Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month

A report by CAROL DIPIRRO-STIPKOVITS for Forever Young.

Did you know that Hispanics settled in Saint Augustine, Florida, in 1565 and in New Mexico in 1598, many years before the English settled Jamestown in 1607? Not surprisingly, Hispanics are now the largest minority group in the United States with an estimated 18 percent of Americans claiming Hispanic descent in 2019.

National Hispanic Heritage Month, a celebration of the culture and proud history of Hispanic Americans, begins September 15. This date signifies the day Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua achieved independence from Spain. Mexico and Chile also commemorate their independence days this month (September 16 and September 18). There’s no more perfect time for Americans with Hispanic roots to honor their respective cultures by doing a little family history research.

Searching your Hispanic ancestry may ultimately lead to Spain, but it’s likely that you’ll find a number of ancestors settled in other areas such as Central America, South America, or the Caribbean. Like the United States, many of these countries are considered “melting pots” so it’s not uncommon that individuals of Hispanic descent will trace their family tree back to locations such as France, Germany, Italy, Eastern Europe, Africa, and Portugal. Here are some tips to get you started on your journey:

Hispanic surnames
Spain has a unique naming system in which children are commonly given two surnames, one from each parent. The middle name (first surname) comes from the father’s name, and the last name (second surname) is the mother’s maiden name. Sometimes, these two surnames may be found separated by “y” (meaning “and”), although this is no longer as common as it once was, but good to know as you look through old records. You may also find the two surnames reversed—mother’s surname followed by father’s surname—in more recent records. Women also retain their maiden name when they get married, making it much easier to track families through generations.

Immigration records
Passenger lists, border crossing records, and naturalization and citizenship records often provide the first documentation of our immigrant ancestor’s arrival in the United States. If your Hispanic ancestor emigrated early on, the Archivo General de Indias in Seville, Spain, is the repository for Spanish documents dealing with the Spanish colonial period (1492-1810) in the Americas. Here you will find records from the years prior to the discovery of America through the present, and it’s a fantastic source of information for Spaniards who immigrated to the United States, including permits for travel to the New World. Many of these records have been digitized and are available online at http://pares.culturaydeporte.gob.es/archivos-estatales.html.  

The Hispanic Genealogical Society of New York
Here you will find resources to connect you with primarily Puerto Rican resources online at hispanicgenealogy.com. The society also operates PRroots.com, where researchers share their knowledge and genealogical gems.

FamilySearch has recently been focusing its digitizing efforts on records from Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. To search, go to familysearch.org and scroll to the map and region list. Select either Caribbean, Central and South America, or USA, Canada and Mexico. A list of record collections from that region will appear on your screen; click a collection title to search it.

Genealogy of Mexico
The site at http://garyfelix.tripod.com/index1.htm can be overwhelming, but grab a coffee and settle in. Here you’ll find lists of early settlers and explorers from the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries along with resources for researching your surname.

Cuban Genealogy
At cubagenweb.org you will find military records from the Cuban War of Independence (1895 to 1898) and the 10 Years War (1868 to 1878), passenger lists, cemetery transcriptions, and marriages.  

Tracing your Hispanic roots may, eventually, lead you to Spain, where genealogical records are among the oldest and best in the world. Remember to begin with US records, then trace your family back to the country of origin. Once you’ve discovered your roots, you’ll have even more reason to celebrate!

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