A census (censos or padrones) is a count and description of the population. Censuses have been taken by colonial and national governments throughout Latin America. The Catholic Church also took occasional censuses of parishioners.
Under the Mexican government, national censuses were attempted in 1868 and 1878. They were not accepted by the people, who feared more taxation and military conscription. The 1895 census was more successful. After the 1900 census, additional censuses were taken every 10 years. Most of the census records are housed in the national archives, or in the case of the Spanish administration of colonial Latin America, in the Archivo General de Indias in Seville, Spain.
Census usage in Mexican research may vary greatly from its usage in other countries, because censuses were taken for specific purposes and included various types of jurisdictions. More accessible genealogical sources, such as church records and civil registration are available in Mexico.
Where available, census records can provide a person’s age, birth year, religion, birthplace, and occupation. These records can also explain his or her relationship to family members, and provide other family information.
Census records are especially valuable because they list a large portion of the population. They can provide information about persons where church and civil records may be incomplete. However, use the information with caution, since it may contain inaccuracies. The informant (perhaps a member of the family or a neighbor) may have not known the facts or deliberately falsified the information.
The original Mexican census returns were often destroyed, generally only the compiled statistical information remains. Some original census records of towns, municipios, and states still exist at the archives, but few are presently available to researchers. Search the Family History Library Catalog for local censuses.
An example of one of the early censuses that was taken in Mexico was a census in the year 1689 of the Spaniards living in Mexico City. This census has been published in the following book:
- Rubio Mañe, Jorge Ignacio. Gente de España en la Ciudad de México, Año de 1689 (Spanish People in Mexico City in the Year 1689). México: s.n., 1966. (FHL book 972.52/m1 F2r.)
The Real Ordenanza (Royal Decree) of 1786 instructed the intendants (territorial governors) of the provinces to take censuses every five years. Censuses were to be taken of various groups for different reasons. For example, censuses were taken concerning Indian tributaries, military personnel, men (non-Indians) who could serve in the military, business people, those in commerce, or the general populace. Some of these censuses were taken, but not every five years.
The Family History Library has 110 volumes of these censuses and the index on microfilm. A paper copy of the index is available at the Family History Library. The index is divided into districts. The districts that are grouped together are not always from the same state. All localities are listed under the district. The index does not include the census year. However, the information in the index will lead you to the volume and page of the locality you want. Some of the films are at the Family History Library, others need to be ordered from the vault:
Padrones, 1752–1865 (Censuses 1752–1865). México, D.F.: Archivo General de la Nación, 1988. (On 41 FHL films beginning with 1520343.)
The 1930 federal census is the only federal census available for public inspection. Some localities, including the Federal District, are missing, . The Family History Library has what is available for the 1930 census. It is listed in the Family History Library Catalog under:
MEXICO, (STATE), (MUNICIPIO) - CENSUS
Information showing the column headings and their translations as listed in the 1930 census are found in Appendix E.
The 1930 federal census is in the process of being indexed online. The index is being created by a volunteer workforce.
Searching Census Records
When searching census records, it is important to remember the following:
- Accept the ages with caution.
- Given names may not always be the same as the names recorded in vital records.
- Information may be incorrect.
- Names may be spelled as they sound.
- Place names may be misspelled or spelled phonetically.
- If the family is not at the suspected address, search the surrounding area.
- Parts of the census may be indecipherable.