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Genealogical Research in New Mexico

Genealogy Research New Mexico

Even though it is one of the youngest American states, there are many genealogical records and resources available for tracing your family history in New Mexico. Because there are so many records held at many different locations, tracking down the records for your ancestor can be an ominous task. Don’t worry though, we know just where they are, and we’ll show you which records you’ll need, while helping you to understand:

  • What they are
  • Where to find them
  • How to use them

These records can be found both online and off, so we’ll introduce you to online websites, indexes and databases, as well as brick-and-mortar repositories and other institutions that will help with your research in New Mexico. So that you will have a more comprehensive understanding of these records, we have provided a brief history of the “Land of Enchantment” to illustrate what type of records may have been generated during specific time periods. That information will assist you in pinpointing times and locations on which to focus the search for your New Mexico ancestors and their records.

A Brief History of New Mexico

There is evidence that humans have occupied the area that is now New Mexico from around 20,000 years ago. Since then it has been home to the semi-nomadic Basket Makers, the Cochise, the Cliff Dwellers, or Anasazi, who were predecessors of the modern Pueblo Indians. The Navajo also settled in new Mexico, as did the Apache, who became a threat to any white settlers entering the region.

Francisco Vásquez de Coronado led the first expedition to New Mexico, starting in 1540, and in 1598, Don Juan de Onate led an expedition to explore the Rio Grande. One year later Onate established the settlement of San Gabriel, in the vicinity of present-day Espanola. In 1610 the Spanish moved their center of activity to Santa Fe, and subsequently dominated the area for the next two centuries.

After gaining its independence from Spain in 1821, Mexico secured the region, which remained under their control for the next twenty five years. The Spanish settlers in the area resented the control of the Mexican officials and their inability to control the war-like Apaches. The unrest led to a bloody revolt in 1837 which was put down by forces led by General Manuel Armijo. General Armijo served as governor until American forces under the command of General Stephen Watts Kearny took the region without resistance in 1846.

Without authorization from the United States Congress, Kearny immediately attempted to make the region a U.S. Territory. After appointing the Indian trader Charles Bent as his civil governor, Kearny led his army towards California. While Kearny was gone, Bent was killed in an Indian and Mexican revolt which was quickly put down by another contingent of American forces. That action secured control of the area for the United States, though the area was not officially recognized as part of America until 1848 when the Mexican-American War ended.

The Compromise of 1850 made New Mexico a United States Territory, though its new status did not bring any immediate change to the area. An increasing number of people passing through the area via the Santa Fe Trail became interested in settling the area however, and before long clashes over land between the new arrivals and the original Spanish-speaking inhabitants. Violent confrontations flared up occasionally, though most of the fighting took place in the courts. This enabled suck lawyers as Thomas Benton Catron to amass large amounts of personal wealth, as native grantees were forced to pay for his services with land.

Between 1891 and 1904, 33 million acres of disputed land was processed by the federal courts. Land disputes were not the sole cause of violence during this time though, as the Civil war found its way into the new territory. In 1862, an army of Texans led by Confederate General Henry Hopkins Sibley, marched up the Rio Grande, and occupied Santa Fe. A hastily assembled troop of volunteers defeated Sibley and his forces at Glorieta Pass however, in a conflict that is often called the Gettysburg of the West.

Sixteen years later in 1878 a range war that lasted until1881 erupted between cattle ranchers and merchants. It was during this conflict that New Mexico’s most infamous son, William H. Bonney, better known as Billy the Kid, began to shape the territory’s image of a lawless region not fit for statehood. In spite of the tumult, New Mexico began to prosper, and when the Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe Railroad entered the territory in 1879, the economy accelerated further.

With the Indian threat resolved by the end of the 19th century, New Mexico pushed for statehood, which was granted in 1912 by Theodore Roosevelt, who had rode with many New Mexicans in the Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War.

  • Important Dates in New Mexico History
    • 1598 – Spanish settlement at Santa Fe
    • 1610 – Santa Fe made provincial capitol
    • 1680 – Pueblo Indian revolt drives white settlers from the area
    • 1693 – Settlers return to Santa Fe
    • 1706 – Albuquerque founded
    • 1821 – Becomes province of Mexico
    • 1846 – US forces occupy Santa Fe
    • 1848 – Ceded to the United States in treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo
    • 1850 – Organized as US Territory
    • 1868 – Navajo reservations established
    • 1870 – Apache reservations established
    • 1912 - Statehood

Famous Battles Fought in New Mexico

The major battles that took place in New Mexico occurred during the Mexican American War and the US Civil War. The Battle of El Brazito, the first real battle in the Mexican-American War, and the Siege of Pueblo de Taos which ended it were also the bloodiest battles of the war.

