Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Spanish Catholic Church Marriage Records


Hopefully you haven't given up on me...I've been a little busy preparing for the BYU Family History and Genealogy Conference. I just finished up a research session for a client, which made me think about Catholic Church marriage records. The family's ancestors are from Granada, Spain, which I'm convinced was one of the hardest hit regions during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Many of the parish records were destroyed making it quite difficult to trace the families in this area, however, I found a great substitute that I believe is looked over way too often.

Different Types of Marriage Records

In his book, Finding Your Hispanic Roots, Dr. George R. Ryskamp lists five different types of marriage records (see page 193). I've listed them below, however, I will discuss in the first type in further detail.

  1. Pre-marriage investigation (información, diligencia, or expediente matrimonial)
  2. Parish marriage register entry
  3. Marriage dispensation
  4. Church and civil court records relating to marital relations
  5. Dowry inventories and pre-nuptial/post-nuptial contracts

As a side note I might consider a sixth record. The velación or marriage blessing is normally part of the regular parish marriage entry, however forty days before advent (Christmas) and lent (Easter). Sometimes there are separate entries for these blessings, which can be helpful if the record of the actual marriage was destroyed or lost. Other times this is just a marginal note next to the marriage entry.

Pre-marriage Investigation Records

Before a couple could marry in the Catholic Church they had to prove good standing in the church. The couple also had to testify that they were consenting adults, and were not bound by any Canonical impediments. This investigation was done by the parish priest where the couple planned on marrying. In the Hispanic world this usually meant the home parish of the bride. Beginning in the late 1700s it was also a requirement that if one of the engaged parties was a minor, then they had to get written permission from their father, or legal guardian.

Pre-marriage investigation records range from a few pages long to several pages long. In the Granada investigations, which cover the years 1512-1930s, the average length is about 8 or 9 pages. The 'packets' (as I refer to them) usually contain the following information:

  1. Consent of the marrying parties
  2. Parental permission (if necessary)
  3. Testimonies of 3 witnesses that testify that they know the couple and that they are of good standing in the Catholic Church
  4. Baptism records of the bride and groom (good standing proof) and if the parties are widowed a death record of the deceased
  5. Result of the investigation concerning the canonical impediments and the priest's permission for the couple to marry

Where to Find Them

Pre-marriage investigations are normally kept in separate sacrament books, and often times not microfilmed with the regular parish registers. Please keep in mind that there are not pre-marriage investigation records for every parish. Some were destroyed and others were lost (for one reason or another).

In Spain pre-marriage investigations are referred to as Expedientes Matrimoniales and can normally be found in the diocesan archives. In a preliminary survey I have identified that about 1/3 of the dioceses in Spain have expedientes in their archives. I will add my survey as my next blog entry.

In Latin America these records are normally still in parish archives, however, they may also be found in the diocesan archives as well. Mexico is a good example of them being with the parish records, and you will often see the actual marriage records mention the result of the investigation and the page number or entry number where the investigation can be found.

The first place to look for pre-marriage investigations should be the FHLC (Family History Library Catalog). Perform a Place Search for the parish (if researching in Latin America) or the dioceses (if researching in Spain).

The second place to look is in Ecclesiastical directories and in the Censo-guia.

I am currently having some Blogger.com problems, and will finish this article soon (along with some additional information).

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