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Census dates back many years in New Mexico

Before there ever was a State of New Mexico, the growth of Nuevo Mexico was being tabulated by the Archdiocese of Durango, Mexico.



NMSU's Durango Microfilming Project includes records of the Archdiocese of Durango, Mexico. Shown here is a report on the 1800 census of the "Villa de Santa Fe" in the "Provincia de Nuevo Mexico." (Photo courtesy of the Rio Grande Historical Collections at NMSU)

Austin Hoover, director of the Rio Grande Historical Collections at the New Mexico State University Library, said official records from the archdiocese include census data from as early as the 1600s.

The United States Census began in 1790.

According to Hoover, the Archdiocese of Durango conducted a census of people and their possessions primarily to determine the amount of contributions the church could expect to receive.

"They were taking a census of each parish and sending the information back to Durango to determine how successful each mission was," Hoover said.

The Durango census counted people and their possessions, including their livestock, and the yield of grain and wine.

"The reasoning on counting livestock and possessions, and the amount of grain and the amount of wine and that sort of thing, would have been so that the church could have an idea about what it could expect from tithes," Hoover said.

The tithe -- the amount an individual was expected to contribute to the church -- was determined by the person's total wealth.

Unlike the U.S. Census that is conducted every 10 years, the church's census appears to have been conducted more frequently from the early 1600s until 1899. However, for the first 50 years of the 1600s, "the records are very scant," Hoover said.

Information contained in the Durango archives show that the church was critical in conducting the census because, at the time, parish records were the only legally enforced register of births, deaths and marriages.

The Rio Grande Historical Collections, housed in NMSU's Branson Hall Library, photographed the records of the archdiocese as part of the Durango Microfilming Project. The microfilming was funded by a grant from the State of New Mexico and began in 1992. The records of the archdiocese includes census information, baptismal and marriage records and "visitas" -- records of when the archbishop visited area parishes. The microfilmed records are stored in NMSU's Branson Hall Library and are available to historians interested in the records.

Hoover said the province of New Mexico, which then included what is now New Mexico, far West Texas, and parts of Arizona, Colorado and Utah, was part of the Durango church's jurisdiction until the 1850s.

The province of New Mexico was ceded to the United States by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 and New Mexico became a state in 1912.

Photo is available at http://kiernan.nmsu.edu/newsphoto.
For a print, call (505) 646-3221.
PHOTO: provinciaNuevoMexico.jpg
CUTLINE: NMSU's Durango Microfilming Project includes records of the Archdiocese of Durango, Mexico. Shown here is a report on the 1800 census of the "Villa de Santa Fe" in the "Provincia de Nuevo Mexico." (Photo courtesy of the Rio Grande Historical Collections at NMSU)

Dan Trujillo
March 30, 2000