The first skirmish of the Civil War was the Battle of Valverde, the sole Confederate victory in the New Mexico campaign, while the Battle of Glorieta Pass sealed the Union’s dominance of the Wes t and drove the Confederate forces back into the South.

The First Battle of Adobe Walls was one of the largest battles fought between US Troops and the Plains Indians.

These battle accounts that exist can be very effective in uncovering the military records of your ancestor. They can tell you what regiments fought in which battles, and often include the names and ranks of many officers and enlisted men.

Common New Mexico Genealogical Issues and Resources to Overcome Them

Boundary Changes: Boundary changes are a common obstacle when researching New Mexico ancestors. You could be searching for an ancestor’s record in one county when in fact it is stored in a different one due to historical county boundary changes. The Atlas of Historical County Boundaries can help you to overcome that problem. It provides a chronological listing of every boundary change that has occurred in the history of New Mexico.

Name Changes: Surname changes, variations, and misspellings can complicate genealogical research. It is important to check all spelling variations. Soundex, a program that indexes names by sound, is a useful first step, but you can't rely on it completely as some name variations result in different Soundex codes. The surnames could be different, but the first name may be different too. You can also find records filed under initials, middle names, and nicknames as well, so you will need to get creative with surname variations and spellings in order to cover all the possibilities. For help with surname variations read our instructional article on How to Use Soundex.

New Mexico Genealogical Organizations and Archives

Genealogical resources include not only records, but the organizations that house them, or can direct you to them. These institutions include: Archives, Libraries, Genealogical Societies, Family History Centers, Universities, Churches, and Museums.

New Mexico Archives

  • Following are links to their websites, and a summary of the records.

New Mexico Genealogical and Historical Societies

Genealogical and historical societies have access to extensive catalogues of genealogical data. They are also able to offer expert guidance for genealogical researchers. Many members are professional genealogists who are most willing to share their expertise in finding ancestors. 

New Mexico Genealogical Society – census, vital records, religious records, city directories, military records, family histories
6000 Douglas Ave.
P.O. Box 7735
Des Moines, IA 50322
Telephone: 515-276-0287

Old Fort Genealogical Society – cemetery records, township maps, old settlers list
Ft Madison Public Library
1920 Ave E
Ft Madison, IA  52627

New Mexico Family History Centers

Additional New Mexico Genealogical Resources

New Mexico Mailing Lists

Mailing lists are internet based facilities that use email to distribute a single message to all who subscribe to it. When information on a particular surname, new records, or any other important genealogy information related to the mailing list topic becomes available, the subscribers are alerted to it. Joining a mailing list is an excellent way to stay up to date on New Mexico genealogy research topics. Rootsweb have an extensive listing of New Mexico Mailing Lists on a variety of topics.

New Mexico Message Boards

A message board is another internet based facility where people can post questions about a specific genealogy topic and have it answered by other genealogists. If you have questions about a surname, record type, or research topic, you can post your question and other researchers and genealogists will help you with the answer. Be sure to check back regularly, as the answers are not emailed to you. The message boards at the New Mexico Genealogy Forum are completely free to use.

New Mexico Newspapers and Periodicals

Many genealogy periodicals and historical newspapers contain reprinted copies of family genealogies, transcripts of family Bible records, information about local records and archives, census indexes, church records, queries, land records, obituaries, court records, cemetery records, and wills.

Historical New Mexico Maps and Gazetteers

Maps are an integral part of genealogical research. They help us to locate landmarks, towns, cities, parishes, states, provinces, waterways and roads and streets. They also help us to determine when and where boundary changes might have taken place, and give us a visualization of the area we’re researching in.

For locating place names, a gazetteer is the best possible resource for any genealogist. Gazetteers are also sometimes called “place name dictionaries”, and can help you to locate the area in which you need to conduct research.

New Mexico City Directories

City directories are similar to telephone directories in that they list the residents of a particular area. The difference though is what is important to genealogists, and that is they pre-date telephone directories. You can find an ancestor’s information such as their street address, place of employment, occupation, or the name of their spouse. A one-stop-shop for finding city directories in New Mexico is the New Mexico Online Historical Directories which contains a listing of every available city and historical directory related to New Mexico.

New Mexico Genealogical Records

Birth, Death, Marriage and Divorce Records – Also known as vital records, birth, death, and marriage certificates are the most basic, yet most important records attached to your ancestor. The reason for their importance is that they not only place your ancestor in a specific place at a definite time, but potentially connect the individual to other relatives. Below is a list of repositories and websites where you can find New Mexico vital records

Some county clerks kept vital records as early as 1838. The Family History Library has microfilm copies of these documents for many counties which can be accessed at New Mexico Family History Centers. Existing originals are found in the county clerk’s office or in the New Mexico Regional Archives Depository (IRAD) for that county.

