The first European settlers that called Arizona “home” included family surnames like Martinez, Otero and Soto. Their legacy is reflected in southwestern food, culture, architecture and language. Growing interest in Spanish heritage research appears to increase with the growing U.S. hispanic population. This article provides a brief historical summary of Spanish rule in Arizona, then concludes by sharing a few of the best free resources for anyone interested Spanish family history and genealogy research.
Brief Historical Summary
In 1539, Spanish explorer and Franciscan Spanish Magazine priest Marcos de Niza became the first European to set foot in Arizona as he searched for the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola – Cities of Gold. Soon after, Jesuit priests erected missions throughout Arizona in an effort to convert Native American Indians to Christianity. By 1679, Father Eusebuio Francisco Kino and his companions had established five missions among the Yaqui, Opata and Papago tribes. Mission records which survived Spanish rule in Arizona preserved birth, death, and marriage information. Those same records are crucial to conducting Spanish family history research today.
Arizona became “home” to many Spanish soldiers in 1752, when a military fort (Presidio) was established in Tubac in response to the 1751 Piman uprising. Families, women and children accompanied the regiment. On January 10, 1789, the first Spanish land grant in Arizona was recorded at Tubac. Other land grants followed and each grant contained the names of local witnesses and military personnel involved in each land transaction.
During Spanish rule, Arizona was called Primeria Alta (land of the Upper Pimas). In 1821, Arizona fell under Mexican rule after Mexico gained her independence from Spain. The Gadsden Purchase shifted governmental rule to the United States, and statehood was finally achieved on February 14, 1912. The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration preserved some of the early Spanish land deeds and the title to many were perfected under U.S. law as land patents.
Spanish Ancestry Historical Resources
Following is a non-exhaustive list of resources to conduct such research. Use the search terms within quotations ” ” for optimum results:
• Land Records. U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, ” General Land Office Records.” This free database offers full land description, accession of land, land patent date, name of land owner, and in many cases, a scanned image.
• Probate Records / Wills. Given that Arizona was considered part of Sonora during Spanish rule, many records remained in Mexico. “Testamentos de Sonora 1789-1910” offer an excellent online database of wills / probate matters that include the surname of many Arizona pioneer families. Click on the “Consultas” tab to search records by name, year, phrase or keyword, municipality or district, and economic activity. Free Spanish text translators like Google translator or Alta Vista’s Babel Fish can be found on the web and do a fair job translating Spanish text.
• Spanish Census and Mission Records Mid 1700s to Early 1800s. Sources report that the University of Arizona offers microfilm of census and church records for the Archivo General de la Nacion and Archivo Historico de Hacienda, Seccion de Temporalidades in Mexico City; the Archivo Histrico del Estado de Sonora in Hermosillo, Archivo de Estado in Durango; and the Parral Archives in Chihuahua.
• Spanish Heritage Magazine. ” Somos Primos ” is a digital magazine that offers over ten years of full access archives. Its website proclaims that it is “a publication dedicated to past and present articles, events and information concerning Hispanic heritage issues.” Many Spanish families have been profiled.
• National Library of Spain. “Biblioteca Nacional de Espana” (National Library of Spain) contains several searchable collections. Once at the site, click on “Catalogos” (Catalogues) then “Biblioteca Digital Hispanica” (Hispanic Digital Library), finally “Coleciones” (Collections). There are many books, manuscripts and maps of interest.
Family history and genealogy research can be challenging in and of itself, but it may seem daunting when you are an English-only speaker trying to decipher Spanish language records. Don’t be discouraged. If you find a likely reference to your family surname, use a Spanish translator tool translating one paragraph at a time. Your patience may be greatly rewarded.