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Mexico Church Records
Roman Catholic Church Records
In 1563, the Council of Trent, which was a gathering of the Roman Catholic Church to examine and condemn their doctrines, formalized record keeping practices that were already being followed in much of the Catholic world. Separate record books were to be maintained for baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and deaths. The Catholic Church, which was established in Mexico in 1527, was the primary record keeper for Mexico until civil registration started. Different dioceses usually followed the same standard of writing, so the information found in records are mostly consistent.
The vast majority of Mexicans were Catholic and registered in the records of the local parish or diocese, known as registros parroquiales (parish registers). These records include entries for baptisms, confirmations, marriage information documents, marriages, deaths, and burials. Often, two or sometimes even three generations are indicated in the registers. The records were kept at the parish and a copy was sent to the diocesan archive for preservation.
Church records are crucial in Mexico since civil authorities did not begin registering vital statistics until after 1859. For civil vital records of births, deaths, and marriages after 1859, see the Mexico Civil Registration Records wiki article.
Some church records have been lost or have deteriorated due to natural effects such as humidity, insects and more dramatic events such as fires, floods, and earthquakes. Civil and political strife have also caused the destruction of parish books. Some records were destroyed or damaged because of poor storage. However, many records that are considered lost or destroyed have simply been misplaced or misidentified.
It is important to note that individual dioceses started documenting life events only after they were established. Each diocese began at different times, here is a list of the years some dioceses were started:
The most commonly used records include:
Often two and sometimes three generations are indicated in the registers, with personal information on the family given.
In addition, records may include church censuses, account books, and other church-related records (See Other Ecclesiastical Records article). Church records are crucial, since civil authorities did not begin registering vital statistics until after 1859. For civil vital records of births, deaths, and marriages after 1859, see the Civil Registration section.
After 1859, one should search in both church and civil records, since there may be information in one that does not appear in the other. For instance, the church records may only list the godparents, while the civil records may list the grandparents.
For additional information on Catholic Church records in Mexico click here.
BEYOND THE PARISH: CHURCH AND GOVERNMENT RECORDS
FROM FINDING YOUR MEXICAN ANCESTORS By: GEORGE AND PEGGY RYSKAMP
Many researchers may find they can effectively work in these records for long periods of time, in some cases running family lines back to the seventeenth century and beyond. In all cases where parish records exist before beginning of civil registration in 1860, they will continue to be a mainstay of your research, even as you turn to other records as well.
You will have three objectives learned in this article. The first is to verify information found in parish records. Perhaps you have reached the point that occurs even in some nineteenth century Mexican records where the information becomes less complete, sometimes insufficient to even reach a definitive level of proof of family relationships. The second is if parish records are missing, either totally or in a significant part, during a specific time period. A third reason is to add more interest and detail to the life stories of your ancestors than what appear in parish and civil registration records. Fortunately, the records of Mexico are extensive and rich and can assist you in accomplishing all three of these goals.
Mexico, unlike many other Latin American countries, has significant collections of other filmed records beyond parish and civil registration registers. Additionally, finding aids and, in some cases, public records or indexes exist to help locate and even directly consult these records. As discussed already, the first place to look for any type of record is the Family History Library Catalog, as the LDS Church has microfilmed extensive collections of records in Mexico. Many records have been filmed by other libraries and universities, particularly for the colonial period. The best way to locate records filmed by the LDS Church is by doing a Place Search under the name of the town where the parish and/or municipio is located. Also search under the name of the state, as records beyond parish and civil registers are often identified as only a collection for the entire state and not subdivided, even if they do contain significant information about specific people within towns in the state.
In some cases records for the entire state have been catalogued under the name of the capital city because the archive containing those records is found there, so check under the name of the state’s capital city. Also check for the city that is the archdiocese for your ancestral hometown.
Church Records Online
Million of names can be found in the Mexico Baptisms collection online. These records contain transcribed Mexico parish records dating from 1659 to 1905 and also contains records from the Middle America Vital Records Index--Mexico that was published in 1999 on CD only.
There is a listing of all records collections available on FamilySearch.org. Some of the collections are listed below.
