Learning to Research in a New Country
Have you been dragging your feet when it comes to researching your ancestors in a different country? Reading historical documents can be difficult and is only compounded when another language is involved. Perhaps the records are confusing and the jurisdictions are different. Sooner or later you’ll need to tackle a new research locality, so let’s explore two excellent websites that can take the pain out of the learning: The FamilySearch Research Wiki and The Family History Guide. Both are free websites and are devoted to helping us become better researchers.
I’m working in the new locality of Mexico, so I’ll illustrate the concepts with that locality, but you can use both websites for a variety of countries and all 50 of the U.S. states.
The FamilySearch Research Wiki
The FamilySearch Research Wiki features “how-to” articles on hundreds of counties. Entering “Mexico” in the search field, I can select “Mexico Genealogy” from the choices. Each country page will have a consistent layout and offer a clickable map for drilling down to the next level of state or province. The page will have getting started tips and research tools like how to read the handwriting in that language. The screenshot below shows a sampling of the available links.
A very helpful link on the main Mexico page is to the “Spanish Genealogical Word List.” I took French in college, not Spanish, so when viewing the documents I need some some help with key genealogical terms. This page had the Spanish translations for numbers, days of the week, and months – all important for recording accurate dates. It also included a list of words found commonly on documents such as father, church, military, birth, marriage, death, baptism, burial, etc.
Another resource is a letter writing guide for corresponding with a local parish or government archive. The FamilySearch Research Wiki has a link to the Spanish Records Extraction Manual, first published in 1981 by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Divided into seven chapters, the manual provides hands-on instruction so you can learn and then put the concepts into practice.
Another link to explore is The Spanish Script Tutorial by Brigham Young University. This website contains many pages of information including a list of surnames and given names, discussion on the common records types with examples, samples by century, and alphabet charts.
Under the heading of “Record Types” is a list of the common records you need to know when researching in Mexico. Clicking on each one takes you to the page devoted to that topic. This helpful paragraph from the “Mexico Civil Registration” page lets me know that civil registration records began too late for my research subject and that I’ll need to search church records instead.
Civil registration records (also known as vital records) are important for genealogical research in Mexico. Civil authorities began registering births, marriages, and deaths in 1859 and most individuals who lived in Mexico after 1867 are recorded. Because the records cover such a large percentage of the population, they are extremely important sources for genealogical research in Mexico.
For birth, death, and marriage records before 1859, see “Mexico Church Records.”
The wiki also has the Mexico Record Finder table that gives ideas for which records to search for various information. I see that for the main vital information of birth, marriage, and death – the suggested records are civil registration and church records, so I’ll need to become proficient in those record types.
Each country page on the FamilySearch Research Wiki has a clickable map with direct links to the pages for smaller jurisdictions such as states or provinces. My current project involves records of Nuevo Leon, so I can click directly on the map or on the list of names below the map to go to that specific wiki page.
Exploring the FamilySearch Research Wiki will yield huge dividends for your locality research! Another help for learning about a new locality is The Family History Guide. Let’s take a brief look.
The Family History Guide
This free, online, guide has links to articles, videos, and helps for many countries and all 50 U.S. states. When viewing the introductory page for Mexico, I saw the choices shown in the screenshot below. Note that the first three items are links to “how to” articles to get you started.
The Family History Guides also has links to several other pages for Mexico: civil registration, archives and libraries, church and cemetery records, emigration and immigration, military records, maps & gazetteers, and more. The best way to see what is available? Choose a new locality and explore.
With these two comprehensive websites, I’m excited to learn more about researching in Mexico! What country are you ready to tackle?
Best of luck in all your genealogy research!