Spain Notarial Records
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Why notarial records?
Notarial records are not very well known by beginning genealogists but they are a very valuable resource for genealogical information and cultural context for your family and their community. In many communities the notary was second only to the parish priest in the knowledge of the happenings of the town. Notaries were and still are employed to write and record legal documents not only in Spain but in most countries in the world. The documents recorded by a public notary ranged from land transactions to wills and from marriage contracts to death inventories, as well as many others too numerous to mention here.
Types of Notaries
In Spain there were several types of notaries.
- Royal notaries (escribanos reales) who served the monarchy and other governmental organizations.
- Provincial or criminal notaries (escribanos de provincia o de criminal) who served various courts in judicial functions.
- Ecclesiastic and Apostolic notaries (escribanos eclesiásticos y apostólicos) who served the Catholic Church.
- Public Notaries (escribanos públicos o de número) who served the general public.
Of these four types of notaries the ones whose documents are used most often in genealogical research are those of the public notary. A public notary served in a town or a large city.
Determining the name of the notary where your ancestors might have gone to have their legal documents recorded is an important first step in beginning to use notarial records. If your ancestors lived in a small town, there may have been only one notary or they may have had to travel to a nearby town because their town had no notary. If your ancestors lived in a large city, you may have to determine if they went to a notary near their home or if they went to one that had strong connections to their family but whose office may not have been close by. Most provincial and notarial archives where the records are kept have created catalogues identifying the notaries in the area and the years of their service.
Once you’ve determined the name of the local notary for the time period you wish to search, you will want to begin examining the records. The records are generally found in large books or bundles of loose leaf pages called legajos. Usually onelegajo contained one year but in smaller towns there might have been more than one year per legajo or in a large city there may have been more than onelegajo per year. Some notaries included indexes with the names of the main parties involved in the transactions at the front of the legajo. Other legajos have no indexes and a page by page examination of the documents is a must.
Given the legal nature of the documents most follow a standard format. Once you learn to recognize the format, reading the documents becomes easier. Just as in wills from other countriestestamentos in Spain almost always begin with the words “In the name of God amen” or “En el nombre de Dios amen.” The most important types of documents to consider are testaments, marriage contracts, death inventories, donations, partitions of goods, letters of payment, and transfers of land, with the latter two being less important than those preceding them.
Types of Records
Wills generally list all the names of the heirs of the deceased. Sometimes you might also find among the many requests for religious rites the names of relatives who predeceased the testator. Death inventories often list heirs. One of the fascinating aspects of death inventories and marriage contracts are the long lists of items owned by the deceased or given to the couple. They provide a fascinating glimpse into the life and everyday activities during the time period adding a rich cultural background to your family tree.
- Testamentos = Wills
- Inventarios de muerte = Death inventories
- Inventarios de dote = Dowry inventories
- Contratos matrimoniales = Marriage contracts
- Ventas y compras = Sales and purchases
- Poderes = Power of attorney
Research use: Helps establish family groups and connect to older generations.
Record type: Notarial record of estate distribution at the death of the testator.
General: Notarial practice is rooted in the Roman heritage of Spanish civilization. Notaries have validated legal documents for centuries on the Iberian peninsula. Wills were kept by public notaries as differentiated from royal, criminal, or ecclesiastical notaries. In 1609 notarial records became public records and were no longer the private possession of the notary. The notarial law of 1862 required that they be preserved indefinitely.
Time period: 1609-present.
Contents: Name of testator, residence, names of family members and other relations and their relationship to the testator.
Location: Provincial historical archives (legal repository for notarial records more than a 100 years old), district and local notarial archives and offices.
Population coverage: 40% of the population.
Where to Find Them?
Notarial records are most often found in historical provincial archives. Some however, may be found in notarial, municipal, or local archives. A good guide to the collections of various archives in Spain can be found at the PARES site using their Censo-Guía de Archivos. For more information about notarial records in Spain, please read this article Archivos Históricos Notariales Memorial Documental de España. Use Google translate to help you read the article if you do not understand Spanish.
Most of these records must be viewed onsite in an archive because not many have been microfilmed as of the writing of this article. Some archives are in the process of digitizing their notarial records and placing them online. The following are just a few that we know of. If you are aware of more, we’d love to hear about them.
Spain, Cádiz, Testaments, 1550-1920 A wiki article describing this collection is found at: Spain, Cadiz Notary Public Wills (FamilySearch Historical Records)
Archives specializing in notarial documents
In Spain generally speaking most notarial records can be found in the historical provincial archives for each province. A Google search in Spanish should enable you to locate the contact information for these archives. Use the search terms "Archivo histórico provincial de [name of province]". You may also find some information about these archives visiting the province page for the area you are researching and then clicking on the link to Archives and Libraries. Access to the records is limited for documents dated within the last 100 years. Records before that time are generally accessible to the public. It is always adviseable to contact an archive before visiting to verify that they have the records for the jurisdiction you are researching. Judicial jurisdictions have changed over time and do not always correspond to present-day jurisdictions.
Besides historical provincial archives, the following are archives that specialize in notarial documents and notarial records for these areas may or may not be found in historical provincial archives.
For more information about notarial records, see Chapter 12 “Notarial Records” in Tracing Your Hispanic Heritage by George R. Ryskamp (Riverside, CA: Hispanic Family History Research, 1984) FHL INTL Book 946 D27r .
- The Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Family History Record Profile: Spain,” Word document, private files of the FamilySearch Content Strategy Team, 1984-1999.