Reading old handwritten Spanish (Mexican) genealogy records; paleography presents several challenges in deciphering genealogy records. First, even if a person knows how to read Spanish, you must become familiar with a different set of words and abbreviations that were used at the time the record was created. In addition, genealogy records from the eighteenth century and earlier were often had written. This means that you have to be able to decipher different writing styles as well as dealing with misspellings, ink blotches and torn pages. Despite these challenges, with a little bit of time and practice, you will be able to read old handwritten Spanish genealogy records fairly easily and accurately.

Mexican genealogy records tend to fall into two classes: Church records or civil records. Spanish Church genealogy records consist of baptismal, marriage, death records, confirmation, donation, membership lists and various other documents; while civil genealogy records consist of birth, marriage, death records, protocolos, wills, and census (padron, tax roles, etc). The best records for genealogical research tend to be the church records, because they are the oldest and are among the first genealogical records generated from a new community. They also tend to contain more genealogical information than the civil records. While the most significant genealogy civil records (birth, marriage, and death records) were not produced in Mexico until about 1859 or later. Nevertheless, civil records can still be important in your genealogical research. The protocolos and wills can often provide valuable family history (surviving family members and relatives, professions, memberships, property owned, etc.) while the census or padron can provide information about the family members (household members).

Spanish Paleography

Spanish Mexican handwritten documents from the 16th through 18th century tended to have short lines with extended letters and words. Capitalization was used inconsistently and punctuation was rarely used. Individual words in a sentence were frequently connected and words were truncated at the end of a line without any dash to indicate truncation. Some of the most challenging documents to read are the ones with bleed-through from the back of the page. Other problems that you can encounter are chain written documents, faded or torn pages.

What is Paleography?

Paleography is the study of ancient handwriting independent of language. Its aim is the decipherment and interpretation of these texts which allows a researcher to read works from the past. The paleographer must know the language of the text, the abbreviations used, and the various styles of handwriting.

The main value to a genealogist for developing your skills as a Spanish paleographer is the ability to directly read and interpret original or primary genealogy records. Without this skill a genealogy researcher is often depended on secondary genealogy sources. One could use the analogy of a copy of an original document is not as good as the original document because something is always lost. Secondary genealogy sources will often exclude unique genealogical data that is not contained in every record. This could be in the form of notes in the margin, the Father’s profession or title being listed, names that have been lined through on the original genealogy record, etc.


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