Legacy Tree Onsite: The Inside Scoop on Civil Archives in Peru
Legacy Tree Genealogists works with researchers from across the globe to access records for our clients. We asked Carly, onsite in Peru, to share her experiences with Peruvian genealogy research at the civil archives of Peru.
Peru is a country with a rich history. Ruins, documents, and modern cultural diversity testify of thousands of years of changes. To help those with Peruvian ancestral lines we want to share a little bit about current archival digitization and research in Peru.
Behind the Scenes on Digitizing Peruvian Records
Elder Terry Hill and Sister Annette Hill are missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, assigned to work with FamilySearch. One of their assignments is to digitize over 1,389 books found in one of the off-site annexes of the National Archives of Peru (Archivo General de la Nación), and containing the birth, marriage, and death records of the La Victoria district of Lima, Peru from the year 1926 to about 1996. As I interviewed Elder and Sister Hill, they shared some insights about their experience in Peru.
The basic process of digitizing a book is as follows: calibrate the camera according to the size and paper type of the record book, adjust focus and lighting, and square the image on the screen; accommodate any attachments that are stapled on the page; start capturing images. Elder Hill mentioned, “Calibrating the camera and accommodating attachments is what takes the longest, then capturing the images goes pretty quick.” Some days the Hills are able to finish up to 12 books, other days only about 5 books due to the number of additional page inserts.
Most of the books must be opened up to see where/when they are from. The archive building has an aluminum roof with gaps between the walls and the roof. The documents are exposed to hot and cold without regulation of the humidity so common in Lima. This environment fosters excessive dust, insects, and mold.The Hills commented that they find many books with water, mold, rust (due to rusting staples), and termite damage which, unfortunately, affects the legibility of some of the civil records. These conditions are common in foreign archives, and another contributing factor to the necessity of preserving these records as soon as possible. You can read more about the urgency to preserve these family history records in our article, “The Need for Speed: Genealogical Records & Natural Disasters.”
At the end of our interview, I asked Elder and Sister Hill, “How have you seen your work help with family history in Peru?” With some emotion Elder Hill responded, “As I have been getting to know more Peruvians I have realized a lot of them do not know the basic information (birth day, death day, place of birth, etc.) of their grandparents, and much less their great-grandparents. Many do not know where to look for the information, or do not have access to it. As we have been capturing the images I know that what we are doing will help make it easier for Peruvians doing family history to find and access the information of their ancestors.”
Once the Hills finish capturing all of the La Victoria records, the images will be quality-checked, indexed, and made searchable for the archive and family historians around the globe through FamilySearch.
However, while the digitizing of records is an ongoing effort, in Peru there are millions of civil records, and there are only a handful of archives and civil records digitized so far (most are in Lima or the regional capitals). To help those working on their Peruvian genealogy research I want to share my top 3 tips for an effective archival visit.
3 Tips for an Effective Civil Archive Visit in Peru
Tip #1 – Contact the archive before you visit
Some archival information (directions, phone numbers, operating hours, etc.) is not up-to-date online, but to avoid any setback I always reach out to the archive I am going to visit before booking a trip. I usually send an email and if I do not hear back within two days, I call, or search for the updated information. In an email or phone call, it is great to introduce yourself, your purpose for contacting, and ask directly if they have the record set you are investigating. This has helped me make great connections in the field and helped me save unnecessary travel time. In addition, if I do go to the archive, I have a contact who is expecting the visit, and is more willing to help in the research.
Tip #2 – Have the most complete date of event possible
Most Peruvian genealogy record searches are done by hand and require a search fee of 10 PEN (about $3-$5 USD). Often, the archivists will only search if an investigator presents at least the first name and one last name, month, and year of the event they are searching. This information is required because they must then find the correct book and flip through each individual page to find the record. Then, they put it on the copier. If you are going to wait for your records, plan on waiting between 30 minutes to two hours per record. If you do not present the minimum required information the archivist will not perform a search. So even if you have an approximate month and year, use it.
Tip #3 – The Golden Question
Similar to other countries, Peru has a National Archive, followed by regional, provincial, municipal, and caserios aledaños archives. I like to start at the regional archives when searching for a record because they often have a copy of most of the provincial and municipal records. When the regional archive does not have the document I am searching for, I ask the Golden Question: “If the document is not here, where could it be?” (In Spanish, “Si el registro no está aquí, ¿dondé podría encontrarlo?). Without fail, the archivists have always given me an answer whether the record set exists, where to search, whom to contact, and about 90% of the time I find the record where they told me to look.
 These tips will be most effective for individuals searching for images prior to 1996 and after 1800. Beginning in about 1994 Peru began to transition their records to digital and physical format; most of these can be found in RENIEC. Prior to the 1800’s the catholic church was the principal record keeper. Regional, provincial, municipal, and caserios aledaños archives often only house birth, marriage, and death records and a few newspapers (if there was a local paper printed).
 Caserios Aledaños are small groups of homes on the outskirts of a city or in the mountains away from any city limits. They usually have a small building dedicated to their civil records.
If you have Peruvian ancestry and don’t know where to start, or need help accessing onsite records, our professionals and onsite agents are ready to help you learn more about your family history. Contact us today for a free consultation to discuss your specific projects goals and determine which of our project options is best for you!