Philippines History

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To do effective research, you need some understanding of the historical events that affected your family and their records. Learning about wars, governments, laws, migrations, and religious trends may help you understand political boundaries, family movements, and settlement patterns. Your family may be listed in records of these events, such as land and military documents.

Your ancestors will become more interesting if you learn about the events that interested or involved them. In a history, for example, you might learn what events occurred the year your great-grandparents were married.

Find histories of the Philippines or its provinces in the Locality section of the FamilySearch Catalog under:




The Philippine Islands were discovered by Magellen in 1521, and claimed by Spain. The first successful settlements were made in 1565. Although the Spanish rulers did not generally mix with the local populace, the Spanish language, religion and customs were imposed on the Filipinos. The original peoples were largely Malay and Indonesian tribes, Negritos (the earliest inhabitants, sometimes called Pygmies) and Chinese (mainly merchants). The influence of Muslim traders and teachers was felt in the Philippines as early as the 11th century. By the 14th century many Filipinos in the southern areas had been converted to Islam. They were called Moros by the Spanish. The Spanish were not able to fully contain the Moros until the latter half of the 19th century. In the early period the colony was quite isolated from Spain, which led to near autonomy by the colonial leaders. The population was converted to Roman Catholicism, and a strong centralized government with considerable clerical influence developed. Filipino groups (Tagalog, Visayan, Bikol, Ilokano, Igorot, Ifugao, Tinggian, Bukidnon, Bagobo) still maintained their identity and languages, but Spanish was introduced throughout the country. Trade restrictions were eased in the 19th century creating a wave of prosperity. Chinese immigration increased dramatically during this period as did Spanish emigration from the newly independent countries of Latin America.

Filipino desire for independence led to numerous uprisings. The most important of these began in 1896 and continued until the United States defeated Spain in 1898 in the Spanish-American War. Independence was declared at that time, but the terms of the treaty of Paris (1898) ceded the Islands to the United States. The War of Resistance (1899-1902) against U.S. rule is now referred to by many Filipinos as the Philippine-American War. Although the insurrection was crushed by the United States, the U.S. declared that its administration was temporary, and had as its goal the development of a free and democratic government. Public education, sound legal systems, and a bicameral legislature were implemented and civil service was gradually taken over by Filipinos. The English language was used in official documents during this time period. In 1935 a ten year transition period was established, and although interrupted by World War II, when the Philippines was taken over by Japan (1942-1944), the United States and the Philippines decided to move forward with plans for independence. The country suffered great damage and complete organizational breakdown during the war in which over a million Filipinos lost their lives. On July 4, 1946 the Philippine Islands became the independent Republic of the Philippines.[1]


The following dates are important:

1521: The Philippines are discovered by Europe.

1762 The early Spanish colonization period.

1571: Regular trade was established between the Spaniards and the Chinese.

1762: The later period of Spanish rule. The 1898 Seven Years’ War (1756–63). Cash-crop economy.

1820: Social and economic changes as the Port 72 of Manila opened to foreign commerce.

1868: Spanish Revolution. Queen Isabella II deposed.

1898: Spanish-American War.

1898: 12 June. Declaration of Philippine independence from Spaniards.

1899-1935: First phase of American rule.

1934: First constitution.

1941: The Japanese occupied the Philippines.

1946: The Philippines became a republic.

Historical Periods

There are reliable records for four main periods of Philippine history:

  • Spanish rule (1521–1898)
  • American rule (1898–1946)
  • Japanese occupation (1941–1946)
  • Philippine self rule (1946–present)

The following are a few of many sources available in most large libraries:

Edgerton, Ronald K. Survey of Historical Materials in Manila on 19th Century Philippine History. Bulletin of the American Historical Collection. 1 (1972): 7–23.

Miravite, Rosalina S. Books on Philippine History. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA: University of Hawaii Press, 1965.

Van Niel, Robert. Survey of Historical Source Material in Java and Manila. Hawaii, USA: University of Hawaii Press, c1970. (FHL book 959 A5v.)

Local Histories

Local histories are some of the most valuable resources for family history research. Published histories of municipalities, cities, and provinces usually have accounts of families. They describe the settlement of the area and the founding of churches, schools, and businesses. You can also find lists of early inhabitants, soldiers, patriots, and civil officials in these records. Even if your ancestor is not listed, information on other relatives may give important clues for locating him or her. A local history may also help a person think of other records to search.

Many histories of cities and provinces have sections or volumes of biographical information. These may give information on up to 25 percent of the families in the area.

In addition, study and enjoy local histories for the background information about your family’s lifestyle, community, and living environment.

In 1952 the Bureau of Public Schools began collecting and compiling local histories, legends, customs, traditions, and even songs and poems. Local schoolteachers led this work and although much of the information is undocumented and secondary, you can gather much information from these sources. These records are in the Philippine National Library’s Filipiniana collection and in libraries throughout the Philippines.


Wiki articles describing online collections are found at:


  1. The Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Family History Record Profile: Philippines,” Word document, private files of the FamilySearch Content Strategy Team, 1986-1999.