Peru Historical Geography

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Spain instituted a viceroyalty system to govern its possessions in the New World. During the nearly three centuries of the colonial period, legal records and documents were subject to the jurisdiction of the appropriate viceroyalty.

The viceroyalty of Peru from 1543[1]1821 included Chile, Peru, and parts of Bolivia.

Some important dates concerning the changes in boundaries of Peru include:

  • 1542–1821 The Viceroyalty of Peru was divided into the Audiencias of Panamá (1535), Lima (1542), Santa Fe de Bogotá (1549), Charcas (1559; now Bolivia), Quito (1563), Buenos Aires (1661), Chile (1565 and 1609), Rio de la Plata (1777), and Cuzco (1787). Other governmental divisions created were commissions (encomiendas), provinces (provincias), and corrector district (corregimientos).
  • 1717 and The Virreinato of Santa Fe was erected.
  • 1739 It was suppressed from 1723 to 1739.
  • 1777 The Virreinato of Buenos Aires was erected.
  • 1783–84 The area of Peru was divided into seven Intendencias: Lima, Arequipa, Tarma, Huancavelica, Huamanga, Trujillo, Arica, Puno, and Cuzco. These were divided into districts (partidos). Later these Intendencias’ boundaries were arranged to coincide with the boundaries of the dioceses.
  • 1836–39 Peru and Bolivia were united until Chile won the battle of Yungay.
  • 1862–66 Peru was at war with Spain.
  • 1879–83 The War of the Pacific resulted in the loss of Tarata until 1925 and Tacna until 1929. Tarapaca and Arica were permanently lost to Chile.

The viceroyalties were subdivided into legislative divisions called audiencias. These audiencias supervised local courts, applied Spanish law, and established a legal tradition that has persisted in Hispanic America. The jurisdictions of the audiencias formed the basic territories of the Latin American republics once they gained independence from Spain.

The following list indicates the years in which audiencias were established under the viceroyalty for Peru, which included Chile:

  • Cuzco — 1787
  • Lima — 1542
  • Santiago — 1609

During the 19th century, international conflicts and border disputes altered many political jurisdictions of South America. These changes affected the subsequent registration of the local population.

Chile acquired the mineral-rich Atacama Desert when it prevailed in the 1879–1883 War of the Pacific against Peru and Bolivia. The acquisition extended Chile’s northern border and completely cut off Bolivia’s access to the sea.

You may need to determine previous boundaries and jurisdictions to locate your ancestors’ records. Gazetteers and histories are helpful sources of information about these changes.

The following book explains more about the historical geography of South America. You can find this and similar materials at the Family History Library and many other research libraries.

  • John Bartholomew (John George). A Literary & Historical Atlas of America. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1910. (FHL book 912.19812 B283.)

Creation of Peruvian Departments[edit | edit source]

The departments of Peru were created as follows (* indicates former Intendency):

Lima* 1821

Amazonas 1832

Ancash 1821 earlier known as Huaylás

Apurímac 1873 from Cuzco and Huamanga*

Arequipa* 1822

Ayacucho* 1822 earlier known as Huamanga

Cajamarca 1855

Callao 1836 from Lima

Cuzco* 1822

Huancavelica* 1822 anciently part of Huamanga, today Ayacucho

Huánuco 1823 from Junin

Ica 1866

Junín 1825 anciently an Intendencia of Tarma

La Libertad 1821

Lambayeque 1874 from La Libertad

Loreto 1861 from Amazonas

Madre de Dios 1912 from Cusco and Puno

Moquegua 1957 from Arequipa

Pasco 1944 from Junin

Piura 1861

Puno* 1822

San Martín 1906 from Loreto

Tacna 1875 part of Chile from 1883–1929

Tumbes 1901

Ucayali 1980–1983 from Loreto

Other sources about boundary changes are found in the FamilySearch Catalog under: