Church records

This page was last updated in 2009

You may reach the point where sacramental records of the Catholic church are the only tools for identifying your Spanish ancestors.

Generally, records of baptisms, marriages and burials were required to be kept in every parish from about 1570 onwards, although many began to do this even earlier.

As with English records, early registers sometimes provide the scantest of information: a person’s name and his or her date of baptism or death, or two names and the date of their marriage. During the 1600s, the recording of more detail became the norm. Children’s parents, or at least their father, should be named, and usually at least one parent of each bride or groom as well.

During the 1700s, the spouses of deceased persons began to be named, partly so it was clear who was responsible for paying for funeral arrangements. In about 1780, it became practice to name newborns’ grandparents as well as their parents, and to identify the holder of last wills.

Unfortunately, dozens of churches were burned down in Spain during the 1930s, many in small localities where the church records were the only kind of population record kept. Where they do survive, they may either be grouped together in a diocesan archive holding the records for dozens of adjacent parishes; still be kept at the parish; or collected together in an ad hoc archive along with those of several adjoining parishes, now served by a single priest. One priest may oversee up to eight different parishes, but keep all their records in a single rectory.

The Church of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons) has conducted a programme of microfilming Spanish parish records, but coverage of the country is patchy.

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