Spain Locating Place of Origin

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Spain Gotoarrow.png Locating Place of Origin

Probably one of the most challenging aspects of Hispanic genealogy research is locating the town or city of origin of an immigrant ancestor. Often in families there are stories passed down that the immigrant ancestors came from a certain place but there is no documentation within the family to prove it. Rather than jump to that place and start looking for the ancestor in Spain it is better to begin your search for the immigrant ancestor’s origins in the records of the country of arrival. Why? Because the immigrant usually lived more of their adult life in the country of arrival and you will usually have greater success finding their origins there. There are many records that may provide you with the elusive place of origin. One of the keys is to be diligent. Try to locate ALL the records for your ancestor in the country of arrival no matter how insignificant they might seem. They will generally provide you with their home town in Spain and give you a starting point for beginning research in the records of Spain.

Useful record types

The following is a list of record types that may name the ancestor’s home town in Spain.

  • Vital records such as: Births of their children, marriages, or deaths
  • Church records such as: Baptisms of their children, marriages of the immigrant or their children, burials.
  • Newspaper articles such as: Obituaries, or other articles about the immigrant and his family.
  • Citizenship and/or naturalization papers
  • Alien registration forms
  • Military records such as: service records, draft registrations, or pension records Passenger lists
  • Miscellaneous legal and court records such as wills, or deeds
  • Biographies
  • Published genealogies
  • Family and home sources such as: letters, photos, stories, diaries, funeral cards, etc.
  • Social Security records (United States)

You may also want to view the Tracing Immigrants Arrival Records Selection Table for more ideas about other records you can use to search for your Spanish ancestors who came to the United States.

Other sources

The following are just a few of other resources you may want to consult in trying to locate your immigrant ancestor’s origins in Spain.

General sources

United States

Many of the sources listed above in the section Useful record types are available in the United States and can be very helpful in finding the name of the hometown of your Spanish ancestor. The following may also be helpful.

  • Index of Spanish citizens entering the port of New Orleans between January 1840 and December 1865. Charles R. Mauduell, Jr. New Orleans: Charles Midrell, 1966. FHL US/CAN Book 976.335/N1 W2.
  • Border Crossing Records if your ancestor went to Mexico and then later crossed into the United States. These records are for the years 1895-1957. Indexes are available on FamilySearch. Indexes and images are available on, which is a subscription website which you may be able to access at your local FamilySearch center or public library.
  • Social Security Death Index (SSDI). If your ancestor is listed in the Social Security Death Index it would be very important to order a copy of their application for a Social Security Card as it should contain their birthplace in Spain. You can order a copy from the Social Security Administration. You can search the SSDI at FamilySearch.
  • World War I Draft Registrations. All males between the age of 17 and 45 were required to register for the draft in 1917. If your ancestor fit these criteria, you may find his birthplace listed on his draft registration card even if he was not a U.S. citizen but was living in the United States. You can search the indexes and view the images of these records at FamilySearch and
  • Alien Registrations. From 1940-1944 all foreigners living within the boundaries of the United States were required to register their presence in the country. Indexes to these records are searchable online from the National Archives. If you find the name of a person who could be your ancestor, write to the National Archives for more information about the person in question before sending for a copy of the records. They will be able to give you more information about the person in question to help you determine if it really is your ancestor.

For even more ideas about your ancestor who came to the United States see the article: Tracing Immigrant Origins

Colonial period in the Americas

Many Spaniards left their homeland to travel to the Americas during the time that much of the Americas was governed by Spain. Several records are available that may be useful in identifying the ancestor’s hometown in Spain. The sources listed below are generally for the years from 1493 to about 1800.

Guía de fuentes para la historia de Ibero-América conservados en España. Madrid: Dirección General de Archivos y Bibliotecas, 1969. FHL INTL Book 980 A3sg 2 vols. Lists of sources for Latin-American history kept in archives in Spain.

Archivo de las Indias. If you are looking for very early emigrants who left Spain before 1700 you may want to try records in the sections Pasajeros a Indias or Casa de la Contratacion that are found in the Archive of the Indies in Sevilla. Up until about the 18th century all ships from Spain left from Sevilla. Sometime during the second half of the 18th century other Spanish ports began to be used in the cities of Alicante, Malaga, Cartagena, Barcelona and La Coruña. Many of these early records might be found in a general search in the Portal of Spanish Archives (PARES) website.

