The term Inquisition refers to Catholic courts that were established to find and punish heretics. During the persecution of Jews in Spain in the 1390s, thousands of Jews accepted baptism to save their lives. These converts were called conversos, Neo-Christians, or marranos. They retained their love of Judaism and many secretly observed Jewish laws and customs. This aroused the hatred of Catholic fanatics and clergy and the greed of others.
Spain began the Inquisition in 1480 and conducted it for nearly 300 years, spreading it to Portugal and Spanish and Portuguese colonies. Many conversos fled Spain and returned to Judaism. Some remained Catholic and successfully hid their Jewish activity. Some Jewish traditions were lost over time and many descendants lost all knowledge of their Jewish identity. Other practices were retained and even today Catholic descendants continue family traditions such as not eating pork or not lighting fires on Friday night and Saturday.
Documents created during the Inquisition contain details on the investigations conducted, names of the accused, and details of their heresy. Some may include family relationships and a detailed descendancy from a converso. Other references to the family may appear in sources such as church, court, and notarial records. These records are difficult to use and are seldom indexed.
A web site that describes various Inquisition records and lists archives where records are deposited is found at:
The Family History Library has many Inquisition records for Mexico, Portugal, Columbia, Peru, and some for other South American countries. For example, documents of trials of Jews from Brazil and Portugal and from Mexico can be found on microfilm at the Family History Library:
Inquisição de Lisboa (Inquisition of Lisbon). Lisboa: Laboratórios Fototécnicos, 1975. (On 77 FHL films beginning with 0784501.)
Indice del Ramo de Ynquisición (Index of the Branch of the Inquisition). 2 vols. México City: Archivo General de la Nación, 1978. (FHL book 972 A5mi; film 1149544.) The manuscript gives a summary of the various cases tried during the Inquisition.
Procesos del Santo Oficio de México, 1522–1820. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1952–1954. (On 322 FHL films beginning with 0034797.)
To find these and other similar records in the Family History Library Catalog, use the subject search under the topic Inquisition.