Using Catholic Church records to trace your Latin American ancestors can be enormously rewarding. Since the Council of Trent (1560-1580) sacramental books were mandated to be kept by each parish priest. These sacrament books include baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and burials. This article will focus mainly on baptismal records, and future articles will cover the other sacraments mentioned.
Catholic baptismal records are among the most complete baptismal records in the< world. A researcher will often get up to three generations in one single record naming the child, his/her parents, and both paternal and maternal grandparents. The records generally go further than merely giving the names; they also give nativity and/or residence of each individual mentioned in the record.
Latin American baptismal records can be challenging to read. Besides the creative spelling, parish priests used several abbreviations throughout the records they made. The records do, however, follow a standard form with common phrases, making the challenging paleography easier to decipher. A good book on abbreviations and common phrases in Parish records is Finding Your Hispanic Roots, by George R. Ryskamp. A genealogical word list for Latin America can be obtained at
Although the records can be difficult to read, they tend to follow a universal pattern. Knowing the pattern can help the researcher overcome the difficulties faced with creative handwriting or damaged records. The pattern is usually as follows:
1. Place and date of the baptism
2. Name of the child being baptized and whether legitimate or illegitimate.
3. Both first and last names of the parents.
4. Both first and last names of the paternal grandparents followed by the maternal grandparents.
5. Both first and last names of the godparent(s), and sometimes their relation to the child.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has microfilmed many parish records throughout all of Latin America, including nearly all for Mexico. The records are located in Salt Lake at the Family History Library. By doing a catalog place search at www.familysearch.org/Eng/Library/FHLC/frameset_fhlc.asp one can determine if any records have been microfilmed for a particular parish. If the records have not been filmed, writing a letter to the parish priest or making a trip may be necessary to find your ancestors.