August 5, 2015

Searching and Finding Puerto Rican Civil Records for Free on FamilySearch

For those that can't afford Ancestry monthly fees or don't want to pay for something that you can get for free, there are other options available. Yes that is correct, FREE!

If you have a free account on Ancestry, I know it must be annoying to get the little leaf for hints on an ancestor and as soon as you click on the individual link, WHAM! you are hit with a payment window and are left with the inability to see if the hint was truly a good hint.  So most head to the message boards for help while others post on Facebook looking for answers. However it's really not an end all. You do have free options.

Most local libraries have subscriptions to Ancestry for their patrons to view for free. You can also view Ancestry for free from your local LDS Family History Library. If you don't know what an LDS Family History Library is then let me explain. The LDS is also know as the Mormon Church to those who are not members.  They maintain a website called familysearch.  Part of their religion is to have their members build their family trees. I won't go deeper than that because it doesn't impact you if you're not a member. They actually welcome all people to research in their libraries across the globe and will not push their religion onto patrons; this is actually not allowed.  They have collected billions of records from around the world and have them all on microfilm.  They are currently working on digitizing their records and uploading them. 

When I first started genealogy it was harder as these records were not available online and it required sitting in dark rooms looking at microfilms that were blurry and grainy. However today they have billions of records available in digital format and most importantly the have volunteers who transcribe the records to make the images easier to find.

So let's talk about this a bit.  When you visit the website, click here, you will notice a menu at the top.  Click on "Search" and ignore the drop down that appears when you hover over the word. You will be taken to a new page with a search window and a map on the side but don't enter any info into it yet.

You have an option here. If you want to drill down to a particular database such as Puerto Rico's Civil Registration Records which covers years from 1805 to 2001; then just continue to read.  Note that not all regions are covered during these years and not all birth, death and marriage records will be found.  Remember that Puerto Rico is a Commonwealth and is part of the USA. Due to US privacy laws you will not find birth records after 1931.  Additional, the entire island didn't have civil registration until 1885. Added to this, many people didn't bother to register births, deaths, and marriages until it became enforced by law and fines were levied for late registrations. By 1930 it was a requirement. Keep all of this in mind when you going through these records.

There is a link below the map that reads Browse All Published Collections.  You can also click on the link I provide on the words.  Note the index of regions on the left side. You're now going to click on Caribbean and Central America.  You will realize that it will expand and at the same time update the list to the right. You can scroll down on the right pane until you reach the Civil records database or click on Puerto Rico on the left side and it will filter the list to the right to show Puerto Rico only.

Here you can enter different combinations of information to find your ancestors.  Click on any of the blue links to add additional filters to the information. When entering towns, you can enter the municipality but not the barrio (town).  So for example, I have ancestors in Dos Bocas, Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico, however I should enter it as Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico.  This is because records may not drill down to the actual town.  I recommend that you don't check the small boxes next to the names as it will filter out even the ancestor you seek if it wasn't index properly.

So for my example I want to search for Pedro Bayala, I entered his name and then click on the "Any" link.  There I enter in the municipality and leave everything else blank.  The search produces three records.

Pedro Bayala Search Results
Notice the little camera below the name. If you see this on the record, it means that there is a digitized copy of the original record.  In additional after clicking on the name, it will provide you some information about the record that was indexed. Note that many records not only contain an individual's information but it also contains both parent's names (if married), and both sets of grandparents' names. The great thing is that all women are listed with their maiden names. Many also provide you with information on whether the grandparents are alive or deceased and where they lived. The same information is provided on the parents.

When you click on the name, the page refreshes and provides the index information to the left and a smaller image of the record on the right. Click on  View the original document below the image.  Please make sure popup blockers are disabled for this website or you won't be able to see the image. It provides you a small view but you can have it completely open on another tab to view the document on the entire page. You will now be able to zoom in and out to view the record.  I'm providing the link that opens to the stand alone page here.  I hope this small tutorial has helped you with understanding how to use this website to your benefit and for free for Puerto Rico Civil Records.  Also remember to keep a translator open on another tab so you can plug in words if you don't know how to read in Spanish.

Desktop:  To see other blog posts for your island or country, click on the menu that appears at the top right of this post. It will take you to the page containing posts for your island or country.

Mobile Devices (Smartphone & Tablets):  To see other blog posts for your island or country, at the top of the page, click on the "Most Recent Post", a popup menu will appear, select an option. It will take you to the page containing posts for your island or country.