Quick Tips to Starting Your Latin American Genealogy Journey

For many people of Latin American descent, research is based outside of the United States. Here are some quick tips for researching your Hispanic roots. This is not a comprehensive guide to every available resource within Latin America.

FamilySearch Wiki

The first stop should always be the FamilySearch Wiki. According to their about page, the wiki contains “links to genealogy databases, websites, other resources, research strategies, and genealogical guidance to assist in the search for your ancestors. Articles included are locality pages for countries around the world and topic pages that include pertinent genealogy record types explaining how to use the record, what it contains, and how to find it.” It’s important to note, the wiki it not where you research your ancestors but a place to learn where and how to research those ancestors in any given area.

For example, if you are researching ancestors from the Dominican Republic, your first stop will be the Dominican Republic Genealogy page, which contains country information, “Getting Started Guide,” a map and list with links to all of the provinces within the country, resources, and research tutorials. The list of provinces with links leads to the individual wiki pages for those provinces with additional information about each province. Clicking on the province Azua leads to a brief history of the province, background information, including civil registration information, and where to find the records!

FamilySearch also has an excellent video presentation by Debbie Gurtler, AG® called Introduction to Hispanic Research. Click here for more videos from the FamilySearch learning center.

Learning where to search is just as important as the search!

Always Check the Catalog

Beyond the basic search of the indexed records at FamilySearch is the catalog. The catalog is a powerful tool that organizes the records available within their website. This includes items that are digitized and indexed, digitized and unindexed, books available at the FamilySearch Library, records available on microfiche and so much more!

To use the catalog, type in the place name and click search. Using the example of Puerto Rico, various subjects appear, including census records, church records, maps, military, and more. At the top of this page, “Places within Puerto Rico” gives a new menu of all of the provinces, which includes province-specific records.

Look for Country-Specific Genealogical Societies

Genealogical societies provide a wealth of information to their members. Many societies provide presentations and special interest groups to help you learn more about research within that country. Additionally, those genealogical society websites may offer digitized records, surname researchers, links to other websites for research, and much, much more!

Here are a few that might be of interest:

Universities, Archives, and Libraries

Many universities in the US and abroad have digitized archives available online for research. Universities are repositories for digitized newspapers, books, manuscripts and, more! When looking for a university that may have these items, think about where people from that country immigrated to within the US and look at universities in that area. When researching a family in Honduras, I visited the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Hondruas website. They have a digitized repository with many fabulous items, including 130 years of the Gaceta Oficial. The University of Florida, Florida International University, and the University of Miami all have amazing repositories for Cuban and Latin American studies digitized and off-line in their specialized libraries.

Think outside of the box in your research. Many universities have special collections that you would not expect. Yale, is an example.

The US has the National Archives and Records Administration as our main archive for online digitized and off-line records. Parts are indexed and searchable, but the majority is not. A visit or request has to be made in order to conduct research. Many countries have a national archive, and it’s worth researching if your country has an archive an what is available.

Your local library can be a great place to get started with your genealogy journey. While they may have only a few genealogical books, some libraries have volunteers who assist in helping you understand the basics. Most libraries have a subscription to Ancestry Library Edition, which allows you to research Ancestry.com for free from the library. The library edition does not allow you to build a tree, just conduct research. Some libraries are also FamilySearch Affiliates. Affiliate libraries have access to records you may find are locked with your general account.

In addition to your local library, find libraries that may be in the area you are researching. If they have a basic website or just a phone number, contact the library to see what treasures they may have that will assist in your research!

Internet Archive

The Internet Archive is an amazing resource for access to millions of books. It gives you the ability to search millions of free books, movies, websites, and more. The secret is to search within the text contents, using Spanish and English. Learn advanced search techniques to enhance your results.

The Internet Archive has many books, such as Bibliografía Cubana 1917-1920, Gaceta de los Tribunales de la Republica de Guatemala, and Boletín Oficial de la República Argentina. A search for “Rosendo Moraguez Napoles” finds a notice in La Jurisprudencia al Dia from 21 Jan 1913 in Cuba where Rosendo was sentenced for the reckless use of a revolver that resulted in the death of Gaspar González Carmenates at the farm of Rosendo, called “La Larga” in Camagüey.

Facebook Groups

There is nothing better than finding a community of people who are also researching in the same areas and sometimes the same families! Kathrine R. Willson has a Facebook list of genealogy groups. Search within this PDF by location but also by topic, such as Hispanic/Latino, page 315.

In my experience, if you don’t belong to a genealogy Facebook group, you may be missing out on information you will not find anywhere else.

Online Websites

A quick Google search may result in a wealth of websites, like the CubanGenWeb or Mexican Genealogy. Many websites like these exist that can help you find additional records and learn how to research within the country.

Many of the subscription service websites also have country-specific collections that include parts of Latin America and Spain:

MyHeritage – MyHeritage currently has 78 collections with 273,738,265 records in Latin America! Some of the countries included in these collections are Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Argentina, Venezuela, Peru, and many more! A recent blog post about Spanish Naming Conventions includes links to Spanish records.

Ancestry – Ancestry has many collections sorted by location, which can sometimes be difficult to find and filter. Here are some of the locations: Mexico, South America, and North America. Within North America, you can filter to more locations like the Bahamas, Barbados, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic.

Here are a few more helpful articles from Ancestry: