Starting Your Cuban Family History
October 08, 2020
Researching Cuban family history can be challenging at best. Access to records is the biggest hurdle. So what can you do to start learning more about your family history?
Start at Home
I know you know this, but it's good advice to remember. Start your research at home by interviewing family members and gathering what documents your family or cousins already have. Don’t neglect anything that might seem initially inconsequential, like photographs. Ask questions of family members - start with the oldest generation but then move down to the next generations. Don’t forget that sometimes a son or daughter was told information not shared with others or a favorite grandchild was gifted the family heirlooms.
Use Social Media
Social media allows us to contact and learn about family in ways that was impossible in decades past. The importance of social media in family history research is finding other new-to-you cousins and like-minded researchers. Do not assume that your immediate family has all the family information, photos, or heirlooms.
Use social media websites to get the word out about your research. Katherine R. Willson’s Genealogy on Facebook List has links to Cuban related Facebook groups that you can join and ask questions.
Don’t forget that your membership on some genealogy websites includes online trees, member profiles, and DNA results. Those membership benefits are also ways to attract possible family. Ensure that your member profiles are updated and include your research interests, surnames, and an updated email address. The importance of having an online tree and/or DNA results online is to connect with relatives who just might have more information that can help you.
Read and Watch
The first place you’ll want to start your genealogy education is the FamilySearch Research Wiki's Cuba Quick Start Guide . This brief guide provides information about requesting Cuban Catholic Church Records (a reply could take months) and is valuable for finding a locality in Cuba and other resources available through FamilySearch. After reading this information, I suggest searching the FamilySearch Catalog holdings for Cuba (conduct a Place search for Cuba).
Legacy has webinars that researchers in Spanish records or Latin American research might find helpful. These include:
- Research Latin America Genealogical Resources on the Internet by Daniel Horowitz
- An Introduction to Spanish Surnames by Daniel Smith-Ramos
Brian Tosko Bello's Cuban Genealogy Podcast seeks to "collaborate with other Cuban genealogists seeking to discover and preserve their Cuban heritage." Check out the Digital Cuban website for links to the podcast and a printable checklist for Cuban genealogy research.
Peruse What’s Online
Some records and resources can be found on FamilySearch, but unfortunately, unlike their holdings for other countries, there's not much available. What other online databases are available to the Cuban family historian?
The free website CubaGenWeb provides resources, databases, and links to records such as cemeteries, military records, telephone books, and reference information. This bilingual resource has a lot to explore, so make sure you take the time to click on all the links.
The Florida International University’s Enrique Hurtado de Mendoza Collection of Cuban Genealogy has a collection that most Cuban family history researchers will find beneficial. “The Enrique Hurtado de Mendoza Collection includes rare 17th and 18th-century books, long out-of-print publications and periodicals that few, if any, U.S. libraries hold in their catalogs. Additionally, thousands of unpublished family genealogies and manuscripts make this collection particularly significant.” Information found here is searchable and browseable by name. Materials found for a search of the surname “Hurtado” included archival resources, birth records, church records and registers, correspondence, marriage records, obituaries, and passenger lists. One news article called this collection the “Cuban equivalent of Ancestry.com.” Search on a name, and you'll quickly see the importance of this collection.
The Cuban Genealogy Club of Miami “ is the result of a shared desire for family historians, with a particular interest in Cuba, to convene regularly in order to further their knowledge and share information. We strive for the preservation of our shared memories and experiences. The Cuban Genealogy Club of Miami Florida, Inc. seeks to foster an interest in the preservation of records and testimonies that document Cuban family history.” The website has a lot of information for researchers, including browseable indexes of Cuban records and 2,000 PDFs of information that are not to be missed. Finally, check out the resources and research guides.
Start Your Research Today
Some genealogy research is made more difficult because of the lack of records or access to records. Don't give up before you have accessed what is available online, exhausted your home sources, and networked with others so you may find the resources you need.
Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.