Since I started to study genealogy and discovered a contradistinc approach to history, the genealogy and social history of Puerto Rico is one of the richest that I have so far encountered.

Puerto Rico, nicknamed Land of Enchantment, has a unique heritage. Christopher Columbus claimed the island for Spain when he landed there in 1493 and 400 years later following the Spanish-American War Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the United States.

By that time the Spanish had left their mark on the island, which is evidenced by the language and social norms.

Although Puerto Rico’s official languages are both Spanish and English the island’s culture is definitely Spanish with a twist of African, Indian and Anglo influences.

Immigrants from all over the world have settled there, so when you trace your Puerto Rican roots, you shouldn’t be surprised to find, in addition to Spanish, you might also find African, British, French, Dutch or South American ancestors.

When Columbus arrived, Taino Indians lived on the Island but, as you’ll learn in texts like “A Patriot’s History”, the combination of European diseases and enslavement by the Spanish diminished their numbers.

The island’s first town of Caparra, was founded in 1508 and by 1521 the town had moved and renamed Puerto Rico (rich port). The name was changed yet again to San Juan and the entire island became known as Puerto Rico.

Spain turned San Juan into a military outpost in the second half of the 1500s and the British, French and Dutch began to settle the on other Caribbean islands.

In the late 1700s the Spanish encouraged Canary islanders, French settlers from Louisiana, and Spaniards from Santa Domingo (now the Dominican Republic) to settle in Puerto Rico. Large sugar cane plantations were prosperous.

In the mid-1800s, immigrants arrived from China, Italy, Germany, Scotland, Ireland and Lebanon.

When Spain ceded the island to the United States in 1898, Americans began moving there.

Today, the island is a self-governing territory of the United States and its residents are United States citizens.

Before I add some sites to explore your Puerto Rican family history here’s a list of facts to consider:

  • Civil Registration started 1885
  • Puerto Rico – US territory status 1898
  • First US Census 1910
  • Birth, Marriage and Death records began 1931
  • US Commonwealth Status 1952

As with all family history research, if possible, you should gather as much information as you can from relatives, then focus on an ancestor you know to start your family tree.

The Family Search Latin American Outline is a good place to start learning about the type of records at your disposal as you plan your research strategy.

Here’s a list of links that could prove to be very useful in your ancestral search:

Hispanic Genealogical Society of New York

NARA North East Region-NewYork City

Demographic Registry (Registro Demografico)

Puerto Rico General Archive (Archivo General de Puerto Rico)

Family Search – Puerto Rico Civil Registration 1836-2001 and Puerto Rico Roman Catholic Church Records 1645-1969

Census Information:

Family Search U.S. Census 1910, 1920, 1930 (You have to pay for this one but many libraries have a subscription)

Heritage-Quest Online (also free through subscribing libraries)

Organizations and Archives

Florida International University Libraries Latin American and Caribbean Information Center

The Hispanic Society of America

Hunter College Center for Puerto Rican Studies (Centro de Estudios  Puertorriquenos)

New York State Archives

Puerto Rican/Hispanic Genealogical Society


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27 Comments on Trace your Puerto Rican ancestry

  1. I want to find my ancestors

  2. J J Ryan says:

    Looking for more information about surname Ryan. Family lived in Loiza and Carolina area back around 1860-1960..Im trying to get more information that predates the 1910 census. I’m trying to build info prior to Agustin Ryan de Torres. So anyone out there who might have suggestions to obtain info going back to period of Spanish rule, feel free to email me…

  3. J J Ryan says:

    Anyone who has any info for surname Ryan. Resided primarily in Loiza and Carolina in mid 1800’s thru 1960’s. Working on family tree and would enjoy hearing from you on “lost” family members.

  4. Maribel says:

    Hello JJ Ryan: You may want to try
    It’s free, and they have some parish records such as from Loiza (San Patricio), and from Carolina (San Fernando).
    Unfortunately some parishes and or dioceses did not allow releasing vital records kept by the Catholic church before civil registration began around 1885.
    Path: Catalog tab, in Places, key in Puerto Rico, once you get search results, scroll down to church records, select registros parroquiales 1645-1969.
    Good luck.

  5. Milagros says:

    Hola JJ Ryan: Agustin Ryan y Torres murio el 14 julio 1932 en Carolina, PR. Sus padres eran Ricardo Ryan y Calderon(1846-1916)y Josefa Torres y Calderon.( se casaron el 31/dic/1902)Don Ricardo era divorciado cuando se caso. Era hijo de Cristobal Ryan y Agustina Calderon. Don Agustin Ryan se caso con Josefina Garcia y Salgado (1877-1968) el 20/abril/1912. Tuvieron once hijos: Sergia, Sandalio, Agustin, Ricardo, Maria, Cruz, Belen, Jose, Pedro y Francisco Ryan. Rafael Ryan y Torres murio a los dos anos de edad. Raul Agustin Ryan y Garcia quien nacio el 18/junio/1915.
    Los padres de Josefina Garcia y Salgado eran:Teodoro Garcia y Generosa Salgado
    Se le es mas facil si busca con la letra Y entre medio de dos apellidos. La informacion la consegui en que tambien tiene el Puerto Rico Civil registration 1885-2001.
    Suerte con su busqueda. Milagros

  6. Mary marquez says:

    I’m interested in getting more information on my grandfather from Ponce, PR. He is listed in the 1910 census, but not on the 1920 or 1930′ His name was Faustino Lavergne Lebron. Lived with Esterbina Santiago Archibald. Their children were Flora, Epifania, Antonio and Josefina.They lived in the town of Melero. Any information will be appreciated. Have tried Ancestry .com and Family Search.

  7. maryellen valles says:

    looking for some help on my dad raul ricci valles dob april 26,1924 ,1922 ssa say the year 1922 dobyear he was dead nov,17 1998 , he lived also in pittsburgh pa and new jersey , he also has 4 children ,3 born in new jersry 1 in pittsburgh … would like some help thank you maryellen

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