Genealogy has long been a pastime associated with European-Americans and African-Americans, but new efforts from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Ancestry.com are making more information available for the 32 million Mexican-Americans who may want to trace their family trees.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is widely recognized as the nation's largest collector of genealogical records. This year, after 3 years of working on the project, the Church has released a searchable digital index of the landmark 1930 census in Mexico. The Church embarked upon the journey of aggregating the Mexican records in the early 1950s, but didn't begin the process of creating an online database from the microfilm versions of the information until 2007. The database can be accessed on the Church's free research site, FamilySearch.org, and is available on Ancestry.com in both Spanish and English. The original documents can also be viewed at one of the Church's FamilySearch centers.
Accurate information from many Latin American countries is still hard to come by. Latinos have historically relied on oral histories to share the stories of their families, explains Eduardo Obregon Pagan, a history professor at Arizona State University who specializes in teaching genealogical research methods, making it difficult for younger generations that lack access to these connections to trace their roots. Even the 1930 Mexico census, the country's most comprehensive census up to that time, did not include data for Mexico City. Experts do not know whether the information was not centralized or whether it was lost, but they estimate that the documents still cover approximately 75% of the population at the time.
The new service is already offering valuable information to curious searchers. Edward James Olmos, actor on Showtime's “Dexter” and spokesperson for Ancestry.com's new service, knew that some of his relatives were Mexican revolutionary leaders, but also discovered that his great-grandmother raised two blind sons as a single mother. Others have treated the data as a revealing snapshot of life in 1930s Mexico. The census covers categories such as marriage, home ownership, occupation, extended family, and serious illnesses.
Ancestry.com has also made the U.S.-Mexican border crossing records from 1895 to 1957 available on their site, and experts hope that earlier data will eventually be accessible. The work of Ancestry.com and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a huge step forward in the quest to discover more information about Mexican-American heritage, and the progress doesn't stop there: Ancestry.com has promised to look into acquiring other records if interest in the project is strong enough, and the Church is now in the process of indexing many of its Asian documents.
For more information on the mentioned online genealogy service, please check out our review of Ancestry.