Original copies of New Mexico Vital Records for death, birth, marriage, and divorce may be ordered from:

New Mexico Department of Public Health
Division of Vital Records
605 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, IL 62702-5097
Telephone: (217) 782-6553
Fax: 217-785-3209

The New Mexico Archives has an New Mexicowide Marriage Index, 1763–1900 which contains one million marriages, or two million names.

Census Reports

Census records are among the most important genealogical documents for placing your ancestor in a particular place at a specific time. Like BDM records, they can also lead you to other ancestors, particularly those who were living under the authority of the head of household.

Federal census records for New Mexico exist from 1800 to 1990. Unfortunately the 1800 census was lost, and the 1810 census contains only a few names from Randolph County. The 1890 census was destroyed, though a few names from Mound Township in McDonough County remain.

New Mexico Church Records

Church and synagogue records are a valuable resource, especially for baptisms, marriages, and burials that took place before 1900. You will need to at least have an idea of your ancestor’s religious denomination, and in most cases you will have to visit a brick and mortar establishment to view them.

Most church records are kept by the individual church, although in some denominations, records are placed in a regional archive or maintained at the diocesan level. Local Historical Societies are sometimes the repository for the state’s older church records. Below are links archives that maintain church records, as well as a few databases that can be viewed online.

The Family History Library contains many church records from a variety of denominations on microfilm.

The New Mexico Archives collected some early New Mexico church records that are now held by the New Mexico Library.

St. Clair County Genealogical Society (SCCGS) has compiled the Index to Bethel Baptist Church Minutes and Membership Lists, 1809 - 1909 for St. Clair County, New Mexico

Central Repositories for Denominational Records

Most of the records of individual denominations are kept in central repositories.

New Mexico Military Records

More than 40 million Americans have participated in some time of war service since America was colonized. The chance of finding your ancestor amongst those records is exceptionally high. Military records can even reveal individuals who never actually served, such as those who registered for the two World Wars but were never called to duty.

New Mexico Cemetery Records

As convenient as it is to search cemetery records online, keep in mind that there are a few disadvantages over visiting a cemetery in person. They are:

  • Tombstone information is not always accurately transcribed
  • The arrangement of the graves in a cemetery can be crucial as family members are often buried next to each other or in the same grave. This arrangement is not always preserved in the alphabetical indexes that are found online.
  • Databases that can be searched online for New Mexico Cemetery records
    • New Mexico Tombstone Transcription Project - death and burial records
    • African American Cemeteries Online – African American, slave, and Native American cemetery records
    • Access Genealogy – huge database of New Mexico cemetery record transcriptions
    • Find a Grave – over 100 million grave records can be searched on this site. Search can be conducted by name, location, or cemetery name.
    • - A free online database containing approximately 4 million cemetery records from around the world.
    • Billion Graves – as the name implies, you can search a billion records including headstone photos, transcriptions, cemetery records, and grave locations.

New Mexico Obituaries

Obituaries can reveal a wealth about our ancestor and other relatives. You can search our New Mexico Newspaper Obituaries Listings from hundreds of New Mexico newspapers online for free.

New Mexico Wills and Probate Records

The documents found in a probate packet may include a complete inventory of a person’s estate, newspaper entries, witness testimony, a copy of a will, list of debtors and creditors, names of executors or trustees, names of heirs. They can not only tell you about the ancestor you’re currently researching, but lead to other ancestors. Most of these records must be accessed at a county court or clerk’s office, but some can be found online as well. You can obtain copies of the original probate records by writing to the county clerk.

Since 1964, the circuit court in each county has custody of the earlier court records including those of the former Cook County Superior Court and a few other Chicago area courts. They can be found at:

Clerk of Circuit CourtArchives Room 1113
Richard J. Daley Center
50 W. Washington St.
Chicago, IL 60602
Telephone: 312- 603-6601
Fax: 312-603-4974

The New Mexico Regional Archives has a huge database of court and county records for the entire state of New Mexico

Family Search – has an online collection of probate records, which includes will, indexes, dating from 1819-1970

New Mexico Immigration and Naturalization Records

The naturalization process generated many types of records, including petitions, declarations of intention, and oaths of allegiance. These records can provide family historians with information such as a person's birth date and place of birth, immigration year, marital status, spouse information, occupation, witnesses' names and addresses, and more.

US National Archives – Immigration and Naturalization records for the entire United States

Family Search has two searchable online indexes, the New Mexico, Northern District (Eastern Division), Naturalization Index, 1926-1979, and the New Mexico, Northern District Naturalization Index, 1840-1950

New Mexico Native American Records

Missing Matriarchs – Resources for Researching Female New Mexico Ancestors

Looking for female ancestors requires an adjustment of how we view traditional records sources. A woman’s identity was often under that of her husband, and often individual records for them can be difficult to locate. The following resources are effective in locating female ancestors in New Mexico where traditional records may not reveal them.


