One of the backbones of research in the United States is the Federal census taken every 10 years. By searching the online indexes one can usually pinpoint where a family was living in a given census year. Many who have researched in the United States automatically assume that these types of records exist for all countries but sadly for Latin America this is not the case.
In Mexico a federal census was taken in 1930 and has been microfilmed, digitized, and indexed by FamilySearch. This can be a great help to those who are trying to locate an ancestor who lived in Mexico in 1930. The researcher should be aware however that the records are not extant, meaning they are not complete for the entire country. The most notable absence of records is in Mexico City, also known as the Distrito Federal. Research in the capital city, as in many large cities around the world, can be very difficult when the barrio or neighborhood where the ancestors lived is unknown. Not having the 1930 census for this important city makes research difficult but not impossible. Many parish records and civil registration records have been and continue to be indexed. If you can’t find your ancestor in Mexico City, keep checking back every few weeks, as more indexed records are added on a regular basis.
Census-type records in Latin America may be called by a variety of names. Censos is the word that might be used to cover records that are generally created for tax purposes or voting lists and usually cover a broader area. The word censo might also be used to refer to a tax or annuity paid by an individual or the church. Padrones are typically found on a local level such as towns or parishes. Matriculas and catastros are register-type lists. Matriculas were typically used to show changes in population while catastros were used to register property and taxable items.
Was your Latin American ancestor living in Spain between 1749 and 1756? You might be able to find them in the Catastro de Ensenada. This was an undertaking by the Crown of Castilla to enumerate every household in the kingdom ahead of fiscal reform designed to revamp the tax collection process and improve the coffers of the Castilian treasury. The castastro became the official register of the value of real estate and other property that was used to collect taxes. It is named after the Marques de Ensenada who headed up the effort. Researchers should be aware that the Catastro de Ensenada does not cover the entire area of modern Spain. The area of Cataluña, as well as the kingdoms of Navarra and Aragon are notably absent. One of the most fascinating aspects of the Catastro de Ensenada are the Respuestas Generales or General Answers. These statements include information about the size of the town, its primary industries, the type of agricultural products available, the number of taverns, hospitals, stores and other buildings within the village as well as information relating to the socioeconomic status of its citizens. The answers provide fascinating insight into what life might have been like in the village. To learn more about this valuable collection, please see the FamilySearch Wiki article Spain, Catastro de Ensenada.
A valuable resource for identifying census records in Latin America and the early Spanish colonies of the southern United States is the book by Lyman D. Platt Census Records for Latin America and the Hispanic United States, FHL 980 X23pc 1998. This book is available digitally and you can download a copy from the FamilySearch catalog. Many of the censuses identified by Platt are available on microfilm from FamilySearch while others can only be found in local, provincial, and national archives. Refer to the Acronyms for Archives and Publications page to identify where these records can be found.
A few other censuses available online in Latin America that cover a large portion of the population include the 1869 and 1895 national censuses for Argentina; the 1855 census of the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina; the 1877 census for the Guatemala city; and colonial censuses in Central America. Don’t forget that Puerto Rico is included in the United States Federal Censuses beginning with the year 1910. To identify other available records, try a keyword search in the FamilySearch catalog using the words censo, padron, or matricula along with the name of the locality you are researching.