Spanish Letter Writing Guide
You may want to write for genealogical information from Spain or Latin America if you cannot find the records you need at the Family History Library. These instructions will help you prepare a letter requesting genealogical information from Spanish-speaking countries. Please note, however, that many records from Spain and Latin America have been microfilmed and are available through the Family History Library. Before you write for information, check the Family History Library Catalog to see if the records you need are available on microfilm. Also, check the records of surrounding towns and parishes to see if there are any other records which may help you.
Letters written in Spanish have a greater chance of receiving a reply than those written in English. Spain has good response to correspondence, but receiving an answer may be difficult because of problems with the mail. In Latin America frequent mail strikes result in letters getting lost.
BEFORE YOU WRITE
Before you write a letter to obtain family history information, you should do two things:
•Determine exactly where your ancestor was born, married, or died. Because most genealogical records were recorded locally, you will need to know the specific locality where your ancestor was born, married, died, or resided for a given time. See the Tracing Immigrant Origins for help in finding home towns.
•Determine where records from your ancestor’s home parish are stored today. When you have a locality name, use a gazetteer to determine whether the name is a village, parish, city, district, county, or province and which parish serves your ancestor’s locality. Parish record books in which the most recent entry is older than 90 years are generally sent to provincial archives.
RESEARCH BY MAIL
Letters for genealogical information in Spanish-speaking countries will generally be written to a local Catholic parish, diocese, or archdiocese, or to local or central government archives.
''''Addressing Your Letter
Address your letter using one of the following formats:
Civil Registration Office
National, State, or University Archives
Postal codes, similar to United States zip codes, are used in Spain and in some Latin American countries. Put the postal code before the city. If you don’t have the postal code, send the letter without the code.
How to Send Return Postage and Money
In your letter indicate that you will pay for research time, copies, and services. You can pay for the return postage by buying international reply coupons, which are vouchers for stamps; include at least two coupons. You may purchase these coupons from any United States post office.
When writing to a state archive or a local civil registration office, do not send moneyin your first letter. Request that they advise you of their fees and the best way to send money.
When writing to the local parish, send a donation of $5.00 to $10.00 and express a desire to make further donations as their services are needed. U.S. currency is most convenient for the recipient or you can send a cashier’s check from your local bank made payable to: Parroquia de (locality). It is advisable to tape your payment check or currency to the inside of the letter.
HOW TO WRITE A LETTER IN SPANISH
Your letter should include:
- the date (at the top)
- the name and address of the addressee
- a greeting
- a brief introduction
- biographical information about your relative
- a short, specific genealogical request
- referral request(s)
- a comment about payment
- closing remarks
- your signature
- your return address (including your country)
Select appropriate sentences from the following pages. Each sentence is translated into Spanish. Be sure your sentences are consistent and fit together logically. Copy the sentences carefully to ensure the spelling, punctuation, and accent marks are correct. Type the letter, if possible, and add the necessary accent marks and tildes using a pen, or print neatly.
Make your request specific and simple. Do not ask for too much at one time. Give the full name, the date of birth (at least approximate), and the town of birth or residence for each ancestor you need information about. Use the format in this guide to provide ancestor information.
Include your return address. Offer to pay for time, copies, and services rendered. (See “How to Send Return Postage and Money” of this guide.) Do not request too much information at one time.
The following English-to-Spanish translations will help you compose your letter. Read the sentences in English and choose those that best express what you want to say. Be sure that your sentences are arranged logically. You may want to write your letter first in English using the following sentences, then replace the sentences with their Spanish translations. However you proceed, make sure you type or neatly print your letter and, when necessary, add any diacritical marks and special characters (such as á, é, í, ó, ú, ü, ñ) with a pen.
Do not use this guide as the letter itself! Doing so might insult the recipient and lessen the chance of a reply.
Write dates carefully.
- Write the day first, then the month, then the year.
- Write the full name of the month.
- Write the year in full (1845, not ‘45).
The preposition de (of) is used in writing dates in Spanish. For example, April 7, 1890 should be written:
7 de abril de 1890
Names of the Months
When you receive a reply, send a note of thanks or acknowledgment. You may wish to do this in a follow-up letter requesting further information. Refer by date to your earlier letters and their return letters. If they have assigned you a reference number, include that number as well.
Use Spanish-English dictionaries to help you understand the reply. Sometimes you can hire accredited genealogists to translate for you.
If you do not receive an answer, write again and include a copy of your first letter. Do not send more money unless you verify that your first letter did not arrive.
Closing Remarks and Return Address