Catholic burial records from Latin America are the least consistent of all the sacramental books. One parish priest may have recorded only one or two lines, while other records may be more extensive. Death and burial records served not only as a recording of the time and place of the event, but also as account books for the masses known as colecturías. This article will explore the world of Catholic burial records in Latin America and Spain.
Some genealogists tend to consider death records only as a last option, claiming that they do not give valuable genealogical information to quickly trace your family history, unlike baptismal and marriage records. The importance of death records should not be overlooked, and in reality can speed up your research process. Burial records can help you with the following:
• Verify information already known/found
• Confirm relationships of parents to children
• Verify assumptions made previously
• Fill gaps between children
• Tie up any possible loose ends
• Lead you to other records
Besides providing the place and time of death, Catholic death records usually specify relationships, and sometimes nativity. If the deceased is a young child, the record generally states the names of the parents. When an adult dies, the record usually will tell you if the person was single, married, or widowed. All of this data can be valuable in your research.
One of the biggest advantages of death records is that they can lead you to other valuable records. If the deceased made a will, his/her death record will read hizo testamento ante, meaning "made will before." Following this phrase, a notary will be named. The notary's name is very important because the wills will be filed under his name. Wills, and other civil documents, are usually kept at the provincial, state, department, or regional level. Most notary records have not been microfilmed, so a letter to the archivist or a trip to the area may be necessary.
If not indexed, death records may take some patience to search. Although time-consuming, and sometimes not as consistent as baptismal and marriage records, death records should not be overlooked. They may be the only way to fill in any gaps, and find other very important documents that could help you discover more of your ancestors.