Mexico Emigration and Immigration
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Emigration and immigration sources list the names of people leaving a country (emigration) or coming into a country (immigration). Millions of people from many parts of the world have immigrated to Latin America. Except for those who descended from the native inhabitants, all Latin Americans trace their ancestry to immigrants. Most of those who immigrated to Latin America came from Europe. In addition, millions of Africans were brought to Latin America during the era of slavery, and many East Indian and Asian laborers were brought to work on colonial plantations.
Before the 19th century, emigrants were not always recorded formally. Passengers emigrating by sea simply registered the ships at the time of departure. They were only required to show documentation that proved they had met any military service requirements. Once the emigrants arrived in Latin American, open frontiers and vast uninhabited territories allowed for relatively free and unregistered migration within the region.
Beginning in the 19th century, some documentation was required of persons leaving a country to live in another. Passports became a common requirement internationally during the 20th century. A passport usually includes a person’s name, physical description, nationality, occupation, birthplace, birth date, and spouse.
Other emigration sources include records of permission to emigrate, passenger lists, and immigrant arrivals. The information in these records may include the emigrants’ name, age, occupation, destination, and country of origin.
Records of the Colonial Period (1492–1810)
The Archivo General de Indias in Seville, Spain, is the repository for Spanish documents dealing with the Spanish colonial period in the Americas. These documents often include the birthplace of each individual on record. You may want to look for your ancestor’s records in the following sections of the archive:
- Informaciones de Méritos y Servicios de los Descubridores/Conquistadores (Information on Merits and Services of the Discoverers and Conquerors). Documents of the ships and passengers who sailed to the colonies during the early 1500s.
- Casa de Contratación de las Indias (House of Contracts of the Indies). Excellent documentation of passenger lists for ships sailing to the American colonies between 1509 and 1701, as well as petitions and licenses for permission to emigrate from 1534 to 1790.
- A digital index of Casa de Contratación de las Indias records as well as linked digital images are available online through Archivos Españoles en Red at http://pares.mcu.es
- Copies of ship passenger lists from the Casa de Contratación de las Indias for the years 1509 to 1599 are also available at the Family History Library:
- Catálogo de Pasajeros a las Indias Durante los Siglos XVI, XVII Y XVIII (Catalog of Passengers to the Indies during the XVI, XVII and XVIII Centuries). Sevilla: S.N., 1940–. (FHL book 946 W2sa; microfilms 0277577–0277578.)
European immigration to Mexico started with Hernán Cortez in 1521. Many Spaniards, looking for new opportunities and a better life, came to settle the new land. Indian villages, towns, and cities were overtaken or replaced by the Spanish. During the colonial period the kings of Spain tried, through legislation, to keep foreigners away from Mexico and their other American colonies. Even though laws were in place to minimize foreign immigration, some immigration by the other European countries did take place.
After gaining independence, Mexico started to encourage more foreign immigration. The law of 1823 allowed foreigners into the country. In 1824 a law was passed that offered land and security to foreigners. In 1828 foreigners were given passports so that they could move about the country without problems. Mexico wanted the trade and industry that foreigners brought.
When the United States started limiting immigration quotas, some Europeans chose Mexico. Many who came to Mexico soon integrated into the community, accepting the culture and way of life. See Mexico Minorities for a listing of the different groups that immigrated into Mexico.
Emigration and immigration sources list the names of people leaving or entering Mexico. These lists are usually found as passenger lists and records of passports issued. The information in these records may include the emigrant’s name, age, occupation, destination, and place of residence or birthplace.
Finding an Emigrant’s Town of Origin
Once you have traced your family back to your immigrant ancestor, you must determine the city or town from which the ancestor came. Most birth, marriage, and death records were kept on a local level.
There are several sources that may give your ancestor’s place of origin. You might learn the town from which your ancestor came by talking to other family members. Some relatives may have documents that name the city or town, such as:
- Birth, marriage, or death certificates.
- A family Bible.
