Mexico Church Records
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|Local Research Resources|
For information about records for non-Christian religions in Mexico, go to the Religious Records page.
- 1 Catholic Church Records
- 2 Time Coverage
- 3 Content of Records
- 4 Locating Church Records
- 5 Reading the Records
- 6 Other Churches
Catholic Church Records
- The vast majority of Mexicans were Catholic and registered in the records of the local parish or diocese, known as registros parroquiales (parish registers). Church records are excellent sources of sufficiently accurate information on names, dates and places of birth/baptism, marriage and death/funeral.
- They contain records of births, baptisms, confirmations, marriages, marriage information documents, deaths and burials, marriage dispensations, account books, censuses, and communion lists. Often, two or sometimes even three generations are indicated in the registers.
- The records were kept at the parish and a copy was sent to the diocesan archive for preservation.
- Church records are crucial in Mexico since civil authorities did not begin registering vital statistics until after 1859. For civil vital records of births, deaths, and marriages after 1859, see the Mexico Civil Registration Records wiki article.
The Catholic Church, which was established in Mexico in 1527, was the primary record keeper for Mexico until civil registration started. In 1563, the Council of Trent formalized record keeping practices that were already being followed in much of the Catholic world. Separate record books were to be maintained for baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and deaths. Different dioceses usually followed the same standard of writing, so the information found in records are mostly consistent.
Some church records have been lost or have deteriorated due to natural effects such as humidity, insects and more dramatic events such as fires, floods, and earthquakes. Civil and political strife have also caused the destruction of parish books. Some records were destroyed or damaged because of poor storage. However, many records that are considered lost or destroyed have simply been misplaced or misidentified.
It is important to note that individual dioceses started documenting life events only after they were established. Each diocese began at different times, here is a list of the years some dioceses were started:
Content of Records
Children were generally baptized within a few days of birth. Baptismal records usually give the following information:
- infant’s place and date of baptism
- name and status of legitimacy
- parents’, godparents’, and sometimes grandparents’ names.
- You may also find the child’s birthday
- racial distinction
- family’s place of residence or birthplace of parents
- If a child died within a few days of baptism, or if a child grew up and married, this information has sometimes been added as a note.
Image and Extract Form
Confirmation entries normally include the following:
- Name of the parish
- The individual being confirmed, the godparents, and the parents.
Confirmation records were not consistently recorded. Larger parishes usually maintained a separate book for confirmations, and smaller parishes intermingled confirmation entries with those for baptisms. Confirmations were normally performed by the bishop or his authorized representative when they managed to visit the parish. In some parishes, confirmations were performed every year, but in the smaller parishes where it was difficult for the bishop or his representative to visit, the confirmations would take place once every few years, explaining why records show that several members of the family were confirmed at the same time.
- The value of the confirmation record is primarily to identify the information found in other vital records.
Marriage Infiormation Records
Marriage information records are also known as pre-marriage investigations. Catholic couples wanting to get married in the Catholic Church had to go through an investigation process to prove that the couple was in good standing in the Church, and that they did not have any canonical impediments. The marriage information (información matrimonial) document can consist of several parts. It includes an introduction that states the intent of marriage and sometimes the date of the banns, which were opportunities for anyone to come forward and give any reasons why the couple should not be married. The marriage banns were announced on three separate occasions.
The marriage information document also includes personal information on the bride and groom such as:
- their names, ages, marital status, and place of residence
- parents’ names, and sometimes birthplace and grandparents’ names.
- If this was a second marriage for one of them, the document gives the name of the deceased spouse and the length of time the spouse had been deceased.
- If one was from another parish, the documents from that person’s home parish showing good standing are enclosed. These documents can include baptismal records and indicate when the banns were published in another parish.
The marriage information documents may also show a dispensation (that is, exemption from restriction of marriage) for the fourth degree of consanguinity (blood relationship) or affinity (related through marriage) , indicating the that bride and groom were related. If this was the case, genealogical graphs and interesting biographical information about the families involved is included, sometimes giving you a line of ascent up to the common progenitors.
Following this information, two to four witnesses who testified of the good standing of the bride and groom are listed. Information may include the witnesses’ personal information and how long they knew the bride or groom. The witnesses may have been related to the bride or groom.
This marriage information document is sometimes three or four pages long. Generally a note at the end of the document lists the date of marriage if the couple were married or a note indicating they did not marry.
Marriage information records in Mexico are found in the parish archive.
Marriage registers give the following information:
- Brides’ and grooms’ names and the date and place of marriage.
