Record keepers in Mexico have been recording information for centuries that can help you tell your family’s story. Packed with details, these records have survived remarkably well through the years.
While the records may be old, access to them is new. Because of this continually increasing access, tracing your Mexican ancestors is substantially different than it was only a few years ago. If you are wondering how to get started or where to look for your ancestors, this article will walk you through the basics.
Starting with U.S. Records
Are you tracing your immigrant ancestors from Mexico to the U.S.? Well, before you cross the border and delve into Mexican records, spend some time learning about your family in the U.S. Start by gathering what your family already knows about your Mexican ancestors. You could look for papers your family already has and ask family members for any stories or details they’ve heard. Pay particular attention to what part of Mexico your family came from. Then expand your search to U.S. records that your family might not already have. Again, be sure to notice any clues the records may contain about your family in Mexico, such as where they lived, the names of other family members, and what year they came to the U.S.
Border crossings are the next step in your research, particularly for families who came from Mexico to the United States between 1895 and 1964. Ancestry has indexed 6 million of these records, which are searchable here. FamilySearch has the index for many of these, with a collection that covers the years 1903 to 1957 here. These records cover a number of entry points in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas.
You’ll find a range of information in the records, but many will include the following:
- Birth date and place
- Date and place of arrival
- Ethnicity or nationality
- Names of people traveling with them
For many families seeking to locate their family lines in Mexico, the 1930 census is a key stepping stone. Although Mexico did take earlier censuses, beginning as early as 1895, those weren’t as complete. The 1930 census includes 13 million people, more than 90 percent of the population. (Note that the census records for Mexico City were lost and, therefore, are not included in this index.)
The 1930 Mexican National Census is searchable here on FamilySearch. Finding your family members in the 1930 census can help you anchor them to a certain locality, solidify family relationships, and build your family tree. The census usually contains the following information:
- Marital status
Other specifics may also be recorded.
Once you’ve taken advantage of any family and U.S. records, along with border crossings and the 1930 census, you’re ready to dive into the heart of Mexican research: civil registration and church records.
Civil Registration Records
Civil registration, or vital records kept by the government, began in 1859 in Mexico, although these records weren’t kept regularly until 1867. Civil registration records are important because of how many people were included and how much information the records contain. Civil registers (registro civil) include births (nacimientos), marriages (matrimonios), and deaths (defunciones).
For people who are trying to find their ancestors in Mexican civil registration records, the task recently became much easier. Collaboration between FamilySearch and Ancestry has resulted in 65 million new civil registration records. These include more than 200 million searchable names and cover all states except Baja California Norte, Sinaloa, and Tabasco. The indexes and records have been available for a couple of years on Ancestry Mexico and at family history centers, but now they are available for free on FamilySearch for LDS Church members.
Civil registration can be a rich source of information about your family. The records may contain the following information:
- Names of people at the event
- Dates and places of the event
- Parents’ names or other family members’ names
If you are trying to trace your family before the 1800s, you may need to turn to Catholic Church records. The vast majority of Mexicans were Catholic, so most people are included in these records, which recorded important religious events such as baptisms, marriages, and burials. In some places, Catholic records date back nearly 500 years!
FamilySearch has a large collection of Catholic Church records, including 56 million indexed records. To search for your ancestor using these, visit the Search Historical Records section of FamilySearch. About 14.6 million of these records have images associated with them.
If that search doesn’t work for you, don’t give up! FamilySearch has many other Catholic Church records that haven’t been indexed yet. To find these, look in the catalog for the town in which your family attended church. The records will be digitized, and you may browse them in FamilySearch.
Catholic Church records contain information similar to civil registration records. However, you may find one type of church record that goes even further: marriage information files. These records were created during interviews with the priest as he verified that the bride and groom were ready and worthy to wed. Marriage information files may be several pages long and may list generations of the family, making them every family researcher’s dream come true!
If you’ve tried to find your Mexican ancestors before without success, try again now. With the availability of many new records, you might be successful. And if you haven’t tried before, now would be the perfect time to get started.
- "Mexico Civil Registration," FamilySearch Wiki
- "Spanish Genealogical Word List," FamilySearch Wiki
- "Improve your Search Results for Hispanic Ancestors in FamilySearch.org," FamilySearch Wiki
- Courses on Mexican Research, FamilySearch Learning Center
Understanding New Records from Mexico
New Records on FamilySearch
How Others Succeeded