Colombia Military Records
Military records identify individuals who served in the military or who were eligible for service. Today, 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. The Colombian military is one of the largest and most well-equipped in Latin America.
Evidence that an ancestor actually served may be found in family records, biographies, censuses, probate records, civil registration, and church records.
The Colonial Military
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.
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.
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.
20th Century Colombian Military
The national exhaustion from the violence of the long civil war helped form the basis for the establishment of a modern, professional military. The administration of Rafael Reyes, who came to office in 1904, included plans for the reorganization of the armed forces among its early initiatives to revitalize the country. The government's stated objective was to provide for national defense, a need that appeared pressing in 1905 when border tensions with neighboring Venezuela escalated. An equally important though less publicized goal was the creation of a nonpartisan professional institution that would be capable of maintaining domestic peace