05 May 2013

Searching for Mexican Ancestry

While Ancestry.com is the first site that comes to mind when we think about genealogy it, unfortunately, does not have much for Mexico. Only the following 21 collections in fact. Most of them would only apply to a small segment of the population. Those in blue are free collections. My notes are in [ ].
✿ 1930 Mexico National Census (in Spanish)
✿ Coahuila y Texas : desde la consumacion de la independencia hasta el tratado de paz de Guadalupe Hidalgo [scanned book]
✿ Coahuila y Texas en la época colonial [scanned book]
✿ Encyclopedic History of the LDS Church
✿ Hispanic Surnames and Family History, 1996 [scanned book]
✿ Histoire des Fortifications et des Rues de Québec (in French) [scanned book]
✿ Historical and Genealogical Account of the Family of Vance (Vans, Vaux, and De Vaux) [scanned book]
✿ History of Mexico. Vol. I. 1516-21 [transcribed book]
✿ Illustrated history of southern California : embracing the counties of San Diego, San Bernardino, Los Angeles and Orange, and the Peninsula of Lower California, from the Earliest Period of Occupancy to the Present Time; also, Full-Page Portraits of some of their Eminent Men, and Biographical Mention of Many of their Pioneers and of Prominent Citizens of to-day. [scanned book]
✿ Jewish Given Name Variations
✿ Journal d'un missionnaire au Texas et au Mexique (in French) [scanned book]
✿ Mexico Historical Postcards (in Spanish)
✿ Mexico, European Immigrants to USA Arriving at Vera Cruz, Mexico, 1921-1931
✿ Nacogdoches, Texas, Spanish and Mexican Government Records, 1729-1836 (in Spanish)
✿ Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas, Mexico, Selected Parish Records, 1751-1880 [Index only, images are on FamilySearch]
✿ Treasures of Pioneer History [Mormon history]
✿ U.S., Returns from Military Posts, 1806-1916
✿ Web: BillionGraves.com Burial Index
✿ Web: International, Find A Grave Index
✿ The Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft [scanned books]
✿ World Foreign Gazetteer, Vol. 1
The one site you won't be able to do without is FamilySearch. They have civil and church records for Mexico. No matter your religious beliefs you'll be thanking the Mormon church for digitizing them and the Catholic church for keeping good records in the first place. You can read more about FamilySearch here and we'll come back to their site a little later.


Reading handwritten records takes some practice and you'll need to know, or learn, some Spanish. You don't need to be fluent but the ability to recognize key words will be helpful. It will enable you to work faster and cheaper. Your other options are to wait for a volunteer to help you translate each record or pay someone to translate for you. Doing a Google search for 'genealogy word list' plus whatever language you need is an easy way to find a glossary list specific to genealogy. Here's one from FamilySearch. Google Translate is another option. If you are unsure of a letter or a word take a guess. If it's not a word but it's close Google Translate will ask, "Did you mean..." and offer a suggestion.


Children take their surnames from both parents. For formal use the father's surname is followed by the mother's surname. In casual use the mother's surname is dropped. Of course if transcribers are not familiar with naming conventions they may enter the father's surname as a middle name and mother's surname as the last name. I haven't seen errors like this on FamilySearch but it's something to be aware of if you are searching other sites or if you get stuck. Mistakes are made.
Because children have both their father's and mother's surname and because women did not take their husband's surname it's rare to have a difficult time finding maiden names for Mexican women. I'm not sure if this carries through to today but as recent as the 1930 Mexico Census that is the case. It was quite a shock for me to see my great-grandmother's headstone didn't include my great-grandfather's surname.

Headstone for Porfiria Carreon, wife of Ysidro Dimas

A few spelling quirks to keep in mind while searching. Some letters are used interchangeably: B and V, C and S, S and Z. Vargas may be Bargas. Sisneros instead of Cisneros. Sapata for Zapata. FamilySearch has their search engine set up so these variations are searched automatically. Because of that I was able to find my Bernals in the 1930 U.S. Census even though the enumerator wrote down "Vernal" and they did not show up in the first 5 pages of search results on Ancestry.com. I was then able to go back and find them on Ancestry by searching for Vernal and attached the census to their profiles. Keep this in mind if you're having trouble finding your family in a U.S. census. What a name sounds like will give you clues to variant spellings.


