Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Catholic Parish Record Coma

Warning - this post is in English - los mensajes en Español regresarán pronto

It's been two weeks since I've last posted so I thought it was time to write about something. Truth be told I've been busy and lacked the desire to write. This week I've been putting together outlines for the courses I'll be teaching at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy(early registration is still open at:, and noticed Hispanic genealogy's dependence on Catholic parish records. Let's face it - they are the backbone of Hispanic genealogical research and they are the first record source we look for to put together ancestral families. Often times we put on blinders and forget about all the other wonderful records available to us...something I refer to as the parish record coma, because we fall prey to them way too easily. Here are just a couple of other record types we over look at the expense of the parish records. Keep in mind that I'm not advocating that we not use parish records on the contrary - use them if they are available. What I am advocating is an awareness of other records that will complement parish records, and/or act as a replacement if parish records are nonexistent.
  • Civil registration records - I don't know how many times people tell me that they have searched the parish records for a town in Mexico, but not the civil registration. It would be an interesting study to determine how few of the population actually show up in both record collections, because the truth is they ususally show up in one or the other, but hardly ever in both. All countries have civil registration, however, they are often over looked because they are as readily available nor do they cover as many years (late 1800s to present).
  • Census records - great locators and directors to parish records. Only a couple of Latin American countries have national census records that we can use - namely Mexico and Argentina. However there are plenty of municipal, town, and parish level censuses out there you just need to know where to look. Try the municipal archive first - I've found many municipal, town, and parish censuses in national archives as well (Colombia and Ecuador are great examples).
  • Notarial records - I could write forever about these huge collections available in every country. These are by far the most voluminous record sets in the world. Notary records include: testaments/wills, real property sales, personal property sales, guardianships, power of attorneys, marriage contracts, emigration contracts, etc. These are normally found in historical state/provincial/department archives, and can also be found in national, municipal, and notary archives.
  • Military records - These include service records, regiment listings, draft (quintas), and others. In Spain quintas are normally found in the municipal archives. They list all males old enough to serve in the military, and often provide parent information as well. These act almost like census records that list a certain demographic.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Next time you feel that are stuck in your research, because you can find parish records for the town/parish where your ancestor live try others. I've had create success solving research problems using all these records as well as a handful of others. The key is to break out of your parish record coma, and not to be afraid of other less used records. One big obstacle I've noticed with some individuals is that they are afraid to ask questions - don't be...if you don't ask questions you'll never find other possible solutions to your research problems.

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