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Iberian Originals
6/1/2004
If you have Hispanic heritage, your roots may ultimately lie on the other side of the Atlantic. Here's how to get started tracing your ancestors from Spain and Portugal.

It's a paradox: Although Hispanics recently became the largest ethnic group in the United States, the US Census Bureau doesn't even count the number of people who trace their ancestry back to Spain. Many Hispanic Americans, of course, combine a variety of native heritages with Spanish, and their roots wind through the many Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America. Indeed, their only connection with Spain may be the Spanish language. But once you've researched your family tree in the Americas, you may find a branch that crosses the Atlantic, all the way back to Spain. Instead of coming through Ellis Island, however, your Spanish ancestors probably arrived at a port somewhere south of the border.

Remember, too, that the first settlements in the New World were not the English towns of Jamestown and Plymouth, but rather outposts of the Spanish empire. The oldest city in the United States, St. Augustine, Fla., was founded by the Spanish in 1565 — 42 years before the British settled at Jamestown. The Spanish founded Santa Fe, NM, in 1610, were settling in Texas by 1682 (near El Paso) and began establishing missions in California in 1769. So the Spanish roots here also run deep.

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