The Civil Registration Office and requirement to register births, marriages and deaths was enacted into law by Benito Juàrez in 1859. It wasn't really enforced until 1867. Even then not everyone registered their family events with the government. It was rare, however, for them not to get married in the church, baptize their children, or have a church funeral. In many cases church records will go back much farther than 1859.
Most civil records are listed on FamilySearch like this: Mexico, [state name], Civil Registrations, [years available]. There are two exceptions, Aguascalientes and Tiaxcala, which are listed here. Hopefully FamilySearch is just in the middle of reorganizing and the records will all be listed in the same format soon. Once you click on "Browse Images" you can narrow down the collection by city/town and then by record type and/or year. Some smaller towns may have kept all vital records in one book.


Each church has it's own format for records and that format may change over time. For decades records may be overflowing with information and then because of a change over in priests or a war the records will only have the bare minimum of information.
Baptismal records (bautismos) should tell you whether the child was adopted (adoptado), born out of wedlock (natural), or born to a married couple (hijo legitimo or h.l.). If adopted the record will have the adopted parents' names, if natural only the mother's name. A child born to a married couple should have both parents' names on the record. If grandparents' names are included there will also be a notation if any of them are deceased.
Once you have parents' names try searching FamilySearch with just parents' names without any other information.

 Click "Parents"

Enter parents' names and nothing else.

You may find records for other children in the family.

Other church records you'll find are confirmations (confirmaciones), marriage records (matrimonios), more in depth marriage information (informaciòn matrimonial), and death records (defunciones). Informaciòn matrimonial is a record of the parish priest's investigation to make sure there were no impediments to the marriage, i.e. related by blood, godparent-godchild relationship, impotence, criminal activity, etc..

Examples of records and more after the jump.

ⓑⓐⓡⓚⓘⓝⓖ  ⓤⓟ  ⓣⓗⓔ  ⓦⓡⓞⓝⓖ  ⓣⓡⓔⓔ


Not everything on FamilySearch is searchable yet but most of what they have microfilmed for births, baptisms, marriages and deaths in Mexico is digitized and online. Even the searchable records do not have the images attached to the search results. Don't stop at the search results though! Take the time to look for the original record.
Here's the indexed search result for my great-great-grandfather's baptism:

You see that Librado has both his father's surname, Dimas, and his mother's surname, Perez. The "Christening Place" is the name of the church followed by the city/town, state and country. Note that only his parents' names are included in the index. On the right there is no link to the image. The image is, however, digitized and online. At the bottom of the page is information for a source citation.
Once you start looking for the original record I recommend recording the path you take to get to it. In the list of records for Mexico church records are listed similar to civil records: Mexico, [state], Catholic Church Records, [years]. For the record above the trail starts with this record collection: Mexico, San Luis Potosí, Catholic Church Records, 1586-1977. Browsing that collection will take you to a list of towns, in this case I click on Matehuala. Then a list of churches (Inmaculada Concepciòn), record types and years (Bautismos 1848-1852). Some years may be covered in more than one section. If you ever want/need to find the record again it will be important to write down every detail. Last is the image number, #204, and the link. You may think the link is enough but if FamilySearch reorganizes the records (again) the link will change.
You may need to jump around looking for the record. Here's where it's really helpful to have some knowledge of Spanish. From the search result you know the date of the baptism but the collection covers a five year span. Looking at the total number of pages you estimate the record to be between page 100 and 200 so you jump to page 150. Do you know where you are? Do you go forward or backward to find your record? If you know how to recognize months and numbers those are easy questions to answer.
Years are typically spelled out. In the record below you can see the end of the first line and into the second line is, "mil ochocientos cuarenta y nueve" which is one thousand, eight hundred forty and nine or 1849. If you get frustrated just remember that it's free and it is totally worth it when you find something like this:

This is a baptismal record for my great-great grandfather, Librado Dimas.  
"Pastoriza" on the left is the town where he was born. A rough translation of the record: 
 In this parish in Matehuala on Sept. 2, 1849 [names of priests] baptized with sacred oils Librado. Born the 17th day of the previous month at 8 o'clock. He is the legitimate son of Gabriel Dimas and Clara Perez. Paternal grandparents are Mauricio Dimas and Victoria Martinez. Maternal grandparents are Cariano Perez and Catarina Rodriguez. Godparents are Jose Maria Dimas and Maria Estanislao Gonzalez.

