Discovering Your Cuban Roots: A Beginners Guide to Cuban Genealogy

By Martin Abegglen from Bern, Switzerland (ministerio del interior  Uploaded by Smooth_O) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Martin Abegglen from Bern, Switzerland (ministerio del interior Uploaded by Smooth_O) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

Finding My Roots

It is hard to find anyone who isn't curious about the heritage of their ancestors. Discovering one's heritage often help people discover a little more about themselves and what kind of person they are.

The mysteries of the past often drive people to research who their family was and where they came from. Within the past decade, people have been very drawn to genealogy. Genealogy has provided a large number of people with access to their family histories; histories that they probably would have never known had it not been for genealogy.

For many American, tracing their lineage is not that hard. Most of their ancestors came over with the Quakers and other religious groups. However, for some ethnic groups, especially ones that come from countries that are not allies with the United States; finding one's ancestry can be quite the challenge.

My father's family immigrated to the United States from Cuba shortly before Fidel Castro came in to power. For many years, that's all I really knew about that side of my family. My father had been born in the states, so he had no knowledge of what Cuba was like, other than what his father had told him. He also knew very little about his family's life in Cuba. It wasn't really something they would talk about. I suppose the pain of leaving their home was too much that it made it difficult for them to talk about it.

Trying to find any information on my Cuban side also proved to be difficult. The conflicts that Cuba and the United States share made it almost impossible to do any research on my family. Any Cuban public records have been made available to Americans, making it difficult for people like me to study their roots.

Despite it being difficult, it is not completely impossible for someone to find their family history in Cuba. In order to accomplish it, one must have a lot of time and knowledge. You need to know what you are looking for and where to find it.


By Emmanuel Huybrechts from Laval, Canada [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Emmanuel Huybrechts from Laval, Canada [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

Books on Cuban Genealogy

Genealogy Computer Program

As with all genealogy research, you need to start off with the basics. Buying a basic genealogy computer program will help you immensely. Having such a program will help you keep all your records well organized and easily accessible. A genealogy computer program is so much easier than trying to keep all the information you organize just in charts or in a notebook.

There are also online programs, such as ancestory.com that can help you keep records, as well as search for relatives. These sort of online programs typically charge a reasonably-priced membership fee.


Document What You Know

Once you've obtained a computer program for your research, document all the information you have on yourself and your immediate Cuban family. This includes names, birth dates, marriage dates, death dates, country of origin, country of death, immigration information, etc.. If you are curious about any medical issues that may be genetic within your family, go ahead and write down all the genetic ailments you know that your family or yourself have had.

If you own any of your family's old Bibles, sort through those for information on names and dates. Older Cubans tended to be very good at record keeping via their Bibles.


By Gabriel Rodríguez (http://www.flickr.com/photos/chewie/4110238190/) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Gabriel Rodríguez (http://www.flickr.com/photos/chewie/4110238190/) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

Interview Those Still Alive

If you have any immigrated Cuban relatives still alive, or someone who remembers stories that your Cuban family members may have told, interview them. Try to set up a time to either visit or call them and do so. You can even conduct an interview via email or Facebook. If you want to video chat, Skype is free and you can spend as long as you want.

What I've found to be particularly helpful when interviewing relatives is to have a tape recorder with me. That a way, I don't feel like I'm being rude by trying to write everything they are saying down really fast. Having a tape recorder at your disposal allows for you to not miss a single thing during the interview process.

Also, if you are like me and do not speak Spanish on a regular basis, having a tape recorder can be very handy for those moments when you may have missed something your relative may have said. If your Cuban family speaks nearly as fast as mine does, you may miss quite a bit of what they are saying.



Go Online

Joining a site like ancestry.com will prove more than beneficial in your research of Cuban ancestors. I have found several distant relatives, all looking for information on our family, thanks to ancestry.com. On ancestry.com, you can gain access to birth, marriage, death, military, immigration, and census records. You can also connect with other people, and possibly relatives, who are searching for information on your family tree.

The downside to ancestry.com is that, last I checked, they did not have a large quantity of Cuban records dating during Castro's takeover. The upside to the site, however, is that you can often times find distant relatives who managed to make it to the states who are also looking for relatives and information.

You don't have to keep your searching to just genealogy sites, though. With the rise of social media comes the possibility of being able to message long distance relatives for interviews and stories.


Go to the Professionals

If doing all this proves to be too difficult, go to the professionals. There are many professional genealogists who may possibly be able to help you. Be prepared to pay quite a bit for this service, because genealogy is by no means a cheap hobby.

Some Mormon churches offer professional genealogy research (although it is typically only amongst Mormons) that may be helpful to you.


One Trick I've Found...

Despite the Cuban authorities not allowing people access to social documents, most Cuban Catholic parishes do not fall under this jurisdiction, or they simply just don't care. If you write to the parish that you believe your family may have attended, they usually can send you whatever information they can. This includes birth, marriage, and death information. This may help you out a little when you are having difficulty with the other tips I've provided.


Do you have family in Cuba?

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Conclusion

Genealogy is by no means a cheap endeavor, especially Cuban genealogy. Be prepared to spend a little money, even if you are doing all the research yourself. You will also have to spend quite a bit of time to really do any successful research. However, once you find what you are looking for, the time and money spent will be well worth it.

Even if you are unable to access records, or if you simply cannot find any living Cuban relatives, the historical research alone is well worth the time. Simply knowing about the country of your ancestors will prove to be plenty fulfilling during your research into your family's Cuban genealogy.


A Map of Cuba

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