- Church records.
- Naturalization applications and petitions.
Although there are few emigration records for Mexico, church and civil records may give you the ancestor’s place of origin.
Emigration From Mexico
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 and the Gadsden Purchase of 1853 set the boundaries between United States and Mexico. Since that period there has been a continual emigration from Mexico into the United States. With the beginning of the Civil War, the need for laborers was felt by the southern plantations. As the slaves were freed, Mexican laborers began to do the work previously done by them. There were neither regulations nor border patrols until the late 1890s.
In the early 1900s the system for obtaining migrant workers became more organized. Companies began setting up recruiters who arranged for the migrants’ travel and stay in the states. For example, in 1909 an official labor contract was issued for 1,000 immigrant workers in California.
In 1910 the United States set up Immigration Services in the border towns, although some of the border town records began earlier than this. During the Depression many of the Mexican migrant workers went back to Mexico. But as the economy later improved, the migrant workers returned to the United States.
Records created since the opening of the border around the turn of the century are found in the National Archives in Washington. These records include not only migrant workers but also permanent emigrants to the United States. These records are available to the public. You may write to:
Old Military and Civil Records National Archives
Washington, D.C. 20408
Border Crossing records are indexed and available at FamilySearch.org.
To use these records, search the indexes first trying to locate the date and place where your ancestor might have crossed the border. Images of many of these records have been microfilmed and can be located in the FamilySearch Catalog searching under the location and time period where and when the immigrant crossed the border.
These records usually list the name, age, birth date, and birth place of the immigrant, as well as the date of their crossing, their intended destination, and the names of others who may have been traveling with them. Some records include pictures. You can also locate these records on the subscription website Ancestry.com. Their database includes the images of the records. Access to this website can be obtained at the Family History Library and at many local family history centers and public libraries.
These records come in two forms. A short form (index card) and a manifest. The manifest has much better information to aid you in your genealogical research. If you find your ancestor in a short form record, be sure to try to locate the longer manifest.
The short forms usually contain the following information:
- Citizenship ("nationality")
- Race Last place of residence
- Port and date of admission
- Status as immigrant or non immigrant.
The number annotated to the right of the person's name or gender is generally the "real" manifest number that is used, along with the date of arrival, to locate the person's statistical manifest--which contains additional information--in a separate series of card manifests. Sometimes, information was simply typewritten onto a blank card instead of a form.
The manifest usually contains the following information:
- Marital status
- Place of birth
- Physical description
- Ability to read and write and in what language
- Place of last permanent residence
- Purpose for entering U.S.
- Intention of becoming a U.S. citizen or of returning to country of previous residence
- Head tax status
- Previous citizenship
- Name and address of the friend or relative whom the alien intended to join
- Persons accompanying the alien
- Name and address of the alien's nearest relative or friend in the country from which he or she came
- If the alien had ever been in the U.S. in the past, the dates and places of such residence or visitation are indicated.
Immigration Into Mexico
After Mexico gained independence, small numbers of immigrants moved to Mexico at the encouragement of the government. Most arrived at the major port of Veracruz or crossed the United States’ border, some after arriving in Galveston. Of those who came, the largest groups were those seeking the freedom to practice their religion. Among them were the Mennonites and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Because problems existed in Lebanon and Syria, many people from these countries emigrated to Mexico in the early 1900s. During this same period, German, Polish, Chinese, Swedish, Italian, French, and British citizens also came in small groups, usually integrating into the community after a few years or a generation.
The Family History Library has some passports from the Governmental Division of the National Archives in Mexico, however there is no index to this file:
- Pasaportes, 1821–1873. (Passports, 1821–1873). Mexico D.F.: Archivo General de la Ciudad de México, 1988. (On 31 FHL films beginning with 1520483.)
Very few records that record immigration into Mexico have been identified. The immigration records that have been identified at the National Archive of Mexico are currently difficult to search. For a list of the different groups that immigrated into Mexico, see the "Minorities" section.