May 18, 2017

Cuban Digitized Church Records and 1919 Census

While Cuba goes through their changes, including the ability to freely travel to the island, one of the struggles for many is finding resources when researching Cuban ancestry.

Fortunately, the internet has made it possible for many to locate many genealogical records on their ancestors via online databases.While it is easy to find records for Puerto Rico since it is a part of the United States, 50 years of closing our borders has impacted many of our distance cousins that live on this island.

So today, I will share what can be found.  Unknown to many, Vanderbilt University maintains a collection of church records which are available to view online. The university offers degrees in Latin Studies and maintains many maps, manuscripts, and books on Cuba and other Latin countries.  Vanderbilt's church collection for Cuba contains records from the 1500's to the 1800's for the following churches.  After clicking on the links below, simply scroll down to arrive to the church books.  If you are of African descent, you will be surprised to discover your ancestors are also in the books, include ancestors that were enslaved.  The first church is in Matanzas and the remaining are all in Havana (scroll down the page until you arrive to your church):


Some of the books have been transcribed.  You can find them by clicking here.

Vanderbilt University contains some collections that will assist you in your genealogical research.  The following collections are military records which include "pardos" meaning brown complexion. The collections will each open in a new window:

1919 Census

Vanderbilt has a digitized copy of the 1919 Census for Cuba (click on it to open in a new browser).  This book contains many names and is in a book format.  You will find a detailed list of people who were census personnel and enumerators for districts.  You will have to page through to get through the book to get to the names.  Hopefully you can spend time reading it to understand how people lived during that era.  The book also contains some images from around Cuba.

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9 comments:

  1. Can't figure out how to pass the pages. It is very difficult to see the entries.

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    1. At the top you should see in small print the words "Next". If you know you have ancestors in the book, I would recommend that you download the images and then blow them up on your own computer. Or you can use your browser's zoom in feature. I use Firefox and it appears at the right hand side dropdown menu. I increased it to 200% and can see the image clearly.

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    2. Actually after the image comes up, click on it once to open it and then again to zoom in and you should be able to read the image.

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  2. This is very useful if your ancestors happened to be slaves or freedman of color in Matanzas or Havanna. However, it does not include the 'blancos'. I have written the historian who is in charge of the project. She courteously replied that the images were only obtained of those books and some years ago, so even there they do not have more high quality images that might make it easier to provide an automated translation.

    This calls for an expedition, or a series of them. What if we wrote to the Catholic Church in Cuba and organized trips to each of the various churches to photograph all the books in their records and provide materials to conserve them as well. The church could keep the photographs instead of us hosting them. We would then pay the church, always a tricky topic when it comes to Cuba, to give us copies with transcriptions. This would save the fragile originals while providing them with income. Just a suggestion, but a worthy one.

    PS: The 1919 Census is just a report, in English so I presume available online. I still have not found an actual enumeration of all the residents of the island for ANY year. Does anyone know if the National Archives of Cuba might contain some?

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    1. Hi, the church will not allow any filming of their books and it has nothing to do with Cuba. This had to do with what occurred year ago when the members of the Mormon church started baptizing dead people in their books. As a FYI, the Mormons own Familysearch.org. The access was shut down from the Vatican (Rome) across the globe. In addition, it's not about the money. If there are universities that have funding to preserve, and willing to negotiate terms, then that is different and churches will potentially allow it. However, private citizens or organizations have not been allowed to film the books. And in many situations, have been denied access to even view them.

      As for Cuba census, they should exist as they exist for Puerto Rico for the 1800's. I believe you should start with the National Archives in Cuba.

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  3. Can't find my Church, la Parroquia del Vedado. It was there, I think, in 1919.

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    1. Not all churches were filmed so not surprised that your church isn't listed.

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  4. I think that would be a great idea to approach the churches. I would love to volunteer to do it. It would be quite a task but it can be done with the premise that it is for educational purposes. I am curious if any other groups or organizations have tried. Cuba is crumbling and I am so worried that their historical records will crumble with them.

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    1. Unfortunately the cost is extremely high and you'd be turned down as many have done so in the past on many of the islands to only be told no. You'd have to be part of an organization such as a historical library or even a university to gain access. There is a lot of contractual negotiations and discussion of who owns the images. The church would turn you down even with the best of intentions. There is another island where this occurred and the individual felt that they own the images and filed a lawsuit. Let's just say that the churches then shut down access to all of their records to the general public. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. I've been doing this since the 90's so I'm well versed on the craziness surrounding us gaining access to these records. It is not a fun path due to some individuals ruining it for the rest of us.

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