As early as 1540, the Spanish traversed what is now New Mexico in the hopes of finding silver. But it wasn’t until 1598 that Juan de Oñate came forth with hundreds of migrants to establish the first permanent European settlement in the region. What they found was a culture of pueblos and ancient ruins, created by the people who had lived in the area for several thousand years. New Mexico, the 47th state, has a long history. Researching historical documents—and the people in them—show how the state evolved, and reap genealogical information.
Long before New Mexico was in the United States (or Mexico, or Spain), it was inhabited by various tribes. The Pueblo culture lived in the region for thousands of years before contact with Europeans, and were later joined by the Navajo and Apache. Today, 23 federally recognized tribes live in the state: 19 of the Pueblo culture, three of the Apache, and the Navajo Nation. It can be helpful to think of New Mexico’s history (and records) by governmental period, as each authority changed what records were kept or introduced new policies: the Spanish era (1598–1821), the era (1821–1846), the US territorial era (1846–1912) and the US state era (1912–present).
The Spanish period began when explorers claimed much of the American Southwest for Spain. Historical records from this era are scarce, partially because of a Pueblo revolt in 1680 that led to the destruction of government and church buildings and a temporary halt to Spanish settlement in the area. But you can reconstruct some information using Inquisition records and documents created by governors and viceroys. The next era, of Mexican rule, began in 1821 when New Spain dissolved and Mexico secured its independence. The Santa Fe Trail, first traversed the same year, opened an overland route from Missouri to New Mexico that encouraged trade with the United States. War with the United States (largely over the status of neighboring Texas) led Mexico to surrender much of its northern territory in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. Initially under military governorship, the area was organized as the Territory of New Mexico in 1850 that included Arizona and parts of Colorado and Nevada. The Gadsden Purchase (1853) added more land to the new territory’s southwest.
New Mexico’s population grew as new irrigation methods made agriculture more feasible and railroads connected the territory with other communities. In 1912, New Mexico and its neighbor, Arizona, became the last two states of the “Lower 48” to join the Union.
WHERE NATIVE AMERICAN RECORDS ABOUND
The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque holds photographs and other records of the state’s Pueblo tribes, and each sovereign tribe has its own archival records and practices. Look for other records of Native American communities through FamilySearch and the National Archives in Denver. FamilySearch’s collection is especially strong for tribes who converted to Catholicism.
Civil registration at the state level wasn’t implemented until 1920, but records of earlier vital events may still exist. Individual counties kept birth and death records beginning in about 1899, with a law requiring registration in 1907. USGenWeb has collected a death index from 1899 to 1949, with original records at FamilySearch. You can order post-1920 birth and death records from the state department of health. Privacy laws restrict access to birth and death records less than 100 or 50 years
old (respectively) to only immediate family members and those who have legal need.
In addition, Catholic records date to 1694 and might document vital events. The three modern Catholic dioceses in the state—Santa Fe, Gallup, and Las Cruces—each hold records covering the colonial period well into statehood, covering baptisms, marriages and burials, as well as censuses and church history.The New Mexico Genealogical Society website has a finding aid, under e-Research, and FamilySearch has an extensive collection.
Churches in the colonial and Mexican eras also created marriage investigations, which collected valuable genealogical information about marrying couples. Inside, you’ll find pedigree charts, birthplaces, parents’ names, and marital statuses. Consult digitized versions of New Mexico Roots; Ltd., 1678–1869 by Fray Angelico Chavez through the University of New Mexico and two volumes of New Mexico Prenuptial Investigations From the Archivos Históricos del Arzobispado de Durango by Rick Hendricks and John B. Colligan at New Mexico State University.
Dedicated colonial-era censuses for some pueblos exist as early as 1750, with census substitutes like military musters, confirmation lists, and various supply and distribution lists dating to the late 1600s. The New Mexico Genealogical Society and Ancestry.com have compiled early census records. In addition, New Mexico Genealogical Society and the Hispanic Genealogical Research Center of New Mexico have published censuses taken during the Mexican period, notably in 1823 and 1845. Not all censuses covered every town, and records of some counts have been lost.
New Mexico first appears in the decennial US census in 1850 as New Mexico Territory, and has appeared in every count since.Federal censuses are widely available at sites like FamilySearch and Ancestry.com. Note that nearly all of the 1890 census has been lost, though a schedule of Union veterans survives. The federal government took a special census of New Mexico Territory in 1885, and you can view records through FamilySearch or Ancestry.com. (Unlike some other states, New Mexico hasn’t conducted its own state census.)
Spanish-era land grants are documented in the collection Spanish Archives of New Mexico, Series I, available in microfilm through FamilySearch and as part of an Ancestry.com collection. The documents date to 1692 and are rich in genealogical information; the Center for Land Grant Studies website has an overview of each grant, along with film/frame number . Once under US jurisdiction, New Mexico’s available was distributed by the federal government. Find records through the National Archives at Denver and the Bureau of Land Management’s General Land Office website .
Probate and Tax Records
The aforementioned Spanish Archives of New Mexico, Series I also includes probate records and wills for the colonial period. (Some are also embedded in land grant records.) New Mexico’s county clerk o£ces hold records filed under US jurisdiction.
The New Mexico State Records Center and Archives holds county-level tax records beginning in the territorial era. Ancestry.com has an IRS tax list beginning as early as 1862.
Spanish Archives of New Mexico, Series II, available as part of the “Civil Records of New Spain, 1621–1821” collection on Ancestry.com, compiles colonial-era musters, enlistments, service records and a 1790 census of military personnel. Also of note in that time period: Some men from Santa Fe donated funds to support the American Revolution war effort. That makes their descendants potentially eligible for membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution or Sons of the American Revolution.
A collection entitled Calendar of the Microfilm Edition of the Mexican Archives of New Mexico, 1821–1846 (“MANM”) by Myra Ellen Jenkins includes enlistments, musters, and other service records from the Mexican period. The nonpresidio militia lists in this collection can also serve as a kind of census substitute for the era. The main theater of the American Civil War (1861–1865) was far to New Mexico’s east. But some 4,000 soldiers from New Mexico enlisted and fought in the conflict, and New Mexico was the site of two notable battles, Valverde and Glorieta Pass.
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