The Best Of The West.

A Comprehensive Guide to Tracing Hispanic Ancestry


Researchers seeking Hispanic ancestry may need to search several different types of records. Some resources are online; others are available on microfilm at university, state, and national libraries and archives.

Identify Your Surnames

When it comes to genealogy, the names we have for our ancestors are the first clue to figuring out where to start. And your last name can tell you quite a bit if you have Hispanic ancestry.

Spanish-speaking countries use unique naming conventions, including combining the father’s surname with the mother’s maiden name. This system can make it easier to track families over generations. Additionally, many Hispanic immigrants changed their names upon arriving in the United States. You can find more clues about your Hispanic ancestry by looking for family names in English-language records.

A basic rule of genealogy is to exhaust all records available to you in the country where your ancestors lived before moving on to another region or language. If you’re searching for Hispanic ancestry, that means working on records from their homeland and the United States.

Aside from focusing on the language, you’ll also need to familiarize yourself with the culture of Hispanic people. For example, you can learn more about Hispanic family traditions and history by reading online histories and newspapers. Many genealogical websites also feature historical timelines of Hispanic events. You can also access the online archives of Spanish-language newspapers. 

Learn the Language

In the United States, Hispanics use Latino and Hispanic to describe themselves. The Census Bureau uses these terms to describe Americans of any national origin who self-report Spanish descent. These terms have different meanings outside of the United States. Still, in practice, people are considered Hispanic or Latino if they can speak Spanish and are identified as such by other Americans.

Learning a new language can be a challenge, but it can be rewarding as well. There are many reasons to learn a language: to travel, work abroad, study literature or history, or better connect with culture(s). Whatever the reason, ensuring that the language is something you enjoy and find rewarding is essential. This will help motivate you to work the hours necessary for language study.

In addition to assisting in your research, knowing the language will give you insight into how your ancestors lived. For example, many immigrant families that came to the U.S. from Mexico did so legally with a visa and could settle in the country with full citizenship. Others, however, were forced back to Mexico through government-sanctioned programs under President Eisenhower – even if they had lived in the U.S. for years.

Visit the Country

Researching the country where your ancestors were born is integral to finding their roots. However, it can be challenging to locate records there. Many researchers start with U.S. documents first, such as census records, naturalization papers, military records, immigration dates (from border crossings to the United States), family Bibles, diaries, letters from family members, old certificates, and tombstone inscriptions that list birthplaces.

Some online databases contain large numbers of Mexican records. In addition to these resources, archives and heritage societies can provide helpful information about accessing Mexican records. Many Hispanic ancestors arrived in the United States through ports of entry such as Galveston, New Orleans, and San Diego. These immigrants were required to state their name, sex, age, and place of birth when they entered the country.

Look for Records

Researching Hispanic genealogy may require examining American records and documents from the country of origin. American immigration and naturalization records often provide information on ancestors’ place of birth in the United States and the name of the city or town where they were born. These records can also reveal the year of their arrival.

The term Hispanic is used in the United States to describe Mexican, Puerto Rican, or Cuban Americans. However, the terms Latino and Spanish are more common abroad. The meanings of these terms vary across countries, so it’s essential to know their differences when searching for ancestors.

Those who self-report as Hispanic or Latino tend to have higher levels of Native American and lower levels of African ancestry than those who self-report as white or European American. The difference in ancestry composition is consistent with previous studies of Hispanics and other minority groups in the U.S. (see Figure S5).

Hispanics use a dual system of surnames where the father’s first name is given to a son, and his mother’s second surname is taken by his daughter, making tracing family lines easier. In addition, Hispanics are more likely than other Americans to have at least two surnames.

Many resources are available for Hispanic genealogical research, including the most extensive online collection of Mexican records. The site’s Mexico, Baptisms, 1560-1950 collection offers over 12 million records. It also houses microfilm collections of documents from Mexico, Spain (Archivo General de Indias), national libraries, and Peru. It also hosts several genealogy courses and events.

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