Wiki articles describing some collections are found at:
- Mexico, Baja California and Baja California Sur States Catholic Church Records(FamilySearch Historical Records)
- Mexico, Chiapas State, Catholic Church Records (FamilySearch Historical Records)
- Mexico, State of Chiapas Civil Registration(FamilySearch Historical Records)
- Mexico, Distrito Federal, Catholic Church Records (FamilySearch Historical Records)
- Mexico, Guanajuato State Catholic Church Records (FamilySearch Historical Records)
- Mexico, Jalisco State, Catholic Church Records (FamilySearch Historical Records)
- Mexico, Mexico State Catholic Church Records (FamilySearch Historical Records)
- Mexico, Michoacan State Catholic Church Records (FamilySearch Historical Records)
- Mexico, Morelos State, Catholic Church Records (FamilySearch Historical Records)
- Mexico, Nayarit State Catholic Church Records (FamilySearch Historical Records)
- Mexico, Oaxaca State, Catholic Church Records (FamilySearch Historical Records)
- Mexico, Puebla State, Catholic Church Records (FamilySearch Historical Records)
- Mexico, Queretaro State, Catholic Church Records (FamilySearch Historical Records)
- Mexico, San Luis Potosi State, Catholic Church Records (FamilySearch Historical Records)
- Mexico, Mexico State Catholic Church Records (FamilySearch Historical Records)
- Mexico, Tabasco State Catholic Church Records (FamilySearch Historical Records)
- Mexico, Veracruz. Catholic Church Records (FamilySearch Historical Records)
- Mexico, Yucatan State Catholic Church Records (FamilySearch Historical Records)
ARCHIVES: THE PLACE TO FIND ORIGINAL RECORDS
While much has been filmed in Mexico, the majority of records remains unfilmed (as in any other country in the world) and can only be consulted in Mexican archives themselves. In some cases where good catalogs and even indexes exist, and/or you can find genealogically friendly archive personnel, records can be ordered from the archive upon payment of copying costs. For these reasons, understanding the organization of Mexican archives becomes helpful.
Simply defined, an archive is a place where records and historical documents are preserved. Initially an archive may be found in the place where the records were generated, under control of the generating entity-for example, the civil register entities-such as all the various agencies of a state government and in some cases, cities within a state-will place their older records in a single separate historical archive designed to both preserve the records and provide access to them by interested historical researchers.
MUNICIPAL AND STATE ARCHIVES
Government archives in Mexico are found at three levels: municipal, state, and national. Municipal archives hold records generated by the activities of city government, including such records as business licenses, tax lists, voter lists, censuses, and city legislation acts. Records created by businesses or families within the municipal limits may also have been donated to these archives. Generally municipal archives are found in the city hall, although in larger cities they may have been transferred to a separate building. In some cases, they are summarized or discussed online.
In some cases smaller municipal archives within a state have been transferred to central state archives where the possibility for preservation and access for researchers is better. The municipal archives of Mexico—especially those in capital cities such as Saltillo, Chihuahua, and Mexico City—are excellent, and many have rich historical rudimentary level. For information on material contained in specific city archives see Patricia Rodriguez Ochoa’s Archivos Estatales de Mexico. Indexes and archival guides for many specific archives may be located in university and large public libraries in the United States.
During the middle years of the twentieth century, archives were organized in the majority of Mexican states to house accumulated records relating to state government agencies. Two categories of records generally comprised the core of these collections: judicial records and state administrative records (correspondence of the various governors, legislative acts, official state bulletins, court records, and so on). In many—although not all—states, notarial records for the national period were added. Some states sent in pre-1920 copies of civil registration records, generally beginning about 1875. Alternately, state copies of civil registration in states such as Chihuahua and Hermosillo are held by the central office of civil registration located in the capital city in Chihuahua, or have been held in a separate archives held by the colegio notarial, as in Mexico City.
In 1823, the National Congress of Mexico adopted legislation creating the Archivo General de la Nación, giving it to the mandate to preserve the historical records of that great nation and make them accessible to the people of the United States of Mexico. At the time of its creation, the bulk of its records came from the archives of the Spanish Viceroy, housed in the General Archives of New Spain created in 1790.
During the 180 years since the creation of the Archivo General de la Nación, extensive records of the Mexican national government, from every administration beginning with that of Emperor Iturbide, have been transferred here, along with extensive private collections of materials relating to Mexican life and government. In 1977, a new facility for the archive was created by the conversion of an old prison with six spokes of cells and one of administration radiating from a central area which, as part of the conversion into the archive, was turned into a dramatic domed exposition area.
One entire wing of the Archivo General de la Nación houses a unique collection of microfilms, including not only government records but microfilmed copies of all pre-1900 Mexican parish records, obtained as part of the cooperative effort between the Genealogical Society of Mexico and the Genealogical Society of Utah (LDS Church). A beginning point for the consulting records in the Archivo General de la Nación is the catalog ARGENA found at www.agn.gob.mx/inicio.php. The key to successfully locating records dealing with a specific locality in this collection is to make requests or searches under the name of the locality as well as specific surnames with or without given names. The archival personnel are excellent at responding to requests and, where the requests are specific enough, providing photocopies of requested records for a fee.
Since 2002, the national military service archive, under the direction of the Mexican Department of Defense, has been open to researchers. This extensive collection of materials relating to military units in Mexico during the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries have yet to be explored in depth.
CATHOLIC CHURCH ARCHIVES
An extensive and rich collection of Catholic Church records in Mexico exists beyond those of the parish. While parish records are recorded by individual parish priests, the role of bishops and archbishops is to oversee the work done at a parish level, including the maintaining of parish records. In addition their acrivities created records which are maintained at a diocesan level.
General records refer to documents that bishops or archbishops created by the bishop’s courts and administrative agencies within that diocese and preserved in diocesan or archdiocesan archives. Each archive begins with the date of the creation of the diocese and contains records of genealogical significance such as marriage dispensations, censuses, and communion lists. Although many of these records have been filmed, only a limited work—primarily limited to marriage dispensations—has been done to index or even inventory them. One notable exception is the Archivo Historico del Aquidioceses de Durango, which has been microfilmed and indexed by the Rio Grande Hustorical Society located at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, New Mexico. This index can be purchased at their website http://archives.nmsu.edu/rghc/contents/contents/html.
ARCHIVAL PRINTED MATERIALS
Most archives—local, state, or national—will have some type of published material explaining what they contain. It’s helpful to think of these materials in the following way:
- Guides—If you were to walk into an archive that was new to you with somebody who was familiar with it by your side, they would probably begin by giving you an overview of what the archive held, saying things like, “The shelves in this section are where we keep inventories, this group of shelves deals with the Mexican Revolution,” and so on. An archival guide serves the same function, giving an overview of what the archive contains.
- Inventory—Suppose this same person now takes you to a particular shelf or collection, going from book to book and pointing out the dates that they cover. If this same information were written down it would be called an inventory. For example, when a state archive catalogs the names of all the notaries within a certain municipio and the dates their records cover, this is an inventory.
- Index—Now suppose this person takes a specific document from the shelf and goes through it with you, pointing out the names in it. This is the level of an index, which takes the documents in a section and at least gives the principal parties, such as the names of a child being baptized and his parents, or the people whose will and contracts appear in a notarial book.
RECORD TYPES WITHIN MEXICAN ARCHIVES
Understanding the structure of Mexican archives leads to the question, “What records do each archive contain?” While it’s unrealistic to try to cover all the record types within one discussion, some are more useful to genealogists and family historians, and/or more readily available. Among these are censuses, notarial records, city and administrative records, marriage dispensations, and diocesan administrative records.
Following parish and civil registers, the record type likely to give you the most information about your family is the census. A census is a count or list of people in a city or rural district. While its actual purpose was usually to get a count of the people for taxes and military service, the specific nature of the census questions asked gave valuable family information. Unlike the United States system of taking a federal census every ten years, Mexican censuses in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were taken less regularly on a nationwide basis. Only that of 1930 is readily available on microfilm through Family History Centers. Being aware that the 1930 Mexican Federal Census asked the following questions will let you know if this is in fact a source that could prove helpful to you:
- Nombre/Apellido—A census never indicates for certain all the members in a given family—it’s your job to make that deduction based upon last names and ages. As you do so, remember the Hispanic surname system as it relates to women: the woman always keeps her birth surname throughout life, even after marriage, so the mother will have a different surname than her husband and children.
- Sexo—This column is divided into two categories, male and female.
- Edad—Beneath this heading are the three categories of years, months, and days.
- Estado Civil—This box refers to the person’s “civil state” or in other words, marital status. Beneath this heading are six categories: Single, Married Civilly, Married by the Church, Free Union (living together without being married), Widowed, or Divorced. The distinction of being married civilly and/or by the church becomes more relevant when you think of the two record types, parish and civil registration. If a couple is listed as both, you should be able to find their marriage record in both parish registers and civil registers; if only civilly, you will find them only in civil registration.
Other Church Records
It was not until the late 19th century before other sects such as the Mennonites and other Protestant denominations began to establish themselves in Mexico. Their records are not easy to access. For more information about the various churches in Mexico, see the articles on "Church History" and "History."