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Researching Latino Family Roots: Your Raices

Submitted by on April 2, 2010 – 4:28 am10 Comments

My grandmother, left, with my grandfather, and her sister. Banes, Cuba.

My grandmother, far right, dressed as boy.

A second cousin has been researching the family of my maternal grandfather — good looking guy pictured above — for more than two decades. That’s before the internet, gente. He wrote letters to military, government and church offices in Spain and the Philippines. He got photocopies back.

Several years ago, he showed me the thick binder where he keeps meticulous records on our family, marking each of this generation’s marriages, births and deaths, along with the stories of those who came before us. He showed me the letter sent to the queen of Spain when my great-great grandfather, then stationed in the Philippines, requested permission to marry the daughter of a fellow Spanish military man.

The letter stated the young woman was of Spanish blood, and only of Spanish blood. It made me a little ill to read it and I was grateful we have moved beyond that in the last hundred years. The couple was married and my great-grandfather, Raul, was born to them in 1888 on the island of Mindanao.

Eventually, Raul’s mother went to Cuba and his father to Spain, where he started a second family despite the fact he was still married to my great-great grandmother. (Scandalous!). Raul, who married and had children in Cuba, died in Miami when I was 5. I met the half-sister he never knew in Madrid 25 years ago. She looked just like him.

If my family tree had to be described, it would be a banyan tree — tall, strong and twisted around with roots going in every which way. Thanks to the colorful storytellers and tireless researchers on my mom’s side, I know a lot about where I came from.

Rare is the week that my Tia Mirtha, who comments on the Tiki Tiki a lot, doesn’t send some new picture she has unearthed, or a new document she found in an archive. The latest document: A letter that same great-grandfather Raul wrote to Fulgencio Batista. She found it in the Cuban Heritage Collection of the University of Miami. The latest pictures she has scanned were collected by a relative on a recent trip to Cuba and the people in the photos identified by yet another relative to whom she sent photocopies.

So, I asked Tia to help me write a “How to Begin the Research on Your Latino Roots”:

C: How does someone get started researching Hispanic family genealogy?
Tia: 1. They need to talk to their grandparents, parents and gather as much information as possible.
2. If they have old family pictures, ask for the name of the people in the picture, now that they
that their minds are clear and they can give you valuable information.
3. In searching family roots you need to go backwards in your search, meaning: Father/Mother; Grandparents; Great-grandparents; Great-Great-grandparents.
4. Then, you start looking for birth certificates, baptism certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates, social security records. and more.
5. There are a lot of websites to look into like the Cuban Genealogy Center, the Anillo de Genealogia Hispana, the USGenWeb Project and The Center for Family History and Genealogy.
6. You can buy a “Family Tree” program and start entering all the information you have and up-date as you gather more data. (My aunt uses MyHeritage.com and we get regular notices about birthdays and anniversaries in the family…)

The most important part is to talk to your family, especialmente los mas viejos. Ellos tienen mucha informacion y despues que se mueran, es muy dificil buscarla. La informacion familiar, es la mas inportante para empezar.

C: How do you feel when you find new info?
Tia: Great. It makes want to keep on going and try to find more information. And on the way you meet a lot of nice people that just love to help you find the information that you need.

C: What is the most interesting information you have found?
Tia: I got copies from Spain’s Archivo General Militar de Segovia dated 1888 where my great-grandfather (your great-great-grandfather) was requesting from the Spanish Army permission to stay in Cuba after the war. All the documents were written by hand in old Spanish. There was another document signed by him in Cuba dated: “Holguin, 28 de Agosto, 1886″ and another dated “Holguin, 4 de Febrero, 1896.” It is incredible to be able to have, in your hand, these documents that many, many years ago were written by your great-grandfather. Some one you never met, but who is part of your genes.”

*** OK, everybody say gracias to my fabulous Tia for the information and inspiration and onward with More Hispanic Family Research Resources to get you started on the search for raices.

If my family is any example of the notoriously good record-keeping by the Spanish, researching Latino and Hispanic roots can be pretty fruitful, compared to those with roots in other parts of the world. The Spanish — and the Mexicans and other Latin Americans — liked their records thorough. And, unless there has been fire or destruction, those records likely are available and waiting for you to dust them off.

Experts say data going back to at least 1500 is available. My family has found records through both governmental and church sources — everything from deeds to ship logs to birth records. Church records — especially the Catholic Church — can provide information on baptisms, marriage, death and more.

If your family has roots in Spain and Latin America, look for national identity records, which were required for citizens to carry. And, of course, don’t forget that Latinos have roots belonging to native people, plus countries like the Philippines, Ireland, England, France, Germany, Portugal, China and dozens of other lands.

The Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or Mormon Church, is an excellent starting place. The library has more than 3 million records from 11o countries, according a page on About.com. It also has several branches across the United States and the church has an online research site called Family Search, with a page specific to Hispanic research.

The book, Finding Your Hispanic Roots by George R. Ryskamp, a Brigham Young University professor, is often cited. Here’s a link to a great talk he gave in Texas. He has written several other books, including Finding Your Mexican Ancestors.

A great place for background reading, tips and links is the genealogy page at About.com.

MyHeritage.com, where you can create an online family tree, get matched with others who add the same ancestor and participate in forums.

Ancestry.com offers a variety of services, including beginner guides and searches for census, military, birth and immigration records.

Association of Hispanic Genealogy, Hispagen, a Spain-based site for family search.

University of Miami Cuban Heritage Collection.

Cuban Genealogy Center

Hispanic Genealogical Research Center of New Mexico, with links to other sources.

The San Antonio Public Library has a Hispanic Genealogical Research Guide with tips and links for getting started.

A thorough post with links to resources at Genealogy and Family History.

And you, where do your roots dig in? De donde vienes?

If you have been doing family tree research, what resources can you share?

Share, por favor!


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