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Military records in Colombia begin with the Spanish military records in the colonial period before Colombia’s independence and continue with the nation’s own records. They give information about an ancestor’s military career, such as promotions, places served, pensions, and conduct. In addition, these records usually include information about his age, birthplace, residence, occupation, physical description, and family members.
Evidence that an ancestor actually served may be found in family records, biographies, censuses, probate records, civil registration, and church records.
Military Records of Genealogical Value
The following records include information on most soldiers and can be useful in researching your family:
- Hojas de servicios (Service records). Lists of officers’ name, birth date, birthplace, family information, and military ranks and assignments.
- Expedientes personales (Personal petition files). Personal requests by servicemen such as their petitioning for military advancements after citing their military record. The files may include a number of documents of genealogical interest, such as family baptismal and marriage certificates.
- Listas de quintas o conscripciones (Conscription lists). Lists of new recruits and in some cases a census of all males eligible for military service. The town or municipal archives (archivo de ayuntamiento) sometimes house these records.
- Filiaciones (Enlistments). Lists of common soldiers in the military, excluding officers. Enlistments include the soldiers’ name, birth date and birthplace, parents’ names, residence, religion, marital status, and physical description. They may also list the soldier’s military history. Enlistments are less likely than service sheets to be indexed.
- Padrones and listas de revistas (Census records). Censuses of military men and their families were often taken in various areas. The census records may include all the citizens who were served and protected by the military outpost.
For more information on the military records of Mexico, including where the records are found, see:
Ryskamp, George R. Tracing Your Hispanic Heritage. Riverside, California: Hispanic Family History Research, 1984, pp. 591-632. (FHL book 946 D27r.)
The Colonial Military
In the late 15th century, during the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, one out of every 12 Spanish males between the ages of 12 and 45 was required to serve in the army. In 1773, Charles III established the quinta system, which required every fifth Spanish male to serve in the military.
The colonial armies included four kinds of troops:
Spanish soldiers assigned to temporary service in the colonies
Spanish soldiers permanently assigned to colonial service
The provincial militias were composed of men from the colonies, but the officers were almost exclusively Spanish. The local militias were created toward the end of the 18th century for community defense.
These records are the most easily accessible and many are available through FamilySearch including:
Military Orders and Brotherhoods:
Men could only be members of the military orders if they were nobility. To gain entrance, a person was required to submit a documented genealogy of the three previous generations of his family. At present, these records are mainly in the National Historical Archive in Madrid, including Latin American Spanish military orders. Many of these records are available through the Spanish National Archive: Pares.
The Early Colombian Military
The origins of the modern Colombian armed forces can be traced to the militia organized by the independent government of the United Provinces of New Granada declared in 1811 to fight against colonial rule. The force was composed of volunteers, divided among infantry and cavalry units, who were trained by the officers of a senior corps that was referred to as El Fijo (The Permanent). Spanish military structure and traditions were adopted.
In Colombia, military power was extremely limited in political affairs. Government officials rarely displayed any interest in the development of a stronger military. Rather, as a result of the frequent rebellions that had occurred during the nineteenth century, the armed forces were continuously plagued by organizational problems. At one point--in the 1860s--the armed forces were disbanded and replaced by a popular militia.
The Constitution of 1886 included the first laws governing the military and formally defining the military's constitutional responsibilities and also called for a first program of universal military conscription, but this provision was not uniformly enforced until the early twentieth century.
The conflict known as the War of a Thousand Days began in 1899; this nearly three-year-long war, in which over 100,000 Colombians died, remains one of the most violent civil conflicts in the nation's history.
The military records from the War of a Thousand Days are in the process of being digitalized and should be available through FamilySearch in a couple of years.
Other military records from this time are also available through FamilySearch including:
List of 19th Century Military Conflicts
- Gran Colombia-Peru War (1828–1829)
- War of the Supremes (1839–1841)
- Colombian Civil War (1860–1862) between the government and Liberal rebels
- Ecuadorian-Colombian War (1863) when Colombia was known as New Granada.
- Colombian Civil War of 1876]
- Colombian Civil War of 1885
- Colombian Civil War of 1895
- Thousand Days War (civil war, 1899–1902)
20th Century Colombian Military
The national exhaustion from the violence of the War of a Thousand Days helped form the basis for the establishment of a modern, professional military. The administration of Rafael Reyes, who came to office in 1904, began the reorganization and professionalization of the armed forces among its early initiatives to revitalize the country. By the 1920's however, government interest in the armed forces began to wane, only to be brought back into focus during the Colombia-Peru Conflict of 1932-1933. It was at this time that the United States of America began to establish strong ties with the Colombian military. Throughout the rest of the 20th Century, due to WWII and then La Violencia and the Colombian Armed Conflict, Colombia has continued to strengthen and build its military. Currently, the Colombian military is one of the largest and most well-equipped in Latin America. All young men at 18 years of age are required to serve in the military with a few exceptions. The requirement can be fulfilled by duty with either the army (18 months), the navy (24 months), the air force (18 months), or the National Police (12 months). However, only a small proportion of those eligible actually serve--usually those from the lower classes.
Records from this time period are difficult to access and requests for information are often viewed suspiciously. Collections do exist at the Archivo General de la Nación.
List of 20th Century Military Conflicts
- Colombia-Peru War (1932–1933)
- World War II (1939–1945)
- La Violencia (civil war, 1948–1958)
- Colombia Battalion in the Korean War (1950–1953)
- Colombian Armed Conflict (1964-current)
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