As a research specialist for Latin America at the Family History Library every day, I meet people anxious to discover their family story and origins. It’s a great privilege to be able to guide them as they make those important first discoveries and break down their brick walls. However, we at the Family History Library recognize that there are many of you who might never get the opportunity to visit us in person and get individualized help. With those needs in mind, we’ve decided to write a series of articles designed to help you with your research in Latin America.
Latin America is a broad landscape which covers more than a dozen countries. As diverse as the scenery and cultures of these countries might be, the records and the methodology used to research them are very similar. The most common record types used are Catholic parish records and Civil Registration records. Parish records are considered some of the most important and valuable records for doing research in Latin America.
With the arrival of Columbus in the New World, came priests and missionaries of the Catholic Church and their record keeping practices. In most Latin American countries, the earliest Catholic Church records date back to the early 1500s. These records include baptisms, marriages, and deaths. Other records may include confirmations and marriage information files.
Generally speaking, with baptism records you will find the name of the child, the names of the parents, and the names of godparents. You may also find the names of paternal and maternal grandparents. Infants were usually baptized within a few weeks of their birth but in later years it’s not unusual to find a child baptized several months or a year or two later.
Marriage information files are generally several pages and contain all the documentation presented by the bride, groom, witnesses, and others who were present at the time the couple was married. While they can be difficult to wade through, finding one is worth the effort because of the wealth of information they contain. I recommend however, that before searching through the marriage information files, you try to locate the marriage record first.
In marriage records you will usually find the name of the bride and groom, and the names of their parents. Marriage records might also indicate where the bride or groom was born. If either party was married previously, you may find the name of the first spouse along with information about the spouse’s death. In some instances the names of the parents of the widowed person might not be given. If that is the case, you will want to locate records for the first marriage.
Death records generally contain the name of the deceased, their spouse, and/or their parents. You might also find surviving children listed in rare instances. Sometimes death records do not contain a lot of useful identifying information to help confirm that you have found the right person but they should not be neglected in your research in Latin America.