Guest blogger Sunny Jane Morton recaps last night’s “Who Do You Think You Are?”, with tips to help you find genealogy records the way America Ferrera did.
Actress America Ferrera (you may have watched her a few years back on “Ugly Betty” or heard her voice Astrid on “How to Train Your Dragon”) is an unusual “Who Do You Think You Are?” guest because her family came so recently to the United States.
I liked feeling the immediacy of her ties to the Central American country of Honduras—her parents’ birthplace—in last night’s episode. She didn’t need translation help most of the time: She could interview Spanish-speakers and read old documents herself.
America’s family history journey begins when she boards a plane to La Esperanza, Honduras, where her father died. He left her family in the United States when she was young and never came back. She wants to know why. She doesn’t get a satisfying answer from his friend (“he had emotional problems”) but is comforted to learn that her father missed his children and talked about them often. Like many people must do, she turns to the more distant past.
She ends up focusing on the story of her great-grandfather, a controversial and powerful figure in Honduran military and political history. Through his story we learn about struggles at the top levels of Honduran government in the early 1900s. His name appears in elementary school records, a census, newspapers, confidential US government reports, and even Time magazine. This makes Fererra laugh in surprise. (“My great-grandpa’s name is in Time magazine? That’s kind of amazing and insane that I didn’t know that!”)
As views inside the Honduran national archives show, many international repositories are still fairly low-tech. They haven’t digitized or indexed many of their holdings. Yet some Central American resources are online. FamilySearch.org has some digitized censuses, church and other records for Honduras (municipal censuses are called padrones; click here to learn more about them). You can find an introduction to Honduras genealogy here and overlapping resources (including the colonial censuses) at Ancestry.com.
Trace your own immigrant ancestors—wherever they were from—with our Researching Immigrant Ancestors Premium Collection. When the records you need aren’t readily available online or by renting microfilm, you’ll want our video class on working with foreign-language records and repositories—it’ll help you with strategies from writing to overseas archives to hiring on-site researchers.