start by looking for the birth records of his children and then his marriage record. The birth records of his children should include the name of his spouse and quite possibly the names of the paternal and maternal grandparents. Once you find a birth record with the spouse’s name and you have an idea of when they married you can begin a search for their marriage.
Begin any marriage search with the birth date of the oldest known child. Don’t count back nine months and begin your search in case the baby was on the way when the couple married. This was often the case in the best of families. Also keep in mind that marriages almost always took place in the parish of the bride even if the couple later moved to another town to raise their family.
- Always document all known facts whenever possible.
Sometimes we know that a couple married and we know the names of their parents and so we want to just jump ahead and begin searching for birth records or the marriage records of their parents. Occasionally a step backwards to document these events will yield important clues that left undiscovered, might lead us on a wild goose chase.
The best sequence for searching parish records is to begin with a marriage and then document each child. Normally a couple had their first child within the first year or two of their marriage and then another child was born usually every year or two after that. Keep searching for children until at least five years have passed since the last known child.
If you’re looking for a marriage, keep documenting all children going back in time until at least five years have passed and as stated earlier, begin the marriage search with the birth date of the oldest known child.
If you’re searching for an immigrant, finding ALL the documents of your ancestor in the country of arrival may provide the needed clue indicating his birth place in his homeland. It is practically impossible to make the jump to the records of his or her homeland without that valuable piece of information.
- Always view the original record.
Many records are being indexed making our searches much easier but at times not all the valuable genealogical information found in the record itself has been extracted. This is especially true in the case of parish baptism records. Often grandparents are listed in the record but are not extracted. This means you could find three generations in one record but you will only know that if you view the image of the indexed record.
Be sure to document all the notes and clues found in the original images. Were there margin notes? Who were the witnesses and/or godparents? Did the records indicate their place of origin in the form of the phrases originario de or natural de? What other clues are found in that record that will enable you to find more information?
If you will incorporate these three tips into the search for your ancestors in Latin America, your chances for success will greatly increase and you will learn more about the lives of your ancestors. To view a recorded webinar that highlights the methodology used in in Hispanic countries, please visit the FamilySearch Learning Center.