6 Tips to Find Your Mexican Family History

May 5, 2014  - by 

Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican celebration recognized more in the U.S. than in Mexico. It originated with Mexican-American communities during the first years of the American Civil War as a way to commemorate the cause of freedom and democracy. Today, May 5 is observed in the United States as a celebration of Mexican heritage and pride. In Mexico, it is primarily celebrated in the states of Puebla and Mexico and in Mexico City (Distrito Federal), where the holiday is called El Día de la Batalla de Puebla (the Day of the Battle of Puebla). The most celebrated patriotic event is Mexico’s Independence Day on September 16.

Many people may not know that FamilySearch, an international nonprofit organization headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, and online at FamilySearch.org, has amassed over 100 million historical records from Mexico. And FamilySearch continues to add more records each year. Arturo Cuéllar-Gonzalez, a research specialist for Latin America at FamilySearch’s Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, has made it his full-time passion and vocation to help patrons discover their Latin roots. His interest in family history began in 1986, when his grandmother “planted in my heart the deep desire to find my ancestors.”

Arturo Gonzalas
Arturo Cuellar-Gonzales is a Latin America research specialist in FamilySearch’s Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

Cuellar spends his days helping patrons in the Family History Library. He is an accredited genealogist and has researched his personal family history records back 11 generations.

In the last couple of years, Cuellar has observed more young people getting interested in family history. He said, “They often tell me it gives them a nice feeling inside.” Many of them are becoming more aware of their family’s history because of Facebook posts from family and relatives.

For the millions of people with Mexican ancestry who want to celebrate by learning more about their Mexican heritage, he recommends six quick research tips.

1. The 1930 Mexico Census

Prior to the Mexican Revolution, 95 percent of the land in Mexico was owned by 5 percent of the people. In preparation to form a policy of land distribution, the Mexican government created a census so land ownership could be recorded and conveyed. This was one of the first mandatory accountings of everyone and included name, age, gender, birthplace, address, marital status, nationality, religion, occupation, real estate holdings, literacy, any physical or mental defects, and any Indian language spoken. The 1930 Mexico census can be searched freely online at FamilySearch.org.

2. Mexican Civil Registration Records

Mexico’s civil registration records (births, marriages, and deaths) were the first records kept by local governments. They were started in 1857 under the direction of Benito Juarez, a reformer who separated the church from the government. Before then, the only records kept were in the various churches. The churches resisted releasing their records, but changing the schools from parochial to public schools required family records. You can find many of Mexico’s civil registration records online at FamilySearch.org.

3. Parish Records

Catholic parish records began in 16th century when Spain took over the country. They installed the government and the Catholic Church in every city. Parish records show christening, baptism, and marriage records, including marriage information files. Those marriage information files came from interviews by priests who needed to prove that the bride and groom were not related or from another place and that the groom was not trying to become a priest. Some of those records include several pages of information, a gold mine for family history researchers, showing generations of ancestry to prove that the bride and groom were faithful Catholics.

4. Family Clues

Finding where your ancestors were from using family clues is the fourth research tool. That process is as much an art as science. The types of food your ancestors ate, family recipes, songs, and stories handed down for generations are hints that may give you some guidance. The type of climate or terrain or major storms and destruction you’ve heard shared through family stories can provide other clues. Old pictures in unique settings or with writing on them or the types of dress shown in the photos might help. Once the place is found, parish records may supply the needed information.

5. Notarial Records

Notarial records include records from the sale of property or making a will. These records date back to the 1650s, and not many are filmed, but they can be found in local archives. FamilySearch staff might also be able to assist in writing correspondence to custodians of notarial records in Mexico.

6. The FamilySearch.org Wiki

The FamilySearch.org wiki is a rich resource for family history researchers. It has nearly 3,000 articles written by Mexico research specialists to help you navigate the available resources and give you additional insightful information. For example, Mexican surnames are not always helpful because during a revolution some people changed their names. Or you can enter a location in the search field and see what resources exist for that locality.

While you are gathering with family and friends to celebrate Cinco de Mayo or your Mexican family heritage, do some sleuthing. Pay more attention to those old family recipes, stories, documents, and photos, and look for the telltale clues that give you key insights and appreciation for those who have gone before you. Preserve and explore these resources together at FamilySearch.org so that next year in your celebrations you will have an even deeper appreciation.


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  1. It appears that Arturo Cuellar-Gonzales is the person I need to speak with when I visit the familyserarch facility in July 2014. Can anyone tell me how to make an appointment with him? your help is greatly appreciated.
    Esteban Pedroza

    1. We don’t take appointments at the Family HIstory LIbrary but you can stop by and talk to Arturo or any of us on the Latin American team and we can help. Our counter hours are Monday from 9-5, Tuesday through Friday from 9-7pm and Saturday from 9-5.

  2. Loved this article. I am stuck with my family history. Into the mid-1800’s and see that relatives were living in the area of Texas that was Mexico, currently Starr and Hidalgo Counties. Ancestors are listed as born in Mexico. I wonder if their birthplaces were what is now Texas. How do I figure that out?

    1. Have you checked the local Catholic parish records in the area for baptisms, marriages, and deaths? Even when some of these parishes were part of Mexico the records remained with the parish or diocese after borders were drawn. We have found that the people who lived in northern Mexico were quite migratory and may have crossed back and forth across the border a lot.

    2. I am in the process of checking for those records. Sadly, I do not read Spanish well. If I knew the former names of the two current counties of which are Starr and Hidalgo counties my search would be narrowed down. Can you help me identify the current county names to what their former names were (Mexican states/provinces)? Thanks. becky queen

  3. Arturo, why did people change their names during the revolution? Old family story says my grandfathers family took the name of their servants bcz they stole money and were in hiding. I cannot confirm where and if the last name changed. Ideas?

  4. Yayy!!! Arriba y adelante como dijo LEA. El día de hoy es perfecto para establecer lazos familiares con el pasado.

    1. Translation of above comment: Yayy!!! Onward and upward as LEA said. Today is perfect for establishing family ties with the past.

  5. How do I speak to someone of the latin American team about my ancestor that came from San Luis Potosi, Mexico. His name was Esteban Zamaripa. I have a copy of his immigration paper but it very old an in some areas not readable I’m willing to share this if there is any kinda help I could receive. Thanks!

  6. hi i have’nt been able to find diego de grimaldos,born about 1640-1660

    my great ancester is jeronimo de grimaldi or grimaldo am the only one that has a picture of him when he was a cardinale
    well any way just can’t put it together with diego de grimaldos got every on else but him. diego was married to francisca de la cruz abt.1660’s???
    any hints something.

  7. Has anybody that has gotten far in their ancestry search ever started with the thought that their lineage must of got erased.. .cause, fact, i feel clueless.

    1. Last week while I was visiting a FHistory Resource Center I remembered a tip from a Webinar that prompted me to look further onto the 1910 Census than just at the line where I had found my grandfather. Low and behold…on the line just above my grandfather was his mother-in-law whom I hadn’t been able to locate anywhere else in over a year! Christmas came early for me last week.

  8. I am looking for records on my maternal side of the family. Pedro Garcia Galvan born February 28 1891 in Zaragoza Mexico he died in Del Rio Val Verde County Texas on September 12 1956. Any help you can provide about parents names and dates of birth and death would be greatly.
    Thank you
    Carlos Meza

  9. Been trying to find information of my family from Tlaltenango Sanchez Roman Zacatecas Mexico..and plateros Zacatecas México.. Plz help!!

  10. Hello,I was researching the 1930 Mexico Census and was trying to attach persons to my family tree(which includes my wife).Then I created a Family search tree for my wife and I still don’t know how to attach desired persons to my wife’s tree.
    Any assistance is greatly appreciated.Thank you,William

    1. Looking for Zazueta and Rochin descendants or ancestors in Culiacan and Badiguarato, Sinaloa–specifically re Benedicto Zazueta, and Vicente Rochin from late 1800s and early 1900s

  11. Any Mexican-American suffering from an identity crisis, here’s a cure: Start researching your family history here on familysearch. It’s free and you don’t even need to sign up to start searching. You’ll have a deeper understanding and appreciation of the history of your parents and/or grandparents home country (Mexico), culture, and family history. Now, tell me if that won’t cure an identity crisis.