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A Brief Look at the Spanish Civil Archival System

Understanding archival systems in your country of interest will help you become a better genealogist. Knowing where records are archived can be one of the biggest obstacles many researchers encounter.


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Resource: GenWeekly
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Understanding archival systems in your country of interest will help you become a better genealogist. Knowing where records are archived can be one of the biggest obstacles many researchers encounter. This article will briefly explore the oft-confusing archival system of Spain.

The civil archival system in Spain can be divided into three levels:

1. Municipal Archives
2. Provincial Historical Archives
3. National Archives

The first level of archives in Spain is Municipal. Municipal archives house local records. These records include, but are not limited to, business licenses, town censuses, immigration records, draft records or anything pertaining to the local city.

Included in this same level are juzgados or courts of first instance. These courts are important to know. They usually are found in larger cities or a designated central town of several smaller towns. If a town has a juzgado, the civil registers in the town will be kept in the local courthouse. If the town does not have a juzgado, the civil registers will be stored in the ayuntamiento or city hall. Larger cities may be divided into districts, which are in charge of keeping and maintaining their own civil registers. Spain's civil registers system began in 1870. Each book should have an index in the back, making them easier to search. Civil register records include birth, marriage, and death. They have proved to be excellent alternatives when parish records do not exist. They also act a verifying tool to church or oral records.

The next level is Provincial. Notary records demand the attention of the genealogist at the provincial level. All notary records kept within a particular province were ordered to be centralized in the provincial archives located in the capitol of the province. The records are organized chronologically under each notary. Notary records include marriage contracts, wills, real property sales, lawsuits, power of attorney and others. Our ancestors' lives become more real with the help of these invaluable records. In death inventories and wills an individual's belongings are listed, allowing us to peek into their world for a brief moment. Notary records often serve as better gap fillers than civil registers. Civil registers are often complete, but limit your search to after 1870; whereas notary records often date back into the 1500s.

The final level of the Spanish archival system is that of National. Spain's national archival system is separated into different entities such as geographical location or time period. National archives include records pertaining to the national government, royal chancelleries, military, and the American colonies. Some of these archives have searchable indexes or inventories on the Internet, making their repositories more accessible to the public and more valuable to the genealogist. The best Web site for Spanish provincial and national archives is

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2004.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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