Chile Cultural Groups

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Chile has many ethnic minorities, including Jews, Germans, Swiss, French, Italians, English, Irish, Yugoslavs, and Lebanese. It’s important to learn the history of the ethnic, racial, and religious groups your ancestors belonged to. This background information can help you identify where your ancestors lived, when they lived there, where they migrated, the types of records they might be listed in, and other information to help you understand your family’s history.

For some minorities in Chile, there are unique records and resources available. These include histories, biographical sources, records of settlement patterns, and cemetery records. In some cities there are cemeteries exclusively for non-Catholic minorities. These are called Cementerio de Disidentes (Cemeteries of Dissidents), such as in the Cerro Cárcel in Valparaíso, or the specific sectors for non-Catholics at the Cementerio General de Santiago (General Cemetery of Santiago).

Soon after independence, the new government began encouraging European colonization. In 1824 the government offered special incentives of free land and tax exemptions to foreigners who would establish factories in Chile. In 1845 an official colonization agency was established in Europe for attracting colonists to southern Chile. At first, Chilean officials insisted that immigrants be Catholic, but soon relented on that restriction.

Following is a short description of some of the main minority groups that have settled in Chile.

Basques[edit | edit source]

The first influential minority group in Chile was Basques from the Pyrenees region of Spain. They came to Chile after the initial Spanish settlement. By 1830 Basques were active in all areas of the economy. Together with many English, Irish, and Scotch businessmen and traders, Basques became prosperous and married Chilean women, forming the center of a social elite.

Germans[edit | edit source]

Germans came with the first Spaniards to Chile. Barolomäus Blümlein, who founded the city of Viña del Mar, was one of these. A number of Germans also came as Jesuits in the 18th century. Large numbers of Germans came to Chile after the mid-19th century. They settled in the southern lake district of Osorno, Valdivia, and Puerto Montt and engaged in farming and in education. They created German schools, which remain prevalent today. After the Prussian victory over France in 1870–1871, Germany had a strong influence over Chile, especially in the army and education.

By 1907 the German population lived in all parts of Chile, with greatest concentration in the southern provinces of Cautín, Valdivia, and Llanquihue. Many Germans received free passage, land grants, and maintenance for one year, which was repaid over the following five years. The German population in Chile in 1907 was estimated at 30,000.

Jews[edit | edit source]

Two groups of Jews came to Latin America: the Sephardic Jews, descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jews who left the Iberian Peninsula to escape the Inquisition, and the Ashkenazic Jews from central Europe. The latter group arrived in South America in the late 1930s and early 1940s, settling in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Chile. Most Jews arrived in Chile between 1934–1946, half being from Eastern Europe, 40 percent from Germany, and 10 percent were Sephardic Jews. Many Chilean Jews fled Chile in 1970 after the election of socialist Salvador Allende Gossens as president. There were about 25,000 Jews in Chile in the 1960s, concentrated in the large cities, particularly Santiago.

Italians[edit | edit source]

Most Italian immigrants settled in the central region of Chile and worked as masons, carpenters, and skilled laborers. Some were successful in commercial activities while others worked in law, medicine, and government.

Locating Records of Minorities[edit | edit source]

The Family History Library collects records of minority groups, especially published histories. These are listed in the "Locality" section of the FamilySearch Catalog under:



Other sources are also in the "Subject" section of the FamilySearch Catalog under the name of the minority:




Examples of these types of sources include:

Held Winkler, Emilio. Documentos sobre la colonización del sur de Chile . . . 1840-1875 (Documentation about the Colonization of Southern Chile . . . 1840-1875). Chile: s.n., 1980. (FHL film 1609199 item 9.)

Nes-El (Arueste), Moshe. Historia de la comunidad israelita sefaradí de Chile (History of the Shephardic Israelite Community in Chile). Santiago, Chile: Centro de Historia Familiar de Santiago, 1988. (FHL book 983 F2n.)

Vicuña Mackenna, Benjamín. Los orígenes de las familias chilenas (The Origins of Chilean Families). 3 vols. Santiago, Chile: Guillermo E. Miranda, 1903. (FHL film 0908437 item 4.) Vol. 1—Basque; vol. 2—Portuguese, Dutch, Italian, Maltese, and Greek; vol. 3—French and Irish.

Young, George F. W. The Germans in Chile: Immigration and Colonization, 1849–1914. New York: Center for Migration Studies, 1974. (FHL book 983 W2y.)

