Emigration from Spain to Latin America 1500s-1700s

- Updated:Dec 08, 2016

The Spanish colonial system strongly protected its colonies, not allowing other non-Spanish immigrants to entry in their American colonies. Unless it was necessary due to the demand of certain professions or specific works.

The Archivo General de Indias in Seville, Spain, is the repository for Spanish documents dealing with the Spanish colonial period in the Americas. These documents often include the birthplace of each individual on record. You may want to look for your ancestor’s records in the following sections of the archive:

Informaciones de Méritos y Servicios de los Descubridores/Conquistadores (Information on Merits and Services of the Discoverers and Conquerors). Documents of the ships and passengers who sailed to the colonies during the early 1500s.

Casa de Contratación de las Indias (House of Contracts of the Indies). Excellent documentation of passenger lists for ships sailing to the American colonies between 1509 and 1701, as well as petitions and licenses for permission to emigrate from 1534 to 1790. The Archivo General de Indias maintains a collection called Libros de Asientos: Pasajeros a Indias, and has published a series of books called Catálogos de Pasajeros a Indias, which is basically an extraction of the libros and the petitions to emigrate from the Sevilla port. A digital index of Casa de Contratación de las Indias records as well as linked digital images are available online through the Portal de Archivos Españoles en Red (up to 1700 at least). Spanish law before 1821 'forced' all those leaving to go through the port in Sevilla. How many actually followed that law compared to how many actually emigrated is another topic. The Catálogos de Pasajeros a Indias is important in this case, because it makes searching the libros de asientos possible. The libros de asientos on the site are the actual images listing the emigrants, which are not in the best shape, and for anyone trying to read Spanish handwriting from before the early 1600s knows how difficult it can be.
The best way to access the collections is to do a Búsqueda Simple or Avanzada. To narrow your search make sure that you specify a time period and select the appropriate archive. In this case that would be the Archivo General de Indias. You can browse the collection by selecting the Inventario Dinámico de Archivos and selecting Archivo General de Indias. To see the original images you will need to enter the Casa de la Contratación the extracted entries can bebrowsed by going to The Catálogos de Pasajeros a Indias.
Before you search you will want the essentials, at least the name of your immigrant ancestor and a fairly narrow date range of when he left Spain for the New World. Without at least this information you search might be in vain. Please keep in mind that not everyone emigrated to the New World between the mid 1500s thru about 1821 will be found on the site. Some of the records are indexed, all digital images are online to view, but are very hard to read.

Catálogo de pasajeros a Indias durante los siglos XVI, XVII y XVIII - Published in 1980 by the Ministerio de Cultura, Direccion General de Bellas Artes, Archivos y Bibliotecas, Spain. Digitized and available for consultation on Open Library.