Spanish Genealogy

Smile, you are Hispanic, one of us. Every genealogist from every country in the world is already jealous of you. Because of the attentiveness of our ancestors, the archives in every Spanish speaking country are chock full of information about your ancestors and their activities. Celebrate the fact that many of you will be able to trace your families back to the 1700's, 1600"s, 1500's and even further back.

In order to begin your adventure you will need to become aware of the techniques of the genealogist. Information that could easily fill a large book or two. In addition, you will need some knowledge of history, geography and the Spanish language. Oh, don't fret now, if you follow my instructions you'll be there in no time at all. To get you started I need to introduce you to the phased approach. You don't go to phase II until you are finished with phase I, etc., Okay?, Okay.

Phase I : Take Stock of What You Have

Let's take inventory of the information that you already have about your family. Begin with yourself, then your parents, your grandparents and so on. You can write this down by hand or preferably use a form called a pedigree chart. For every household, use a family group sheet so that you can keep track of aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. Do this for both your mother's and father's side of the family. Try to list as much information as you can, including birth and death dates, marriage dates, baptisms, etc.

Structure of a Pedigree chart

The Interview

Interview your relatives for any missing information. Don't be too formal. Make it a social event and don't go in there like a newspaper reporter. Record everything they tell you, even if it sounds exaggerated or hard to believe. Most family stories are based on an element of truth. Don't be afraid to record the family gossip, I promise you, in all likelihood, it will be useful to you later. Gossip can provide you with clues whenever you get stuck.

Obtain Copies Of Documents

Get copies of birth certificates, marriage licenses, baptisms, confirmations, military discharge papers, etc., from as many relatives as possible. These documents contain lots of valuable information. For instance, baptisms sometimes provide information on the grandparents as well as the parents of a child. They can provide the places of birth for other family members as well. Now, this part is very important, make sure that you send back any borrowed documents promptly and in the condition that you received them.

Otherwise, your relatives may not be as forthcoming next time you need something from them.

Check The Work Of Others

Why duplicate someone else's work. Check the local libraries to see if someone else is working on or has worked on a genealogy of your surname or family. Check the biographical and genealogical dictionaries for entries with the surnames you are researching. Review guides to books in print. Go to the Mormon Family History Center nearest you and check their "Ancestral File" for submitted genealogies. Use the search engines to scour the Internet for information about your surnames and family.

Now that you've completed Phase I, you are ready to begin Phase II.

Phase II : Sharpening Your Skills

In order to keep yourself from making the classic mistakes that beginners make, it makes sense to gain as much knowledge as possible about conducting genealogical research. The more you know, the more successful and enjoyable your search will be. So read a few good books on the subject. Take a course on genealogy at a local college, on the Internet or perhaps even a correspondence course. Read one or two books on the following list:

Finding Your Hispanic Roots
by George R. Ryskamp
Genealogical Publishing Company, Baltimore Md., $19.95
The Genealogist's Companion and Sourcebook
by Emily Croom
Better Way Books
Genealogy Online
by Elizabeth P. Crowe
Windcrest/McGraw Hill
Genealogia Facil
by Nike Ecociencia
Ediciones Robinbook, Barcelona Spain

Phase III: Start You Background Research

It makes sense that if you are going to research your ancestors in say, Mexico, Cuba or Puerto Rico, that you know something about Mexico, Cuba or Puerto Rico. Knowing the local history of where your ancestors were will not only enrich your research, but will speed it up as well. If you know your local history you will know where NOT to look for your ancestors. You will also end up with some excellent background material when writing your family history.

While you are conducting a background search, start to get organized. Get a file cabinet and set it up with divisions for the proper forms. You will need pedigree charts, correspondence logs, family group sheets, a biography file, a research log plus any other files you deem necessary.

Phase IV: Begin Your Research

Start your research the easy way by finding a "Family History Center" near you. The Family History Centers of The Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) has a tremendous collection of genealogical information. What's best of all is that you do not have to become a member of the church in order to use their libraries. It's also FREE.(You do have to pay for copies and microfilm you order from Salt Lake City) They even show you how to use the library. Next, find a good library with a genealogy section. This, in most cases, is your local main library. Remember to keep careful notes of where you found what. This will keep you from perusing the same sources twice and will also allow you to easily review previous sources. Get some genealogy software. There are several good commercial and shareware packages out there, such as : Brother's Keeper and Family Tree Maker. Start with a Shareware program and if that's all you need, stick with it. By starting with a Shareware program you will also know what additional features you will need in a commercial software package, if you decide you want one.

Phase V: Tell the World

Tell everyone what you are doing and whom you are looking for. The more people that know what you are looking for, the more information you stand to receive. Leave messages online, contact local genealogical societies, join one if you find them helpful, help beginners get started. Don't be selfish, if you have something someone needs, give it to them. The more you give away, the more you will receive. Don't say things like "I have this, will share with those who have that this is awful, it shows you are selfish and discourages those who may have something you need, from sharing it with you. Also, never make statements like "Send me everything you have ". Why should anyone send you everything they have? This also makes it obvious that you are a total beginner, have no Internet manners and should be ignored.

When leaving queries and/or messages online, don't expect that anyone will have information on your uncle Chucho Jimenez, who died in Texas in 1863.

Expect instead that people will give you CLUES as to WHERE you might be able to find information on Chucho.

Now, one of the most important things to remember is to network. It is natural to do this in business and crucial to do in genealogy. So remember to maintain contacts with your fellow researchers as they may uncover things in their research that you could use. In return, be forthcoming about the things that you discover. "Cast your bread upon the waters" of genealogy and receive much more than you give.

Phase VI: Write Your Family History

When you have concluded your research, write your family history. Don't just write down a bunch of facts and figures, tell us a story. This is a story about you, not some historical figure with whom you have nothing in common. Your genes were there, so in a sense, you were there also. Reading your family history is like watching a movie with your family as the central characters. Your family history is important. It is a historical document that should be preserved and shared.

So do yourself, your Hispanic cousins and those who come after us a great favor, write your family history. Then donate it to libraries, to your friends and family and to anyone who might be interested. This story will live on long after you, but most importantly, you will have done your part to help write the history of our people. You will have written your chapter in the book, "The Origin and History of the Hispanic People". A history that your children as well as your children's children, will be proudly reading. Because when all is said and done, we will all realize that, in spite of all of our differences, we are a people.