Civil Registration in Latin America
This short online class in Spanish from FamilySearch teaches fundamental principles you should remember when searching for ancestors in civil registration records.
The majority of the governments in Latin America began civil registration after 1870, however a few began earlier. After civil registration began, almost everyone, Catholics or not, were recorded in civil registration records. This is especially useful for those who were not Catholic as many other religions began to thrive in parts of Latin America about this same time. It should also be noted that a large number of immigrants you came to Latin America did so towards the end of the 1800s.
In the list below you will find the year when civil registration began in each Latin American country.
Information found in civil registration records
The contents of civil registration records is very similar to that of Catholic parish records with the additional benefit that almost everyone, Catholics or not, can be found recorded in Civil Registration records. In the information that follows you can find more specific information indicating what you might find in a birth, marriage, or death record.
Birth records normally include the following information about the person who is being registered:
- Residence – municipio or district where the child is being registered. Name of the town or city where the family lived.
- Date – day, month, and year of registration and of birth.
- Informant’s Name (compareciente) – name of the person providing information to the civil registrar. Often times it is a relative such as parent, aunt/uncle, or grandparent.
- Name of Registrant – name of the individual being registered; usually individuals are registered within months of their birth.
- Name of the Parents – Names of the parents of the individual being registered. In some cases, paternal and maternal grandparents are recorded as well.
Marriage records usually include the following information about the couple getting married:
- Residence – municipio or district where the couple is getting married. Name of the town or city where the bride and groom lived.
- Date – day, month, and year of the marriage.
- Groom’s Name and Information – Full name of the groom, his residence and/or birth place, his occupation, and age.
- Groom’s Parents’ Information – Full names of groom’s parents and their residence.
- Bride’s Name and Information – Full name of the bride, her residence and/or birth place, and her age.
- Bride’s Parents’ Information – Full names of bride’s parents and their residence.
- Witnesses’ Information – Full names of the witnesses.
Death records usually include the following information about the deceased.
- Residence – municipio or district where the death was registered. Name of the town or city where the deceased lived.
- Deceased’s Information – Full name of the deceased, his or her residence and/or birth place, occupation, age, marital status, cause of death, place of burial.
- Family Information – Full names of father and mother (if single or child) or full name of spouse (if married). Occasionally deaths will mention names of children (if deceased had living children at the time of death).
Locating the records
In order to locate civil registration records for your ancestor you will need to know where they lived. If your ancestors lived in a small town or a remote location, you will need to locate the nearest municipality with a civil registration office where they might have gone to record these vital events. Online maps or gazetteers can be helpful in locating jurisdictions. More information may be found in the Wiki gazetteers pages for each individual country. In Spanish the most helpful gazetteers are called diccionarios geográficos. It is also important to know approximate years when the events took place.
Many Civil Registration records can be found online at FamilySearch.org. Where indexes are available begin by searching for a name first. If there are no options to search by name, you will need to browser the records page by page. You will first choose the province, department, or state, then the city, and the record type.
Births = nacimientos; Marriages = matrimonios; Deaths = defunciones.
- Chile, 1885-1903
- Costa Rica, 1860-1975
- Dominican Republic, 1801-2010
- El Salvador, 1815-1910
- Guatemala, 1877-2008
- Nicaragua, 1809-2011
- Puerto Rico, 1836-2001
- Spain Many pre-1870 civil registration records for Spain will be found by province in municipal records collections.
- Venezuela, 1873-2003