Reading old records written in ​Spanish is not the same as reading, for example, a modem newspaper written in Spanish. Besides having to become familiar with a different set of words, you will need to adjust to such things as old styles of handwriting, unfamiliar abbreviations, misspelled words, ink blotches, and torn pages. While some of these things may cause you concern, you will find that in a very short period of time, you will be able to read old Spanish records with ease and accuracy.

Types and Formats

When the records you will be reading were kept, Latin America and Spain were almost 100 percent Catholic. Of all the records mentioned on this site, Catholic records are the most important for family historians and genealogists with Hispanic ancestry. The Catholic Church, at the Council of Trent (1545-63), required that each of its parishes keep records of the baptisms (christenings) and marriages performed in the parish. The church also prescribed the form in which these records, or parish registers, were to be kept. Each time a child was christened or a couple married, the parish priest or one of his assistants was to make an entry in the appropriate book, telling who did what to whom, when, and where.

Although the specific requirements for keeping parish registers have changed from time to time, the formats of christening and marriage entries have stayed basically the same. This tutorial will introduce you to those basic formats; that is, it will focus on the specific information contained in each entry and locate where that information can usually be found.

As you begin reading through copies of Spanish parish registers and other records, three things will help to make your task easier. First, some words in Spanish are very similar to English words that you already know. Second, the handwriting style in most Spanish records is basically the same style we use today. Third, the information that you have to read will be in roughly the same place in each record.


Much of the text on this page was adapted from p. 1-1 of Spanish Record Extraction - An Instructional Guide, © 1981 by Intellectual Reserve. Please consult this resource for more detailed guidelines of Spanish document extraction.