Spanish Vital Record Research Hints

Privacy Level: Public (Green)
Date: 2019
Location: WikiTreemap
Surnames/tags: Spain Mexico Translation
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Spain Project | Spanish Resources | Research Hints

Translation Examples

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Research Hints

This collection of pages is meant to help English only speaking members learn how to extract information from Spanish church records. You are not expected to be able to translate the records after reviewing all of the pages, nor will you be able to. You should, however, learn how to accurately judge the record itself and get the information that you need.

How will this help me?

This tutorial set was designed for (and tested on) English-only speaking members of WikiTree. It is in no way designed to teach you to do translations.[1] After working through these pages though, and with practice - you should not only be able to extract vital information from your records (names, dates, parents, etc.); you should (eventually) be able to look for records on your own.
Para los miembros de habla española que esto puede ayudar a aprender las palabras y términos utilizados en los registros de Inglés y americano.

Where to start

Before you embark on the search for your ancestors records there are a few things you can do.
  1. Check for any hints in your English records about their origins or relationships.
  2. Talk to family members and see if any history or stories were passed down. Keep in mind that the 'stories' may have changed several times in the telling, or may not be accurate. They are important at any rate as they can be used as tools for you to focus your research.
  3. Check for English indexes on sites like Ancestry or FamilySearch (note that FamilySearch, and sites like it, are preferred sites as they are free to use). Keep in mind that when the record was indexed there may have been errors as the translators don't get to see the records around it to determine the writing habits of the priest. If you can look at the original record (using what you learn from these pages) you will be able to assess the indexed records.
  4. Before looking for specific records and trying to extract information you should familiarize yourself with the terms and the writing styles. You can print out our Glossary or open it in an additional tab for reference. The records on these pages give a variety of locations as well as habits and there are external sites that provide examples of Spanish handwriting and terms.

How to find documents

More and more documents are being digitized, indexed, and made available online. If researching in one area you'll quickly learn where you can find sources, and where you can't. Try the following until you start locating records:
  1. Search your usual places for records (your preferred genealogy or research site) and see if there is an image available for the actual record. If there is, use the techniques and tools you see within these help pages to determine if that record is indeed for your ancestor. If a Project member, don't be afraid to ask for a second opinion.
  2. If you know the location check the FamilySearch Catalog by typing in the location. This will return with a list of records available for that town/county/region. There may be census records, history, probate and (most importantly) church records. Some of the records listed will have a film reel next to them. That means they are on microfilm only and have not been digitized yet. If they have the camera icon with a looking glass you need to go to an LDS Center near you and use their computers to look at them. If there is just a camera icon you can view them online from your home. Take a look at Santa Fe, New Mexico for an idea of what records might be listed.
  3. Google is your friend. Type in the location you need and add the word 'genealogy.' Lets use Santa Fe as an example again. Google returned these listings for Santa Fe records or information. With a free FamilySearch login you can click on the FamilySearch list of genealogy sources. This not only lists search on FamilySearch, it has links to other sites, the address of the courthouse, any record loss for that location and boundary changes.
  4. Whether you belong to a project or not most have Resource pages available to all WikiTree members. Check the Project list for your area of interest and look for a link to a Resource page. Better yet, join the project that relates to the ancestors you are interested in learning about and swap tips and links with other project members. This gives you yet another way to 'give back' to the community and the members within it that help you.

Spanish words to look for

In earlier times there were no strict orthographic[2] rules regarding how records were written. The priests wrote the words as they were taught at the time, and they were generally one of the few literate people in the parish. In those early years many of the relevant countries used double letters, silent letters, and spellings that were later changed (i.e. "b = v" or "z = s = c" or "j = g = x" or "x=r"). At times, the words were written phonetically (as they sounded). For the purpose of a transcription the spellings should be used as they were spelled in the original record. When writing narrative in the biography (whether English or Spanish) you should use the modern spelling.
Examples of words or names spelled differently today:
  • González is now Gonçalez or Gonsález
  • Xerex is now Jerez
  • adbertí was the phonetic spelling of advertí
  • lexitimo is now legítimo
  • confessados is now confesados
  • necessarias is now necesarias
You can use the Glossary at the end of these pages to help you locate and determine the English translation of many of the common words used. This is not meant to be an 'all inclusive' dictionary of terms. The words and abbreviations that you should come across most frequently are included. Each record translation contains a 'line-by-line' section with the Spanish and English words grouped together to show what it translated to. There are also footnotes on each page to help you see how those words were used within that specific translation. Linked on each page is our Glossary of commonly used words. On the bottom of each record is the English version which can be opened in one window and compared to the Spanish transcription in another.
Here are a few external links to dictionaries that may help you with words not included in our Glossary. These pages are in Spanish but most browsers will translate them to English.

