Finding Belo in the Archives

Photo of the author with her grandparents.

My grandfather, Salvador Sanchez, was born 15 February 1921 in Mexico. It was there that he met my grandmother, Rosa Fonseca, and started a family before immigrating to the United States in 1957.

Belo, as we called him, worked for the railroad in Gary, Indiana and stayed there until he retired. Before starting a family, he had traveled to the states for seasonal work. I don’t know what my grandfather did during his trips. Unfortunately, he died in 2002, when I was only nine years old. He didn’t talk to his children about his life before them, and I wasn’t old enough to ask questions when we lost him, so much of my grandfather’s life is a mystery to me.

Fortunately, genealogical records can help piece stories together, and as a researcher, I’ve discovered valuable resources to help me feel closer to my grandfather.

The availability of Mexican records online varies by geographic region and time period, just like records in the US. Once I familiarized myself with the types of popular records available—civil registrations and Catholic Church records—I began a search for any records related to my grandfather.

I ended up finding his birth registration in the state of Michoacan easily, but the most difficult part was actually reading the records.

I grew up speaking Spanish and English. My grandparents never learned English well, despite eventually becoming United States citizens, and my mother wanted me to be able to communicate directly with them. I can read and write Spanish proficiently, but these early records used vocabulary and abbreviations I was unfamiliar with.

Image of Salvador Sanchez's birth record

From the record I found, I learned that Salvador Sanchez was born in Sahuayo at 9:30 pm, the son of Antonio Sanchez and Marina Galvez Guiterrez. He was described as their “natural” son.

I assumed that natural just meant that he was their biological child, but after some research, I learned that “natural” meant that he was born out of wedlock. If his parents were married, he would have been described as a “legitimate” child. I also located a birth registration for his sister Josefina, who was born 31 March 1919. She was also described as a natural child.

In many other Mexican birth records that I’ve located, when a legitimate child is registered, the records often name maternal and paternal grandparents. Baptismal records can also contain lineage information. In both birth records for my grandfather and his sister, however, no other family is named.

All I knew about my grandfather’s parents were that they were Mexican citizens from Sahuayo. When I asked my mother if she knew that her father’s parents were unmarried, she was surprised. I don’t even know if my grandfather knew. No one ever discussed it.

I haven’t had enough time to dive deep into the records, but the few I’ve found so far have opened avenues of research and given me new insight into my Belo’s life in Mexico. With more time, I hope to uncover more.

About Anjelica Oswald

Anjelica holds a MA in Public History and certificate in digital humanities from Northeastern and a BA in journalism from Ohio University. She worked as a reporter in New York for four years before starting her graduate degree. She recently finished a year as a digital public history intern with the National Parks of Boston. Areas of expertise: Revolutionary War and Massachusetts records, Spanish fluency.

3 thoughts on “Finding Belo in the Archives

  1. Oh, I do hope that you continue to share your discoveries about your family here. I also have “informally wed” ancestors, who often lived where records were not yet kept or it was difficult to get to the appropriate place, or there were legal barriers. Many lived in back-country areas, and it was not uncommon for people to simply take up housekeeping. Censuses often proved the longevity of those relationships, as did the number of children produced. As for locating other relatives, the best bet (as I’m sure you know) is doing FAN club researching. I found relatives living in proximity, and using various records (tax, business and land records esp), built out a network of connections that led to more relatives. This in the records-sparse interior south. I would love to hear if and how something like this would work in Mexico,

    1. I have done and have professional research done in Mexico — one of the births I discovered — my son-in-law’s grandmother’s — her parents married shortly after her birth. In the country sometimes they had to wait a long time for their priest. Same thing happened in Norway back in the day — early 1860’s.

  2. Great article! I remember when I found the marriage record of my wife’s great-great-grandparents in Dominican Republic in 1885, listed the groom Juan Garcia as the “hijo natural de Maria Garcia defunte [deceased]” I’ve seen grandparents, and occasionally great-grandparents, also listed on records in Puerto Rico.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.