Monday, April 9, 2012

Genealogy 101: Family History Centers

After learning all I could about my family history from the stories of my grandparents I did a little research for the next steps to take in tracing my family tree. One has to remember that this was way back in 1994 and since access to the internet was not as easy as it is now I had to resort to the only available resources at hand: encyclopedias. I learned from the Genealogy entry from our set of encyclopedia that the largest collection of genealogical records may be found at the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) in Salt Lake City, Utah. Since there was nothing else in the entry I decided to write them to inquire if their records were accessible in Davao City. I had to wait for at least a month to get a response since everything was done through snail mail at that time. I now wish I had held on to that letter where they informed me that there was a Family History Center right in Davao City. 

The Family History Library of the LDS in Utah

A little note on these Family History Centers (FHC) and the LDS. The church was started by Joseph Smith, who is considered by the members as a prophet. They believe that a small group of Jewish settlers came to the Americas centuries ago and this group gave birth to two warring tribes in America. A later descendant by the name of Moroni later finished the compilation and writing of a set of records done by previous prophets of their tribe. These were all written on golden plates which Moroni later buried. It was Moroni, now as an angel, who presented these plates to Joseph Smith. The book that came from the translation of these plates is now known as the Book of Mormon.

One of the basic tenets of the church believes that the dead has to undergo a process called baptism of the dead and sealing so that they may be reborn into the LDS church and be "sealed" with their family in heaven forever. As such, it is the practice of the members of the church to put an emphasis on genealogy as this was the only way for them to discover their ancestry and perform the necessary ceremonies. This is why the church maintains the Utah center with smaller centers all over the world. Most major cities in the Philippines have at least 1 FHC available to both members and non-members. To find out  the closest FHC in your area, click here

What Records Are Available

There are three things that are common for most cities and municipalities in the Philippines. The first are church records, which I have discussed in a previous post. These church records are mostly baptismal, marriage, and burial records. There are also confirmation records which are also available for most towns. Some towns are lucky enough to have additional church records such as Libros de Gastos (accounting records) and the best type of local church records are the padrones de almas (Accounting for Souls) which were censuses that the friars conducted. If one finds this available in one's town of origin then there should be a lot of genealogical data available.

Aside from church records there are also Civil Registries available, which are the records from the city or municipal civil registrar's office. Most of these records date back only to the first to second quarter of the 20th century.

The last common record are the notarial records, which may show land records, court records, wills and other legal documents.

It is advisable that after looking for available records from one's own locality, a search in the province of one's locality is also advisable. For instance, after going through the available records from Argao I also checked for records pertaining to the province of Cebu. Here were the additional records I found in Cebu:

Census, Civil registration, Court records, Emigration and immigration, Land and property, Military records, Notarial records, Public records, Schools, Statistics, and Taxation. 

While these may not always yield much, I have found enough intriguing records that can add to my search. For instance, looking at the court records has shown me that when Agustin Cristobal Bayot, my great-great-great-great-grandfather, died at the age of 100 in 1854 his wife, my great (4X) -grandmother, Teodora Suerte vda. de Bayot, fought with Cristobal's sister, Maria Bayot. There was even a mention of Maria spitting at Teodora when they were presenting their case to the gobernadorcillo. I was never able to ascertain what they were fighting about as the rest of the records were water-stained. But the spitting incident truly adds some spice to my family history.

To do a search of available records please click on this link.

What to Expect

Please check first what time the FHC in your area is open to the public. It must be remembered that these FHCs are run by volunteers and thus there are times when the place is closed even on scheduled business hours.

Use of the facility is free to all. When I started years ago the microfilm rental (all records are in mircrofilm) was P3.00 per film. Later it became P6.00. The last time I visited the FHC in Davao City last year I was informed that there was no more rental fee.

This was the type of reader I used in the FHC in Davao
You will have to use a mircrofilm reader to view these films. 

Recently the LDS has started to convert these records to searchable indexes online, and so far hundreds of thousands of entries are already available through FamilySearch. However, a little caveat when searching. Many of these records have a lot of mispellings and not all records are complete. Nonetheless, I assume that if you are just starting in your search at an FHC you will be asked to search first online. P.S. The FHCs also have some computer terminals with internet for searching.

I would forever be indebted to the LDS church for making their records available to the public. I would never have been able to research way back in 1994 had it not been for them. I hope that those who read this entry and who will go to the FHC of their place will get the same amazing experience that I had.

1 comment:

  1. My sister and I have started researching our Filipino ancestry. The Family History Center has been online for a while now. Most of the unindexed church registries are in microfilm format and can be viewed free of charge on the website: