The Two Main “Go-To” Record Types for Researching Mexican Genealogy

Mexico Church & Civil Registration Records

When researching Mexican family history, there are two main “go-to” types of records that you will consult daily, Mexican Catholic Church and Civil Registration records.

Those of us with Mexican ancestors are particularly fortunate. First, we inherited the best food in the world. Second, we inherited what are often referred to as the best genealogy records in the world. Why the best genealogy records in the world? Because of how far back they have been systematically kept, and because of how rich they are in genealogical information. Oh how I wish the non-Mexican half of my ancestry had this treasure trove of records!

About this New Series

This post is the first in what will be a regular long-term series focusing on Mexican church and civil registrations. Much of my current in-person teaching gigs revolve around these two types of records, and it’s simply impossible to fit all that one needs to know about these rich records in a single one or one-and-a-half-hour lecture. And let’s be honest. There are not many conferences, seminars, or institutes that provide Mexican genealogy instruction…particularly at any level beyond a general overview. So hopefully this new blog series can help fill that void.

This series starts with the basics. If you are brand new to researching your Mexican Ancestry, you are in the right place. If you are more experienced and have already been working with these records, we all learn something new by revisiting familiar topics.

Mexican Catholic Church Records

Because Catholic Spain colonized Mexico, the Catholic Church has a long history of record keeping in Mexico. The Spanish conquest of what became Mexico began in 1519 with the arrival of Hernán Cortés at Veracruz and ended with his defeat of the Aztec Empire in 1521. This ushered in the colonial period, with New Spain serving as a colonial territory of Spain. The Spanish Empire did not just extend its political, social, and economic influence over its colonies. It extended its religious influence as well. In 1530, the Roman Catholic Church had established the Diocese of Mexico in New Spain

There are many different types of records generated by the Catholic Church that might document your ancestors. However, in this first post, I am referring specifically to parish records that serve as vital records.

1863 Baptism for Jose Refugio Nieto Mesa
The 1863 baptism record for my 2nd great-grandfather José Refugio Nieto Mesa.
Courtesy of FamilySearch.

What are these?

Mexican Catholic parish vital records are those that document births, marriages, and deaths. These were usually recorded by the local parish priest. For those not familiar with the organization of the Catholic Church (like me, until I started studying Mexico records), the parish is the smallest organizational unit of the Church. This would have been your ancestors’ local community church, and the local priest who personally knew them. Colonial Mexican life revolved around the parish.

The records containing these vital life events are baptism records (which often capture birth details), marriage records (the marriage ceremony itself, as well as a much more detailed pre-marital investigation), and death records.

Why are these significant?

Some of these records go back to the early-to-mid 1500s! The Diocese of Mexico was established in 1530. According to George Ryskamp (THE authority on Mexican genealogy research), “…records for the cathedral parish in Mexico City begin in 1536 and those for the cathedral parish in Puebla begin in 1545.”[1]

The Council of Trent—convened between 1545 and 1563 in Italy—mandated the keeping of standardized Catholic records. This means that by the 1560s, the Catholic Church required certain records, and that those records capture certain details. Catholic parish records became mandatory and standardized. Compare that to U.S. vital records, which did not become required until the 1920s!

These parish records are really really rich in genealogical information. In large part because the Church required so much detail in those records. We will explore this genealogical information in later posts.

The standardization required by the Council of Trent led to a very rote standardized format to these records. This makes it much easier to read the old Spanish script in older records. And it makes it much easier for non-Spanish speakers (like me!) to understand the records. We will explain and demonstrate this in later posts.

Where to find these?

These records have been microfilmed and digitized by the LDS Church/FamilySearch. They are available for FREE on FamilySearch. However, not all records are indexed yet or searchable. Many require you to go it old school and patiently browse page by page through the digitized records (or roll by roll, image by image, if you prefer to use microfilm).

In October 2015, Ancestry started providing access to the indexes of those records already indexed by FamilySearch, through a partnership with FamilySearch. For those records that FamilySearch has already linked the index record to the actual digitized record, Ancestry now provides access dot those digitized images as well. Ancestry does not provide access to FamilySearch digitized records that have not yet been indexed by FamilySearch.

I will provide tips for finding these records on both FamilySearch and Ancestry in future posts.

Mexican Civil Registrations

The colonial era of Mexico ended with Mexican Independence from Spain in 1821. A short-lived first Mexican Empire era followed, before its overthrow and the establishment of a federal republic (the United Mexican States) in 1824. The 1830s-to-1860s witnessed a chaotic shifting of types of government. But in 1859, the administration of President Benito Juárez passed legislation enacting a federal civil registration system.

1914 Civil Death Record for Celedonia Robledo Nieto
The 1914 civil death registration (two pages, merged together by me) for my great-aunt Celedonia Robledo Nieto. Courtesy of Ancestry.

What are these?

These civil registration records are government-generated vital records. The system requires that all births, marriages, and deaths be reported to local authorities, with copies sent to the state. Although the system became in 1859-1960 under President Juarez, the government did not begin strictly enforcing this until 1867.

Why are these significant?

Much like the Catholic parish records, these civil registrations are rich in genealogical information. Often times they have far more information than what we get out of U.S. Vital records. If only my non-Mexican ancestors had vital records like these!

Mexican Civil Registrations go back to the 1860s. U.S. Vital records did not become mandatory in some states until the 1920s.

Also like Catholic parish records, Mexican Civil Registrations are very standardized, with a rote format that makes it easier for non-Spanish speaking family historians like me to read the records.

We will explore these records in future posts.

Where to find these?

These records too have been microfilmed and digitized by the LDS Church/FamilySearch. They are available for FREE on FamilySearch. However, just as with the Catholic parish records, not all civil registration records are indexed yet or searchable. Many require you to go it old school and patiently browse page by page through the digitized records (or roll by roll, image by image, if you prefer to use microfilm).

In October 2015, Ancestry launched a fully indexed searchable collection of these same Mexico civil registrations as part of its own Mexican Historical Records Collection. These records have been digitized from records microfilmed by the Academia Mexicana de Genealogía y Heráldica (Academia Mexicana de Genealogía y Heráldica) in Mexico.

I will provide tips for finding these records on both FamilySearch and Ancestry in future posts.

Watch for upcoming posts in this series to learn more about finding and working with these valuable records!


[1] George Ryskamp and Peggy Ryskamp, Finding Your Mexican Ancestors: A Beginner’s Guide (Provo: Ancestry Publishing, 2007), 37.

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6 thoughts on “The Two Main “Go-To” Record Types for Researching Mexican Genealogy”

    1. Hi Maritza.

      Thanks for stopping by. I’ve been busy working on some projects for the Genealogical Society of Hispanic America, but am planning to get back to this blog series very soon.

  1. Arleen Delgado

    I just signed up to receive posts for this blog and am “catching up” on prior posts; great article and I can’t wait to move on to the others!

  2. Raul Beascochea

    I wonder if you can help me. I’m looking for genealogy records for Beascochea. My Grandfather was Jose Raul Beascochea born around 1900 – 1910 not sure where crossed into us through Laredo, Tx around 1922 or so. He was married to Maria Guadalupe Flores Beascochea. That’s as far as I can get. You can email me at

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