May 12, 2006

Los Tapatios de California: Returning to Their Jalisco Roots

By John P. Schmal

The Mexican state of Jalisco seems to inspire a sense of cultural identity and pride that is not nearly as evident with other Mexican states. Even among some second- and third-generation Americans, loyalty to and interest in Jalisco is commonplace among Mexican Americans. To many people, Jalisco represents the essence of Mexican culture, tradition and music. The Tapatios are well-known for their energetic and colorful dances, which are usually accompanied by the mariachi music that made Guadalajara famous. The state itself has been contributing large numbers of immigrants to the U.S. since the early Twentieth Century.

Thousands of Jaliscans have been arriving in Los Angeles and throughout California each year for the last half-century, and, today, the sons and daughters of Jalisco work in California’s banks, health care companies, publishing companies, schools, libraries and factories. Many of them attend elementary school or are making their way through college, while others stand on street corners, looking for day laboring opportunities. Today, without a doubt, the lifeblood of Jalisco flows through the heart of California.

I spend a few hours of each month as a volunteer Family History Consultant for people who are seeking to find their roots in Mexico and have met with many individuals who were interested in exploring their Jalisco roots. Many of them also have ancestors from Michoacán, Zacatecas, and Guanajuato, but for some reason, they have a compelling urge to explore their Jalisco origins first and foremost.

Jalisco’s parish priests and the civil registrars followed a rigorous system of record-keeping that was not nearly as meticulous in some of the other Mexican states. As an added benefit, a significant number of Jalisco’s parish records after 1850 are indexed, offering great opportunities for the family history researcher.

The most endearing characteristic of Jalisco records after 1800 is what I call The Abuelos Factor. Unlike some Mexican states and most countries of the world, a baptism record in the Jalisco parish books gives the family historian six new names to research: the padres (parents), abuelos paternos (paternal grandparents), and abuelos maternos (maternal grandparents) of the person being baptized.

The  most  important  repository  of  Jalisco records for most Americans to research are available through the Family History Library in Salt Lake city. This library probably has the largest genealogical resources for the state of Jalisco in the world and its catalog can be accessed at the following link:

For the state of Jalisco alone, the Family History Library owns at least 20,000 rolls of microfilm, covering roughly 200 cities, municipios, and villas. Of the 165 towns and villages whose Catholic churches are represented in this collection, 46 have registers going back to the 1600s while another 37 have records stretching back to the 1700s. Each roll of microfilm in the FHL collection can be ordered from any local Family History Center for $6.05. That roll of film will stay “in-house” for one month and can be renewed at the end of that period.

Most of Jalisco’s 124 municipios are also represented in the FHL catalog. Although Mexico enacted civil registration in 1859, most of the municipios of Jalisco did not start keeping birth, marriage, and death records until 1867 or later.

The FHL owns an impressive 3,400 rolls of microfilm dealing with Guadalajara. Fifteen Catholic churches, some with baptism and marriage registers stretching back as far as 1635, are represented on 1,500 rolls of film. Padrones (local census lists) from 1639 to 1875 comprise 48 rolls of film and can be a very useful resource. Property and water rights records can be found on 269 rolls of microfilm and date back to 1584. Notarial and probate records, dating back to at least 1583, make up almost 1,300 rolls.

It is interesting to note that, as one goes back in time, the records of some cities actually become more detailed. For example, a researcher exploring the marriage records in Lagos de Moreno between 1650 and 1670 will find that they are amazingly detailed, even for Indian couples who have no surnames.

In pre-Columbian times, many indigenous groups inhabited Jalisco, and, in fact, the present-day territory of Jalisco was crisscrossed by a large number of small autonomous states speaking a multitude of languages, some of which are long forgotten. The area around Guadalajara was inhabited by Cocas and Tecuexes, while the northern Altos region was dominated by the Caxcanes and Guachichiles. The Otomies lived around Zapotitlán, Juchitlán, Autlán in the south, but it is possible that they were transplanted Indians who came to fill a demographic void left by the original inhabitants after epidemics had reduced their numbers.

The Purépecha Indians (Tarascans), identified with the State of Michoacán, inhabited some of the southern border regions. The Tepehuán Indians, presently inhabiting Chihuahua, Durango and Nayarit, once lived in some of the northern mountains of Jalisco’s Three-Fingers Border Region with Zacatecas. The Huicholes, who now live in Nayarit, also inhabited some regions of northern Jalisco until shortly after the Spanish contact.

Jalisco is still a vibrant and proud state. People who come from there have difficulty shedding their cultural ties to their tapatio heritage and generally maintain a sense of identity about their Jaliscan origins. The State of Jalisco, with its rich cultural inheritance, has become, in many ways, part of California society as well. But no matter how American you are, it doesn’t hurt to know about your ancestors from Jalisco and the evolution that transformed them from Indian warriors and Spanish settlers into American citizens.

Source:  John P. Schmal and Donna S. Morales, Mexican-American Genealogical Research: Following the Paper Trail to Mexico (Heritage Books, 2002).

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