|You are here: SephardicGen Home Inquisition and other early Hispanic Archives|
The valuable information on this page has been provided by Lawrence H. Feldman, Ph.D and MLS in an email responding to a question I asked him. I asked if I could share the information on this website and he graciously agreed. Dr Feldman is a very knowledgeable indexer, researcher and writer. I unfortunately do not have hs current email address.
To learn more about inquisicion records and the Inquisicion, I strongly recommend the work by Juan Blazquez Miguel, La Inquisicion,( Ediciones Penthalon, Bustos, 11. Telef 552 43 31, 28038 Madrid-- a cheap little paperback) as a very useful introduction to the subject.
Repositories with Inquisicion documents
Archivo Historico Nacional (AHN), Madrid.
There are published catalogues for the documents for the tribunals of Toledo and Murcia, but there is much that is not catalogued.
The total holdings of Inquisicion records at the AHN consists of 5344 manuscript bundles and 1463 manuscript books. They are divided into the following sections:
The Archivo Diocesano de Cuenca is an important source for that town (a guide to them is in preparation).
The Archivo General de Simancas (Valladolid) has material in several sections. These are not the records of the Inquisicion but government actions resulting from Inquisicion activities.
The Archivo de La Real Audiencia de Zaragoza has important documents for the Kingdom of Aragon.
The Archivo de Museo Canario, Las Palmas, has Inquisicion records for the Canary Islands.
I would also check the Archivo de Real Corona de Aragon for Barcelona and Catalonia. And look at the archivos historicos provinciales (provincial archives) for possible occasional inquisicion documents that didn't end up in the major repositories.
The Inquisicion in the New World
In the earliest years of the Spanish colonies the bishops ran the New World Inquisicion. Their inquisicion files would have originally been in the episcopal archives and, in some places, probably still are in those repositories. The organization sometimes known as the La Inquisicion Espanola, that is the official government run organization with a central headquarters in Madrid and tribunals in various localities in Spain set up to detect and destroy certain crimes associated with religious issues (among which cryptojudaism was one but no means the only-- crypto moslems, witchcraft, fornicating clergy, blasphemy, and several other kinds of illegal behavior also came under its jurisdiction), didn't officially come to the New World until close to the end of the sixteenth century.
Three tribunals were set up in the New World. One in Mexico City for the North American mainland south to Panama and the Philippines. One in Lima, Peru for most of South America. and one in Cartagena, Colombia (then in Nueva Granada or the Audiencia de Santa Fe) for the northern coast of South America and the Caribbean islands.
Two of these archives have survived. That in Mexico City ended up in the Archivo General de la Nacion (AGN). Consisting of 1555 bound volumes dating from 1522 to 1819, they include the records of the inquisicion of the bishops and that of official Tribunal of the Santo Oficio de la Inquisicion which was established in Mexico in 1569. Much, but by no means all, of the bishops inquisicion concerns trials of Indians. The arrival of the Inquisicion organization brought with it an intensified search for secret Jews.
The colonial records of the AGN (not just the Inquisicion) are very well organized and a very detailed and comprehensive guide to these records is in the process of being placed on a CD-ROM. As of about three years ago the guide to about half of the these holding were searchable by means of this CD-ROM. Also each bound volume of Inquisicion records at the AGN has a brief abstract of each of the files in the volume, allowing one to search them very rapidly.
The records of the Inquisicion in Lima have also survived but those in Cartagena disappeared many years ago. Correspondence between these three New World tribunals and the Supreme headquarters of the Inquiscion in Madrid is kept at the AHN in Madrid. These consist of only 175 manuscript bundles and 78 manuscript books. Among them are the few remaining references to cases tried by the Cartagena tribunal.
Notarial and other Archives
The best geneological records in Spain are the most voluminous and hence the hardest to use. These are the notarial archives. They commonly go back to the 1200's and even earlier. These are Notary Public records of sales of land, loans of money etc. Problem is that for any one year you can have 3000 or more unindexed difficult to read pages of data for even small towns. Yes, they do identify the religion of the individuals recorded and background. But you need to know exactly when and where you are looking, and give yourself plenty of time. You also MUST be able to read the handwriting of the period. Spanish hasn't changed much since the early middle ages but the penmanship can look very strange, even to a native speaker who isn't familiar with the script. Click here for an example of XI century spanish. The Notarial Records are worse than most since the scribe INTENTIONALLY made them difficult to read; he earned money by being able to read what no one else could understand.
Another obvious source is church records, which also go back centuries. Baptismal, matrimonial, defunciones records are relatively easy to scan quickly and, in theory, are for the entire community.
Looking at Church records requires the permission of the local bishop. Usually no problem but you never can tell.
Ministerio de Cultura ID
All other records are government records and shouldn't involve any special difficulties. Bring an ID (passport will do), a letter of recommendation, and two passport photos to any one of the major government archives (e.g. Simancas, Archivo General de Indias in Seville or the AHN in Madrid) and they will issue you a Ministerio de Cultura ID that will open most doors. Notarial records are in the local Archivo Historico Provinciales or, for really small towns, sometimes in the mayors office. The Ministerio de Cultura ID should open those doors.
In summary for the marrano years the notarial and church archives will reflect the everyday existance of everyone. Since they go back for centuries the notarial records will cover the Jewish, pre Marrano days, of your ancestors. But because they are so abundant, and in an antique script, they will take time to use. You should come familiar with script (DONT WASTE TIME LEARNING HOW TO READ THE SCRIPT IN THE FIELD-- study examples before you go) and with a highly focused query (i.e. know exactly what years and what places you want to check). Click here for an example of XI century spanish.
On working with Spanish archives, you might want to check my book:
1991. "Anglo-Americans in Spanish Archives: Lists of Anglo-American Settlers in the Spanish Colonies of America, A Finding Aid." Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., Baltimore Maryland.
It is not about looking for Jews (perhaps I should write a book on that) but has some useful comments on working in Spanish archives.
The Blazquez Miguel book will provide the addresses of several centers in Spain that specialize on Inquisicion studies. Again I very strongly recommend getting a copy of this book.
If you are in Spain, you might visit the old Ghetto in Gerona. It is the best reconstructed/excavated Jewish quarter in the Spains. Won't help you find your ancestors but will provide a better feel for those distant times and places than anything in the more famous Jewish quarters of Andalucia and elsewhere in the Spains.
Finally, if you decide you need someone to search for you, I charge $150 per day plus expenses.
Feel free to ask if you have any other questions,
Lawrence H. Feldman, Ph.D and MLS
Post Office Box 2493
Wheaton Maryland 20915-2493
Other World Regions
Archives and Genealogy Topics