Getting translation help

There are several ways that you can get help if you want an actual translation[1] of a record.
  1. Post a question in the G2G : There are many helpful people on WikiTree that are willing to share their language skills with you and either translate a record, or help decipher difficult to read words and terms.
  2. Join a relevant Project: Many of the (non-English) projects have people within the group that are willing to translate records. If the record is long they may choose to give you an abstract[3]
  3. Make a Wiki-buddy: Find someone that is willing to occasionally translate for you (don't flood them with records or it may burn them out on helping). Think about something you can give to them in trade. Are you skilled at writing narrative for profiles containing sources? Do they have any bare bones profiles you can research for them? This give and take style of collaboration is part of what makes WikiTree so unique, and so great!
  4. All of the above: If you have a Wiki buddy or ask for help in Project chat, mix it up and give them a break by asking in the G2G.
An important thing to remember about translations is that they are subjective.[4] You can give the same document to several different people and they may all return with a translation that is slightly different from the rest. Nobody is 'wrong' or 'less skilled' at translation. There will never be a 'perfect translation' as each translator brings their own experience and cultural influences to the process. Not only that but the English language does not follow the same sentence structure as Spanish (or many other languages) does. In order to translate the Spanish record a strong knowledge of English is necessary so the record can be written as an English priest would write or say it.

What to do next

Create or add to your profile

If you haven't already done it, create a profile. Remember, each and every profile should have one (or more) sources on it. If you don't know how to write out a full citation and can't find the record on FamilySearch - that's okay! What you want to remember is that the source should contain enough information to allow others to locate it and look at the record as you did. Items it should contain (if listed within the source)
  • What the sources collection is (i.e. New Mexico Births and Christenings)
  • The name of the website if found online (i.e. Ancestry)
  • The web address if found online (
  • Who the record is for (include any misspellings - i.e. José Antunio Feliz)
  • What the date of the record is (at least the year)
  • Where the original record was found (if listed)
As an example:
To make the link look 'cleaner' on the profile you can 'hide' the link using brackets. This record
* [ New Mexico Births and Christenings], Ancestry, José Antonio Feliz, 1836, originally from the parish of San Juan, now held at the national archives.
Would look like this:
For more tips on how to make your profiles look better check out the Source Styles help page.

Transfer your notes to the profile

Even a very 'full' profile can benefit from a == Research Notes == section. There are several things that this is useful for.
  1. To keep track of difficulties you encountered (Are certain records not online? Is the name close to someone else's in that parish and you have to be careful finding sources? Was the priests writing so hard to read you needed help?). Not only will this help you if you move onto other profiles and come back later - it will help other researchers know what to watch out for.
  2. To mention records you are still looking for. (Does this person still need a marriage record? Are you interested in looking for the burial record?) Once again, you may work on other profiles for a while, and this is a great way to refresh your memory when you come back.
  3. To list future possible research. (Do you still need to find the parents marriage? Do the siblings need to be looked for?)

Check example profiles for related projects

I love cruising around the branches and seeing what other projects or people are doing with their profiles. Sometimes you can get great ideas on how to improve your own profiles. If the lock on the upper right of the profile is grey and open - you can look at the biography in Edit mode to see how they made those profiles look great. If you still don't quite understand don't be afraid to ask. Most members are pleased that their hard work is appreciated and will explain their techniques if you ask.
Here are a few profiles to start you off:
  • José Doroteo (Arango) Villa is a bilingual profile. This showcases how the Spanish and English can coexist on a profile. The sources are a combination of primary (church) sources and online biographical resources. It is an extensive profile that contains all of the bullet-points of what a profile should contain (and then some!).
  • Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo is a great example of a 'basic' profile, or rather, what should be a basic profile. She has a narrative section that describes briefly who she was. Birth and Death dates and locations are filled in. Her source citations are complete and include vital records. There are images attached (with no copyright issues and attributions added). She has a sticker and relevant categories added. Someone could expand this profile at some point - but even if they didn't the profile can stand on it's own as it is.
  • José Manuel Mateo Ruiz de Esparza is another profile that has much potential but is a great 'basic' profile. The biography is in Spanish only, which is not only acceptable but at times preferred by the related Project. The only source is for a vital record and it contains an abstract of the document. It has a date and location in at least one of the two required places: birth and death. The location is spelled 'using their custom not ours' (which is the WikiTree way).
  • Rosa Maria Rodriguez Quintana contains a two paragraph narrative that could easily be expanded later. There is a 'Birth & Baptism' section that gives details gained from a birth record and includes an abstract of the document. The sources include at least one vital record/primary source. The birth year and location are filled in. A sticker is used. This profile could benefit from adding categories and starting a Spanish section (with a request for a native Spanish speaker to complete it). Otherwise, it is a good example of what you can do with few sources.
Another thing you can do is send a Private Message to the Project Leader or Project Coordinator. Ask them if they have example profiles (if they aren't already listed on their Resource page) and what types of guidelines they suggest. This will let you know how you could edit your own profiles if you want them to 'match' the others in that region. For example, the México Project prefers Spanish as the primary language on a profile (though some have both Spanish and English). If you are creating a bilingual profile, they recommend only using translations from native Spanish speaking members, to maintain cultural, historical and geographical integrity.

