Mexican parish registers provide a rich trove of data for analyzing trends in mortality and fertility and changes to indigenous family structures. Surnames are links between different times in the past, as well as to geographical areas. Surname meanings can be clues to ancient social systems and religious values. Attention to the use of gender-differentiated surnames and the practice underlying intergenerational surname transmission offers a new approach to the study of kinship and family organization among both precolonial and colonial Tarascans, leading to a deeper understanding of the meanings behind these surnames. Moreover, differing degrees of native surname retention could well be helpful in charting rates of cultural change in various places.