Yes, it includes the names of both sets of grandparents! Not all baptismal records do but did you see those names on the index of the record? No, you need to find the original record to get all the information.
With Librado's record I'm lucky because it is fairly easy to read. Here is his sister's baptismal record. This is after I cleaned it up a little.

Can you make it out? Here's a rough translation: In this parish in Matehuala on May 16, 1852 [names of priests] baptized with sacred oils Petra de Jesus. Born the 6th day of this month. The legitimate daughter of Gabriel Dimas and Clara Perez. Paternal grandparents are Mauricio Dimas and Victoria Martinez. Maternal grandparents are Cariano Perez and Catarina [illegible].

Some church books may not be entirely legible. Over the decades, or centuries in some cases, the ink has seeped through the pages or there may be water or fire damage. Some records can become more legible after playing around with them in photo editing software.


Just because a record doesn't show up in search results does not mean that record doesn't exist. The record may not be indexed and searchable yet. The last time I searched no death records for Mexico had been indexed yet I managed to find the death record for Maria Salome Bargas with just a few clues.

Death record for Maria Salome Bargas, my 4th great-grandmother,
who died at the age of 38 on 26 Sep 1835.

On the marriage record of one of her children there was a note that she was deceased. All her children were baptized in the same church. Those children were also married in that same church. Odds are she had her funeral in that church. The years were limited, from the year her youngest child was born to the year she's first shown as deceased on a child's marriage record.
If you have no clues don't worry. Volunteers are working hard to index records. Click here for more information about joining indexing projects.
Of course you can also search a collection page by page. First check for an index at the beginning and the end of a collection. Nothing worse than searching 600 pages one at a time only to find the index starts on page 601. If there is an index make a note, along with the names and pages you want, make a note of the highest page number you see. If the highest page number is 368 but the collection has over 1000 images there is probably another index, or maybe two, in the middle of the collection.  
Most families stayed in one place for decades so once you know which church they attended you can browse through that churches records to see if you find your ancestors or other distant relatives. If you see that the surname you are searching for isn't common in that church you may want to save all records with that surname. You might be adding them to your tree later.


These are not all the records FamilySearch has for Mexico. They are just a start and are the ones that are digitized. There are other records on microfilm that are available to rent and view at a FamilySearch Center. You can read more about visiting a FamilySearch Center here. To see what is available check out their card catalog. Do a place search for Mexico to find more general sources. A place search for a specific state or city will show you what's available for local records.
The one must have book for Mexican genealogy is Finding Your Mexican Ancestors by George & Peggy Ryskamp. If you can't spend the money right now or just want to take a look before buying check it out at your local library. That's what I did and after a couple days with it I ordered my own copy.
Join a FamilySearch community on Facebook. Knowledgeable volunteers are there to answer your questions or give advice. I belong to the first one listed here and the admin has been incredibly helpful. I can't recommend them enough!
Hispanic Genealogy Research
Mexico Genealogy Research (in Spanish)
Other FamilySearch communities

Mexico Civil Registration
How to Search Mexican Parish Records
8 Websites Where You Can Find Your Mexican Ancestors
Cyndi's List of online records and genealogy related sites 

Red de Antepasados YouTube channel
Crossing the Frontera
U.S. Hispanic Immigrants: Finding their Place of Origin
Consejos sobre genealogía básica
Cómo empecé mi genealogía 
Lección 1: Elementos fundamentales para la historia familiar
Lección 2: Registros Parroquiales 
Secuencia correcta al buscar en registros parroquiales
Lección 3: Registro Civil
Otros videos en Español  

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  2. Thank you for posting this information, I've been doing genealogy for almost 10 years, and I hope I read this when I started.

  3. This is such a great blog - especially the Mexican records part! Thanks so much for your generosity in sharing it. Very helpful in my research.