Genealogy Research in Spain: Find Records and Certificates

20 de March, 2024

Genealogy Research in Spain: Find Records and Certificates

Discover the process of genealogy research in Spain. How to find your ancestry certificates and records and obtain your Spanish citizenship.
Fotos e documentos de antepassados espanhóis: busca de certidões na Espanha
Reading: 8 min

Need to find records and certificates of Spanish ancestors to apply for your Spanish nationality? Conducting a genealogy research in Spain can be a challenging task. In most cases, the assistance of a professional in the field will be necessary. This is because, unlike Portugal, where almost 90% of civil registration documents are digitized, in Spain, only about 20% of these certificates are available online. Nonetheless, don’t lose hope! With the help of a historian, you can certainly locate all the necessary paperwork to start your citizenship process. In this article, we’ll explain how you can conduct your research!
We’ve already explained how to conduct genealogy research in Portugal. Now, let’s explain how you can collect certificates and documents in Spain, what the peculiarities of this country are, and how to achieve the coveted dual citizenship, taking advantage of the benefits of the Democratic Memory Law, currently in force. The so-called Grandchildren’s Law has simplified many processes for children and grandchildren by temporarily eliminating the requirement of residency for one year in Spain.

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Data Required to Find Certificates in Spain

To search for certificates in Spain, it’s necessary to provide some essential information:

  • Full name of the Spanish individual,
  • Place of birth of the Spanish individual: municipality, province, and autonomous community,
  • Date of birth of the Spanish individual,
  • Names of the parents of the Spanish individual (or at least one of them).

Additionally, when requesting a certificate, it’s important to provide your own information, such as full name, identification document (DNI, NIE, or passport), email address, and telephone number. Usually, it’s also necessary to indicate the purpose of the certificate and the reason for the request. These pieces of information are essential to ensure a precise and efficient search for the desired records.

mulher numa mesa, com caneta no rosto, com fotos, computador e árvore genealógica em sua frente, parece estar sonhando encontrar documentos de familiares espanhóis

How to Conduct Certificate Searches in Spain?

To access certificates of your grandparents and other ancestors who left Spain for other countries, you can send a letter or go in person to the civil registry office of the municipality where the registration was made. Even if you opt for an in-person search, it’s advisable to contact the office in advance to confirm the exact location of the registration. It’s worth noting that, in certain circumstances, searching for the baptismal certificate may be necessary, adding another step to the process of obtaining the desired document.

Tips for Genealogy Research in Spain

  • Start your search at home, looking through book dedications, photos, recipe books, Bibles, and old letters. Talk to all family members and gather as much data as you can.
  • Seek information about the city or town of birth of the Spanish immigrant.
  • Consult foreign records (non-Spanish), such as birth, death, and marriage records, where the city of origin may be recorded.
  • Check marriage licenses, naturalization records, inventories and wills, alien and boarding records, among other documents.
  • Search for records of all family members of the immigrant, as not all may have been born in the same city.
  • Pay attention to the difference between province and city, as some immigrants may mention the name of the province instead of the city.
  • Explore marriage files (religious record). They may provide detailed information about the groom’s city of origin and the family tree.

Why it´s difficult to find records and certificates of Spanish ancestors?

Searching for certificates in Spain, whether for birth, baptism, or marriage in Spain, is indeed more challenging than in Portugal. Several reasons contribute to this:

In Spain, both civil and baptismal records were valid.

It’s important to highlight that civil registration in Spain was established in 1871. For comparison, civil registration was established in Brazil in 1891 and in Portugal in 1911. It’s one of the oldest in the world. Additionally, there were also religious records. The Spanish population, extremely Catholic, often prioritized baptismal registration, which also had legal validity. Drawing a parallel, this did not happen in Portugal, where baptismal documents ceased to be valid after the creation of civil registration.

This detail further complicates the location of documents since they can be sought in two sources. We’re precisely talking about the generation of our grandparents, from a period between 1870 and 1911. This is also the time of great Spanish immigration to other parts of the world, especially to America.

Should I have a baptismal or civil registration certificate from Spain?

Both are valid, but the civil registration certificate is stronger. Currently, for the baptismal certificate to have legal effect, you must attach the negative civil registration certificate.

Democratic Memory Law and Increased Number of Searches

The Law of Democratic Memory, also known as the Grandchildren’s Law, which facilitated access to Spanish citizenship, has increased the demand for Spanish citizenship. Over 182 thousand people took advantage of the opportunity to make their requests. As a result, the search for certificates also grew and overwhelmed the Ministry of Justice website, where civil documentation is requested. It was even offline when this article was posted. Much of the civil registry of small villages in the northern part of the country does not even have an email address!