Sources for German minorities also include emigration and passenger list information:

Held Winkler, Emilio. Documentos sobre la colonización del sur de Chile . . . 1840-1875. (Documents about the Colonization of Southern Chile . . . 1840-1875). (FHL film 1609199 item 9.) Transcripts of passenger lists of German immigrants to Chile between 1840–1875.

Kartei der Auswanderer nach Chile und Mexiko, 1850–1945 (Index to Emigrants to Chile and Mexico 1850–1945). Koblenz, Germany: Bundesarchiv, 1988. (FHL film 1539248 item 3, 1539249, 1552769 item 3).

Kartei von Deutschen Jugendbund Chiles: 1910–1935 (Index of German Student Association of Chile: 1910–1935). Koblenz, Germany: Bundesarchiv, 1988. (FHL film 1552795 item 3.)

The Family History Library also has several books about Chileans in other countries. For example, there are three books about Chileans in California during the Gold Rush. These and similar books are listed in the "Locality" section of the FamilySearch Catalog under:


and in the "Subject" section of the catalog under:


Local and national societies have been organized in the United States and other countries to gather, preserve, and share the cultural contributions and histories of minority groups. Some may be found for Chileans in other countries. (See Chile Societies for more information.)

Chile Ethnic Groups[edit | edit source]

  • The Basque
  • The Germans
  • The Indians of South America
  • The Italians
  • The Spaniards

NAMES, PERSONAL[edit | edit source]

Understanding surnames and given names can help you find and identify your ancestors in the records.

Surnames[edit | edit source]

Before record keeping began, most people had only one name, such as Juan. Until the tenth century, common people did not use a surname. As the population increased, however, it became necessary to distinguish between individuals with the same name. Additionally, the Council of Trent (1545–1563) made it mandatory to keep parish records that would list names of the child, parents, and godparents, which required distinguishing relationships between family members. The problem was usually solved by adding descriptive information.

In 1568, Phillip II decreed that the Moors should abandon their names and adopt Spanish names. Thus, some Moorish names such as Ben-egas became Venegas. The French practice of placing de before a name as a mark of nobility was also used in Spain, but it was only a preposition of origin (of or from) used before a geographic name. From long usage, names such as Del Monte became Delmonte, La Villa became Lavilla.

Surnames were first used by the nobility and wealthy landowners. Later the custom was followed by merchants and townspeople and eventually by the rural population. This process took two or three centuries.

In Spain, the name system was well established by the 1100s, and the naming customs of Spain became the basis for other Spanish-speaking countries. The four influences that played a part in the development of Spanish surnames were patronymical terms, occupational terms, descriptive or nickname terms, and geographical terms (estates, manors, or dominions). Examples of these influences are:

• Patronymic names (based on a parent’s name, usually the father’s name) such as Juan Martinez (Juan, son of Martín) or Juan Domínguez (Juan, son of Domingo)

• Occupational names (based on the person’s trade) such as José Herrera (José the Blacksmith) or Juan El Molinero (Juan the Miller)

• Descriptive names or nicknames (based on a unique quality of the person) such as Domingo Calvo (Domingo the Bald-Headed) or Juan El Moreno (Juan the Dark)

• Toponymic names (based on a person’s residence) such as Domingo del Río (Domingo from near a river) or Juan de Córdova (Juan from the city of Córdoba)

At first, surnames applied only to one person and not to the whole family. After a few generations, these names became hereditary and were used from father to son.

It is not possible to determine the exact year or even the century when a particular family name was taken. By the end of the thirteenth century, many families determined to retain the patronymic name without continuing to change the name from generation to generation. Thus, the hereditary apellidos (surnames) were in use in Spain by the time of the discovery of the New World.

In Chile, many surnames of Spanish origin were given to the native Indian children when the priests baptized them. Others were simply baptized Juan, José, María, and so on, and later descendants obtained a surname.

Typical surnames from various regions in Spain include Fernández and Morales (Castilian), Ibañez and Vásquez (Basque), Brétema and Seoane (Galician), Coelho and Ferreira (Portuguese), and Ventura and Gralla (Catalan).

The following suffixes show that the surname had a patronymic origin: -az, -ez, -iz, -oz, and -uz. There is a problem in that the scribes and priest often spelled the patronymic surnames with s instead of the z, and the plural surname ending in s they changed to a z. Therefore, the plural forms of surnames may be confused with the patronymic surname. Examples of plural names include Torres and Flores.

Spanish priests would often assign Indian family names as surnames.