1493-1539. This book compiled by Peter Boyd-Bowman contains lists of people living in the new World in the 16th century. Indice geobiográfico de cuarenta mil pobladores españoles de América en el siglo XVI. Bogotá: Instituto Caro y Cuervo, 1964-1968. {52896}

1493-1519. This book also compiled by Peter Boyd-Bowman expands on the previous book of people living in the New World in the 16th century. Índice geobiográfico de más de 56 mil pobladores de la América Hispánica. México: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1985.

1509-1599. Some records for this time period can be found in: Catálogo de pasajeros a Indias durante los siglos XVI, XVII y XVIII. Sevilla: S.n., 1940-. Part of these records are found indexed online at

1509-1701. During this time period you may find in the Archive of the Indies Libros o listas de pasajeros. These are indexed in Pasajeros a Indias: libros de asientos {20763}. Madrid: Centro Nacional de Microfilm, 1978.

1534-1790. Informaciones y licencias are documents requesting permission to travel to the Americas. These records are found in the Archive of the Indies. Try a general search in the PARES website for these records.

In a general search of the PARES website you might also find colonial government records from Consejo de las Indias, the ruling body over Spanish holdings in the Americas. These may be found under the following categories:

  • Pasajeros a Indias
  • Casa de la contratacion
  • Contaduria del consejo
  • Gobierno
  • Ultramar

Real Audiencia is the name given to geographical colonies and their courts under Spanish rule during the colonial period. These records might contain court or governmental records involving emigrants. The following are the real audiencias in the New World along with the date of their creation:

  • Santo Domingo 1526
  • Nueva España (Mexico) 1527
  • Panamá 1538
  • Guatemala 1543
  • Lima (Peru) 1543
  • Nueva Galicia (Guadalajara, Mexico) 1548
  • Nueva Granada (Santa Fe de Bogotá, Colombia) 1548
  • Charcas (Upper Peru) 1559
  • Quito (Ecuador) 1563
  • Concepción (Chile) 1565-1575
  • Manila (Philippines) 1583
  • Santiago (Chile) 1605
  • Buenos Aires (Rio de la Plata) 1661-1671
  • Buenos Aires 1783
  • Caracas 1786
  • Cuzco 1787

Legal documents such as: notarial records, suits (pleitos), processes (procesos), and others may contain copies of sacramental records such as baptisms, marriages, or deaths as evidence in cases. These records may indicate place of origin in Spain.

1780-1810. If your ancestor came to the Americas as part of the Spanish military you may be able to find his place of origin in military records. An index is available to some military records for this time period in Catálogo XXII del Archivo de Simancas: Secretaría de Guerra (siglo XVIII); hojas de servicios de América. Ricardo Magdaleno, Archivo General de Simancas. Valladolid: s.n., 1958. FHL INTL Book 946 M23e.

Other military records for other countries might be found in the FamilySearch catalog under the category Military Records. Remember to search at all jurisdictional levels – Country, Department or Province, and City.

After 1790 few passenger lists are found leaving Spain. There are a few health certificates and in some provincial or municipal archives you might find applications for passports. There is no general index to these records.

Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines

Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines remained under Spanish control until the 19th century. These colonies were governed by the Spanish government, department of Ultramar. The records for Ultramar for the 19th century are found in the Archivo Histórico Nacional in Madrid and have been indexed. Some of these records are searchable by name in a general search of the PARES website.

The FHL only has Inventario de la serie "Oficios de Guerra" de Puerto Rico. Madrid: Ministerio de Cultura, 1980.

Spanish soldiers in Cuba and the Philippines. Some of these records can be found indexed on the site Raices Reino de Valencia. You must be a member of the group to access these records. Membership is free.

Latin America

The following are just a few sources for emigrants who left Spain for Latin America.

For specific countries in Latin America, check the FamilySearch Catalog for other records using the following topics. Be sure to search at the national, provincial, and city level.

  • Emigration and immigration
  • Naturalization and citizenship

You may also want to try a keyword search using the terms Spain emigration in the FamilySearch Catalog for other records and items of interest concerning emigrants from Spain.

For more ideas see:

Tracing Your Hispanic Heritage. George. R. Ryskamp. Riverside, CA: Hispanic Family History Research, 1984.FHL INTL Book 946 D27r.

Brigham Young University research outline for Spain available in PDF form is a collection of articles and useful resources for those conducting genealogical research in Spain.