- Marriage registers may also indicate whether the individuals were previously widowed. If they were widowed, the registers may give the name of the deceased spouse and how long the spouse had been deceased. However, more often than not the parents of the widowed individual are not listed. The first marriage normally contains the parental information.
- If they were minors it is often noted whether a parent or other party gave permission for the marriage.
- The records also give the names of the witnesses and often include the brides’ and grooms’ age (typically girls married between the ages of 14 and 20, while men married in their 20s).
- Residence, parent’s names, and sometimes birthplace.
- Marriage registers may also give the dates on which the marriage banns were announced.
- Information on whether the parents are living or deceased is also found.
- Couples were generally married in the home parish of the bride.
Death and Burial Records
Burials were recorded in the church record of the parish where the person died. Death registers give the following information:
- Deceased person’s name, date and place of burial or death.
- Often the person’s age, place of residence, and marital status.
- Cause of death and survivors of the deceased.
- At times the priest noted if the person died testate, meaning he or she recorded a will.
- Occasionally the deceased person’s date and place of birth and parents’ names are given if the deceased was a minor. But early death registers failed to record much of this information and are not as complete as later death records.
- In most death records the women are recorded by their maiden name. In some records, if the woman had a surviving spouse, the spouse was named; if the deceased person was a widow, the deceased spouse may have been named.
Locating Church Records
Many church records for Mexico are available in the FamilySearch Historical Records.
The LDS Church has microfilmed extensive collections of records in Mexico. The best way to locate records filmed by the LDS Church is by doing a Place Search under the name of the town where the parish and/or municipio is located. Also search under the name of the state, as records beyond parish and civil registers are often identified as only a collection for the entire state and not subdivided, even if they do contain significant information about specific people within towns in the state.
In some cases records for the entire state have been catalogued under the name of the capital city because the archive containing those records is found there, so check under the name of the state’s capital city. Also check for the city that is the archdiocese for your ancestral hometown.
Writing to a Catholic Priest for Church Records
Baptism, marriage, and death records may be searched by contacting or visiting local parish or diocese archives in Mexico. Mexico has no single repository of church records. Write your request in Spanish whenever possible. This method is not always reliable. Officials might or might not respond.
Write a brief request in Spanish to the proper church using this address as guide replacing the information in parentheses:
- Reverendo Padre
- Parroquia de (name of parish)
- (postal code), (city), (state)
When requesting information, send the following:
- Money for the search fee, usually $10.00, and an international reply coupon (IRC)
- Full name and the sex of the ancestor sought
- Names of the ancestor’s parents, if known
- Approximate date and place of the event
- Your relationship to the ancestor
- Reason for the request (family history, medical, and so on)
- Request for a photocopy of the complete original record
Write your request in Spanish whenever possible. For writing your letter in Spanish, use the translated questions and phrases in this Spanish Letter-writing Guide.
Catholic Church Archives
An extensive and rich collection of Catholic Church records in Mexico exists beyond those of the parish. While parish records are recorded by individual parish priests, the role of bishops and archbishops is to oversee the work done at a parish level, including the maintaining of parish records. In addition their acrivities created records which are maintained at a diocesan level.
General records refer to documents that bishops or archbishops created by the bishop’s courts and administrative agencies within that diocese and preserved in diocesan or archdiocesan archives. Each archive begins with the date of the creation of the diocese and contains records of genealogical significance such as marriage dispensations, censuses, and communion lists. Although many of these records have been filmed, only a limited work—primarily limited to marriage dispensations—has been done to index or even inventory them. One notable exception is the Archivo Historico del Aquidioceses de Durango, which has been microfilmed and indexed by the Rio Grande Hustorical Society located at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, New Mexico. This index can be purchased New Mexico State University at their website.
Reading the Records
- You do not have to be fluent in Spanish to read your documents. Genealogical records usually contain a limited vocabulary. Use this Spanish Genealogical Word List to translate the important points in the document. Handwriting skills are taught in BYU Spanish Script Tutorial.
- Online interactive slideshow lessons are available to help you learn to read these records:
- Detailed instructions for reading Spanish records, examples of common documents, and practice exercises for developing skills in translating them can be found in the Spanish Records Extraction Manual.
- The Spanish Documents Script Tutorial also provides lessons and examples.
It was not until the late 19th century before other sects such as the Mennonites and other Protestant denominations began to establish themselves in Mexico. Their records are not easy to access. For more information about the various churches in Mexico, see the articles on Mexico Church History and Mexico History.