Spanish civil documents are not digitized

As mentioned at the beginning of the text, less than 20% of Spanish civil registry documentation is digitized. Some regions in the North of the country, such as Galicia, which is a territory of many Spanish emigrants, do not have any digitized books. This is because, unlike what happened in Portugal, the Catholic Church in Spain did not allow access to the registration books (see below what happened with Family Search).

The digitization of civil documents is a practice that requires authorization from notaries, courts, or dioceses. These entities are responsible for documents from different locations or periods. However, the rules may vary between regions, even within the same country, resulting in differences in the deadlines for accessing documents of people in different parts of the world. In Spain, access to documents has always been more difficult than in Portugal. And they do not have any digitization project at the moment.

Document searches in Spain are still done manually

Considering that 80% of the documents are in books, the search needs to be done manually and in person. In other words, a historian needs to know the birthplace of your ancestor, go to the city, and pick up old books in the basements of cathedrals and leaf through them one by one.

Atlantic Bridge historian recalls his last visit to Tui Cathedral in the Pontevedra region:

“The archive was in the cathedral’s basement. There were a lot of piled up, old books, a table thrown in the middle, the temperature was -2 degrees, very cold… The priest brought some huge, heavy books, full of mold, with bookworms and everything you can imagine, and I would look through them one by one to see if I found the client’s record.”

Thiago Bezerra, historian

Errors in records: names changed in Spanish ancestor certificates

Searching for Spanish ancestor documents can also be challenging because many records were altered during migration, especially in the spellings of first names. This also happened in Portugal, but in Spain, because they spoke another language, it was even more frequent. Often, immigrants’ names were “Portuguese-ized” upon arrival in Brazil. For example: Muñoz in Spain became Munhóz or Munhós in Brazil.

How to request certificates in Spain online?

It is possible to request a duplicate of a parent’s birth certificate online by filling in a form and indicating the address where the document will be delivered. Spain has a central repository for civil registration. If you have all the details of the family member and the document, your first attempt will be on the Ministry of Justice website.

  • Go to Birth Certificate.
  • Click on Request Birth Certificate without digital certificate (key).
  • Choose the language (Spanish) and indicate if the certificate is yours or a relative’s (third party).
  • Indicate if the relative is deceased.
  • Choose “authorized by the registrant” if not a legal representative.
  • On the next screen, provide the requester’s data.
  • Then, provide the data of the person from whom you are requesting the certificate.
  • Choose the literal birth certificate (which is used for nationality applications) and explain that the reason for your request is Spanish nationality application.
  • Fill in your address details.
  • Fill in the “place of registration” (these are the details at the top of your original certificate).
  • Fill in the “registry data” (volume and page where the document is).

It is important to fill in even the optional fields to facilitate document location. Only make the request if you really have all the data. It is worth remembering that for people born before 1950, locating the record is more difficult because old archives are not digitized.

To check the status of your request, you need to contact the civil registry directly, by email or phone. If there is no response within three months, this so-called “administrative silence” means that your document was not found.

Sites to search for Spanish ancestors

There are some websites where you can find records of Spanish ancestors:

  • Family Search: Searching on the most well-known genealogy website is the last hope for those who want to find their ancestors using the internet. Much of the digitized Spanish documentation is available here.
  • Geneanet: Armed with the name, surname, and region of birth of your relative, you can search this database, created in 1996, which has over 5 million members who share data for free. By paying for a subscription, you can also access partner databases.

Family Search and the Church of Latter-day Saints

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also pejoratively called the Mormon Church) values genealogy, considering it an essential part of their faith and family unification. Because of this, they are behind the creation and provisioning of the FamilySearch website, launched in 1999. The site allows free searching of records, building family trees, and accessing useful resources for historical research.

They also own the Granite Mountain Vault, an underground repository in Utah, with 3.5 billion copies of records from around the world, seen as essential for preserving family history in the event of a global catastrophe. In Spain, they did not have great success in digitizing documents because the Spanish Catholic dioceses did not allow another church to access their books.

Does Atlantic Bridge search for certificates in Spain?

Yes! Atlantic Bridge has a database and an exclusive collection of information that is not available in any other database. We have a genealogy department established in Spain, Portugal, and Brazil. We operate directly in various Spanish cities to expedite the identification of your document. We conduct a thorough investigation to find certificates in Spain and enable your Spanish citizenship.

Is it possible to only pay for the search after locating the documents?

Request your quote at Atlantic Bridge and check the applicable conditions in your case. In some cases, the company may offer this guarantee to its clients. In others, it may not, depending on the region of origin of the Spanish individual. Consult in advance. Talk to our consultants!

Silvia Resende


Silvia Resende

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