List all family members that can be researched and added

I talked earlier about using the Research Notes section to keep track of which profiles still need to be researched and added. To take that one step further I recommend you also create a WikiTree 'To-Do' list.

On the upper-right of the screen on WikiTree click on 'Add' and then 'New Thing'

Step 1 - Add new thing

Choose 'to-do' list and the options will change

Step 2 - Choose 'to-do' List

This will automatically add a title with your name. You can either choose names on your Watchlist, or click on 'Create To-Do List' and then add the profile links later.

Step 3 - Create your list

Bookmark this link so you can easily go to the list when you are trying to figure out who to work on next. Good luck! I hope this helps.

Pick your next focus and repeat this process

Now that you are on a roll, go to a name on your To-Do list, in a Research Notes section, or simply a name you haven't added yet. Take the skills you have gained and move forward confidently. And remember - WikiTree encourages members to be bold. If you make what you later think is a mistake it is okay! If you don't know how to fix it, don't hesitate to reach out and ask for help!
Working with Spanish records is just like anything else in life - the more you practice, the better you will get. This doesn't mean you can't reach out to the G2G for occasional help. It just means that you can have the confidence and the skill to get information from many of your records on your own.

Naming Customs

Spanish Naming Customs

WikiTree has a growing list of naming customs as they relate to the various locations. Some projects have specific rules for their region so it is good to check their project guidelines, even if you are not a member of the project. The general consensus on WikiTree is to 'use their conventions instead of ours.' In other words if your Spanish ancestor was named 'Maria Gabriela de Andrade Gonzales' then her 'Proper First Name(s)' would be Maria Gabriela. Spanish customs don't acknowledge or use a 'Middle Name.' For more specific information you can look at the Spanish Naming Conventions help page. Once again the spelling as it was in the original record would be used for 'Proper First Name (PFN)' or 'Last Name At Birth (LNAB).' The modern spelling should be used in the alternate fields (i.e. 'Other Last Names (OLN)') and in the narrative.

New Mexico Locations

For the purpose of location citations for New Spain documents used In these translation pages (as well as New Mexico locations on your profiles):
  • For the years 1551 - 1821 we used 'New Spain' as the location citation for the Spanish colony.
    • Santa Fe, Nuevo México, Nueva España.
    • Santa Fe, New Mexico, New Spain
  • For the years from 1821 from 1850, we used the location citation of:
    • Santa Fe, Nuevo México, México
    • Santa Fe , New Mexico, Mexico
  • For the years from 1850 - 1912 we used the location citation of:
    • Santa Fe, Territorio de Nuevo México, Estados Unidos de América
    • Santa Fe , Territory Of New Mexico, United States Of America.
Note: In the location fields of a profile you would use the Spanish spelling. In the Biography you would use the English spelling (if writing it in English).


  1. 1.0 1.1 A transcript is a literal word-for-word group of text that tells you what was written in the original record. A translation not only changes those words to English, it moves the words around to form phrases as they would be spoken in English.
  2. Orthographic means relating to the correct spelling
  3. An abstract is when the important portions of the record are supplied in a summary instead of a word-for-word translation.
  4. subjective means based on, or influenced by, personal feelings, tastes, or opinions.

Last Edited: (Silva-1055 21:01, 1 October 2019 (UTC))

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Comments: 1

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I just found this page. Very nicely done.
posted by George Fulton

Categories: Spain | España