Historical geographers and others concerned with New Spain in the 1600s, especially the first half of that century, are for the most part faced with a dearth of accessible source material. The tremendously useful relaciones geográficas compiled in 1579-86 had been filed away and forgotten, a too lengthy questionnaire sent out by the royal cosmographer in 1604 produced few replies, and the next great compendium was not to appear until 1743. While there are a few sketchy summaries of information (Vázquez de Espinosa, Díez de la Calle), by and large the researcher of this period in Mexico must delve into fragmentary viceregal and parochial archives and search far and wide in order to assemble a coherent picture of what was going on. Fortunately, this task has been made easier as far as the diocese of Michoacán is concerned by the survival of three general descriptions of that bishopric drawn up in 1619, 1639, and 1649. These reports deal with many aspects of the religious, political, social, and economic life of provincial Mexico in those years, besides giving details of individual parishes, settlements, racial composition of the population, architecture, and other matters in an area which included what is now the state of Michoacán, most of Guanajuato, San Luis Potosí, and Colima, and parts of Jalisco, Guerrero, and Tamaulipas.
While these reports can only be consulted in manuscript, Fimax Publicistas has now performed a great service by publishing still another related document recently discovered in Morelia. This is essentially a checklist, compiled by order of Bishop Rivera in 1631, of the parishes in his diocese. Under each parish there is information about Indian and non-Indian settlements, individual haciendas and farms with the names of their owners, mining camps with the number of free workers and slaves in each cuadrilla, hospitals and cofradías, and many other details. Since the collection of tithes was a prime concern, there are meticulous data on agricultural and livestock production. The document is analyzed in a scholarly introduction by Father Ramón López Lara, who concludes that the information contained in it began to be assembled in the 1620s and was brought up to date in the following decade, with a few details added as late as the 1660s. The entire bishopric is covered with the exception of the parish of Copándaro and the Ríoverde missions. Four folios are reproduced in facsimile, as are two maps of the diocese (unconnected with the manuscript) dated 1648 and 1762. Altogether, this is a magnificent primary source, and its editor and publisher deserve praise.