This article is the second in a series on how to research your ancestors in Latin America. In our first article I mentioned Catholic parish records as the most important record type for research in Latin America. Civil Registration records come in as close second and may be more important if you are one of the very few whose Latin American ancestors were not Catholics.
Civil Registration records are government records of births, marriages, and deaths. Most governments in Latin America began Civil Registration by the 1870s and 1880s. The earliest records are found in the Dominican Republic beginning in 1828 and the latest started in Bolivia in 1940.
If your ancestor had a life event such as birth, marriage, or death during the period of Civil Registration, you would be wise to seek out not only the Catholic parish record for that event but the Civil Registration version of the same event as well. Each record usually contains somewhat different pieces of relevant information. All of which will provide the necessary clues for continuing to expand your family tree.
Birth records normally tell you the names of the child and his parents, the ages of the parents along with their marital status. You might also find information about paternal and maternal grandparents as well as the names of witnesses, who might also be relatives. The birth of the child was usually reported by the father within a few days of the birth but don’t discount the possibility that the child’s birth wasn’t registered until months or years later. I have seen records in which five children of the same family were all registered on one day years after the births of most of those children. Keep an open mind when considering the time period to research.
Marriages usually give full information on the bride and groom including ages, marital status, residence, and place of birth. The names of parents are almost always included and if one or both of the spouses had been married previously you will most likely find the name of the previous spouse. If the parents’ names are not included for a spouse who was widowed, you will want to find the earlier marriage as it will most likely name the parents.
Death records identify the name of the deceased, his age, and sometimes the cause of death. You will usually also learn the names of the parents of the deceased and/or the name of their spouse, if married. You might find names of surviving children as well.
Civil Registration records are kept by the municipality. Smaller towns would typically only have one Civil Registration office while larger cities might have several. In a large city if you don’t know which Civil Registration office was located near your ancestor’s home, you will have to search each Civil Registration office one by one.
If your ancestors lived in a smaller village that was not a municipality, you will need to figure out which municipality had jurisdiction over the village. Using Google maps, Wikipedia, or a straight Google search may yield that answer. If not you will want to locate a gazetteer for the area or country where your ancestors lived. We will discuss these more in depth in a future article in this series.