National Hispanic Heritage Month, in the US, celebrates the culture and traditions of Americans with roots in Spain, Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. It is observed from September 15 through October 15.
First observed as Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968, it was expanded in 1988 to cover the 30-day period.
Some 14% of the US population – more than 42.7 million Americans – have an Hispanic origin, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It is considered the largest ethnic minority in the country.
Tens of millions of Hispanics emigrated from Spain. Some came directly to the US and countries south, some first went to the Philippines or the Caribbean Islands and then arrived here. Spain was in the Caribbean and Mexico long before the English were in what would become the US. The state of New Mexico was settled by the Spanish in 1598, and they were in Saint Augustine, Florida, in 1565.
Tracing your Hispanic heritage may not lead directly back to Spain, but may go from the US to many other places, including Europe, Africa and even Eastern Europe. There may be many surprises along the way.
The choice of dates means that the independence days of seven countries – Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico and Chile - fall during this period. On October 12, we celebrate Columbus Day (also known as Dia de la Raza).
The first step in any journey along the genealogy road is to interview all your relatives, collect documents, photos, immigration records. That said, there are many resources available to help you make more progress. For a good list of resources, view the Association of Personal Historians’ resource page.
Read up on Hispanic surnames – which includes a surname from your maternal and paternal lines. In some countries, the maternal name comes first, in some countries, the paternal name comes first. Check out this introductory article (from Genealogy.about.com) on Spanish surnames.
Try to determine your family’s country of origin. And, while many Hispanics are of Catholic ancestry (and for whom Catholic Church records are helpful), others are of Jewish ancestry (which requires other sources).
Here are numerous resources to help you begin to trace your Hispanic roots:
The Library of Congress has an entire page devoted to the month, and resources are available at the National Archives, Smithsonian Institution, National Gallery of Art, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. See the audio and video collections, view images and exhibits and collections.
Research Mexico’s extensive history and resources, which cover 32 states and the federal district. Civil record keeping there began in 1859 for vital records of birth, deaths and marriages, while church records date from 1530, in the individual parishes. Family Search.org has many records in the Mexican Vital Records Index.
Celebrate the month by learning about your surname, origins and available records!
National Hispanic Heritage Month encourages learning more about your Hispanic roots and heritage.