Another distinctive practice of the Spanish naming system was the double and compound surnames. The person would be known by his paternal and maternal surnames. Compound surnames (apellidos compuestos) can be found with or without a y, a hyphen, or a preposition (de, del,or de la). Examples are: María García Fernández de León and José Juan Ríos-Prado y Rodríguez. While most present day names are taken from the surnames of the parents, historically the surnames might be those of the more prominent family and even those from grandparents.

Before the last 150 years, women did not take their husband’s surname. Now, in biographies, histories, and in social life, a woman who married a Martínez would attach her married surname (apellido de casada) de Martínez to her maiden name or paternal surname (apellido de soltera) and would drop her mother’s surname. If she was widowed, she would become Viuda (widow) de Martínez. Thus, a woman named María Josefa Torres Sepúlveda would become María Josefa Torres de Martínez on marrying, and would become Maria Josefa Torres vda. de Martínez as a widow. However, in the Catholic records, public records, legal records and especially the civil records, the maiden name of a woman is always used.

In telephone directories a person named Alonso Manuel de la Vega Martínez may be listed as VEGA MARTÍNEZ, Alonso Manuel de la, and the same person on announcements or business cards could be listed as Alonso Manuel de la Vega M. A widow named Ofelia Castillo vda. de León could be listed as LEÓN, Ofelia Castillo vda. de.

The following books are helpful for understanding naming practices:

Gosnell, Charles F. Spanish Personal Names: Principles Governing Their Formation and Use Which May Be Presented as a Help for Catalogers and Bibliographers. New York: The H.W. Wilson Co., 1971. (FHL book 980 D4go.)

Mugica, José A.. Los apellidos de Iberia: su origen y evolución (The Surnames of Iberia: Their Origins and Evolution). Bilbao, Spain: Editorial EDILI, S.A., 1966.

Given Names[edit | edit source]

In Chile, many given names are usually derived from biblical names, such as José (Joseph, husband of Mary) or from the names of a saint, such as Bartolomé (Bartholomew). Some Spanish people used compound given names (nombres compuestos) such as María del Socorro.

When baptized, children were usually given one or more given names. One of these might be the name of the Saint Day from the day of baptism. The first name, or baptismal name (nombre de pila), may not have been used in the child’s life. In Chile, the child was usually called by the second or third name given at baptism; this is especially true if the first name was María or José.

Many books are available that discuss names in Chile. These are listed in the FamilySearch Catalog "Locality" section under:



And in the "Subject" section of the catalog under:


Some of the books that provide meanings for given names are:

Moesbach, Ernesto Wilhelm de. Los huilliches a través de sus apellidos: estudio etimológico de los patronímicos aborígenes sureños (The Huilliches through Their Surnames: An Etymological Study of the Patronymic [Names] of the Southern Aborigine). Santiago, Chile: Centro de Historia Familiar de Santiago, 1988. (FHL book 983 D4m.)

Gorden, Raymond L. Spanish Personal Names. Yellow Springs, Ohio: Antioch College, 1968. (FHL book 980 D4g; film 0924066 item 1.)

NOBILITY[edit | edit source]

If your research in the original records of Chile indicates that your ancestor was of the noble class, there are additional records that will be helpful in your research.

The kings rewarded persons who performed a heroic deed, made a notable achievement, or held a prominent position in government by granting them a noble title. These grants were documented. Because of frequent false claims to nobility, families had to legitimize their nobility by providing documented proof. Grants of nobility and nobility legitimizations may be found at the national archives or libraries.

Although some original records, such as the grant of nobility, are still in existence, you can accomplish most nobility research in secondary sources. These include published or manuscript genealogies of noble families. The noble class has been anxious to preserve their identity. This has led to the publication of histories of some noble lines of Chile. Numerous publications are available to help you trace a noble family. Some of the most important are:

Mujica de la Fuente, Juan. Linajes españoles: nobleza colonial de Chile (Spanish Lineage: Colonial Nobility of Chile). Santiago, Chile: Editorial Zamorano y Caperan, 1927. (FHL book 983 D5m; film 0908525.)

Espejo, Juan Luis. Nobiliario de la antigua capitanía general de Chile (Nobility of the Former Captain-Generalcy of Chile). 2 vols. Santiago, Chile: Imprenta Universitaria, 1917–1921. (FHL book 983 D5e; film 0908525.)

The Chile Heraldry and Chile Genealogy can help you locate other materials about ancestors who may have been part of the noble class. The Family History Library has collected some records of noble families. These records are listed in the FamilySearch Catalog under: