One of the great things about Legacy Tree is that we have onsite researchers all over the globe. We have had many clients with Spanish ancestors, and to research these projects we have gone onsite in Spain. Let me share with you some of the wonderful things about Spanish records and archives that may help you as you research your Spanish genealogy and family history.
Organization of Spanish Records
As is the case with most genealogical records, Spanish records are organized by geographical locations, dates, and surnames. Spain is divided into 50 provinces and each province belongs to either one of the 17 autonomous communities, one of the 2 autonomous cities (Ceuta and Melilla), or one of the 3 autonomous islands (Islas Chafarinas, Penon de Alhucemas, and Penon de Velez de la Gomera). To determine the political jurisdiction for the town and province where your ancestors lived you should consult a Gazetteer of Spain.
Using Civil Registration Records for Spanish Genealogy Research
There are basically two types of records that are the most useful in Spanish family history research: Civil Registration and Catholic Parish books. Civil Registration records include government birth, marriage, and death records. These began as early as 1837. Some of these records have been microfilmed and/or digitized by FamilySearch. Many records have not been digitized. To research these records you will need to order them either online from the Ministerio de Justicia or send a letter to the local office in Spain. To acquire the address for a Civil Registration office in Spain follow this link to the Direcciones y teléfonos. We prefer to have our researchers go onsite because we can get the records faster and our researchers are thorough and experienced.
To search Civil Registration records you need to know the exact birth month and year of those you are researching. If you do not have that information, you would want to begin research with Catholic Church records.
Using Catholic Church Records for Spanish Genealogy Research
In certain Spanish dioceses, Catholic Church records date back to 1307. Other dioceses began keeping records during the Council of Trent (1545-1563), including in Spain. Since approximately 70% of Spaniards are Catholic, Catholic Church records are a great place to start your research. Church Records – christenings/baptisms, marriages, and burials – were kept at a local level and later a copy was provided to a centralized archive.
It is best to call the Diocesan Archive and ask about record availability for the years you would be researching. Diocesan Archives are typically closed several days a year for holidays but are generally open on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Priests that serve small towns often travel and support several churches, thus are not always in the town pinpointed by your research. Some Archives do not allow you to take copies or photos of their records, so you will need to extract the information from the record while you are there.
Where are you lucky enough to get a record that lists the child’s information including the names of the parents, their birthplaces plus both sets of grandparents and their birthplaces? Spain, that’s where!
Searching Spanish Records for Clues
Recently one of our onsite researchers visited the Diocesan Archive of Almería. This Diocese does not allow researchers to make copies or take photos, but here is a transcription of a Baptism record. Note the family’s generational, contextual information:
Baptism record of María Dolores Catalina Fuentes Lacal. Borned 22 March 1850 in Vélez-Rubio, Almería, Andalucía. María Dolores Catalina´s parents: Antonio Fuentes Alcalde, barber, and Isabel Lacal Giménez. Antonio´s parents: Miguel Fuentes Saurina and Juana Alcalde Morales. Isabel´s parents: Francisco Lacal Caparrós and Justa Giménez Ferrer. All of them borned in Vélez-Rubio. Godfather: Eladio Molina. Godmother: María Lacal Giménez. Witnesses: Diego Muro and Diego Pérez.
CITATION: Parish records of Vélez-Rubio, Almería, Andalucía. 46º Birth´s book, years 1849-1851, pg. 32, certificate 72, birth of María Dolores Catalina Fuentes Lacal, 22 March 1850, Diocesan Archive of Almería.
This record identifies the maiden names of the women. Note that Spanish naming patterns use the female surname as well as the male surname, making it very easy to follow the maternal line. Children are given two surnames – the first one is their paternal surname and the second one is their maternal surname.
Occasionally, we have discovered baptismal records with notations added to the margin of the record. In the example below, years after the original record was written, a priest recorded who the child married and the marriage date.
Take note: On this baptism record you can see the priest noted that the child later married.
Enrique married María Teresa Villar Dosal on 27 Abril 1936. This record also listed María’s parents names. Using this date, we researched the civil records of Llanes, Asturias and found the couples marriage record.
As you can see, this record provides:
- Date and place of baptism
- Name of the child
- Date of birth
- Names of the child’s parents
- The grandparents’ names and places of birth or residences
- Whether or not the family members were living
- Whether or not the family members were legitimate
- The godparents’ names
- Witnesses’ names
Although Catholic records are excellent about providing three-generational family views, they contain very little biographical facts such as occupations, socioeconomic status, education, or health facts.
Spain has a rich heritage of record keeping dating back to 1307. Early records are often handwritten in a narrative style. Later records are usually written in a formatted style within a register. Records were kept in chronological order. Some writing is in Latin, but most is in their native Spanish language. We have discovered several generations of ancestors for multiple clients by going onsite in Spain; it is a great place for family history records.
Legacy Tree Genealogists works with onsite researchers all over the world, including in Spain, who are very familiar with the Spanish archives and their contents, and can visit any of the branches to obtain the records you need in person. If you’re not sure how to pursue your Spanish heritage, we are ready to help! Contact us today to discuss what options are available.