  • Women of New Mexico: Depression Era Images, Marta Weigle (Ancient City Press, 1993)
  • Origins of New Mexico Families, Chavez, Fray Angelico (Museum of New Mexico Press, 1992)
  • The Impact of Intimacy: Mexican-Anglo Inter-Marriage in New Mexico, 1821-1846, Rebecca M. Craver (Texas Western press, 1982)
  • Comadres: Hispanic Women of the Rio Puerco Valley, Nasario Garcia (University of New Mexico Press, 1997)
  • Bridges: New Mexico Black Women, 1900-1950, Charlotte Mock (New Mexico Commission on the Study of Women, 1985)
  • New Mexico Women: Intercultural Perspectives, Joan M. Jenson and Doris A. Miller (University of New Mexico Press, 1986)

Selected Resources for New Mexico Women’s History

Rio Grande Historical Collections
New Mexico State University
Box 3475
Las Cruces, NM 88003

Center for Southwest research
Zimmerman Library
University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, NM 87131
Tel: 505-277-9100

Common New Mexico Surnames

The following surnames are among the most common in New Mexico and are also being currently researched by other genealogists. If you find your surname here, there is a chance that some research has already been performed on your ancestor.

Aiken, Akey, Alice, Allshouse, Altman, Ambrose, Anderson, Ankeny, Ann, Armstrong, Ashbaugh, Avey, Babcock(Bokok), Bailey, Bandcen, Barnard, Bash, Beninger, Best, Blair, Blystone, Borts, Boyer, Bridget, Brown, Bruce, Bryja, Buck, Burkett, Bush, Bussard, Calhoun, Calvo, Carnahan, Carwile, Christina, Coffman, Coleman, Conrad, Cook, Coulter, Cox, Craig, Cravener, Cravner, Cribbs, Croyle, Crum, Davis, Doty, Douglas, Dunlap, Dunmire, Earhart, Eberts, Eldridge, Elizabeth, Ferner, Fiscus, Floyd, Forester, Forster, France, Frantz, Fulton, Gadsby, George, Girt, Graff, Graft, Gress, Halderman, Hall, Hankey, Hanna, Hare, Hartman, Hawk, Heart, Heasley, Heckman, Heffelfinger, Heighley, Heilman, Heinselman, Heintzelman, Helfferich, Helfrick, Henderson, Heplar, Herford, Holt, Hough, Huckuss, Huffen, Hurte, Irwin, Isman, Jackson, Jamison, Jane, Jenson, Jerald, Johns, Johnston, Jones, Jordan, Kauffman, Kennedy, Keplon, Kepple, Kerr, Kiehner, King, Kinnard, Kipple, Kirkwood, Klingensmith, Knappenberger, Lanning, Lavina, Learn, Leightley, Lewey, Lindsey, Livingston, Lockhart, Long, Macklin, Magdalina, Maltida, Mangus, Manners, Margaret, Margaretha, Married, Martin, Mawhinney, McAdvo, McCandless, McConnell, McDowell, McElfresh, McIntire, McKnight, McNutt, Means, Miller, Mohney, Moore, Morgan, Munion, Naeima, Nancy, Neueem, Newcome, Nichal, Nicholas, Niebert, Null, Ohlinger, Osenbach, Otterman, Parks, Peace, Peterman, Platt, Preilinger, Prugh, Pugh, Raeiff, Rambach, Ramsey, Rearick, Reefer, Reeg, Reigh, Remaley, Rhoades, Richards, Rising, Robbins, Rodeman, Ross, Rowe, Rupert, Rushel, Salow, Salsgiver, Savina, Schaeffer, Schall, Scheaffer, Schiecengost, Schutt, Scott, Sell, Serfoss, Shafer, Shaffer, Shannon, Sheaffer, Shearer, Shoup, Shutt, Sikes, Silvis, Simpson, Smeltzer, Smith, Sowers, Spang, Speicher, Spence, Sprang, Sprankle, Stewart, Stitt, Stull, Taylor, Tharp, Thom, Thomas, Thompson, Townsend, Trimble, Turk, Uber, Unknown, Velma, Wagner, Waltenbaugh, Walters, Walton, Weaver, Wegely, Wehe, Weigley, Weinel, Wells, Welsh, Wigely, Willems, Williams, Wilmsin, Wilson, Woodside, Wray, Wright, Wyant, Yearyan, Yeomans, Yerian, Yockey, Young, Yount, Zerfoss

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