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Notarial Records


The Notarial System

The European Civil Law tradition prevailed in Spain and her colonies, meaning that transactional law and functions involved with the preparation and authentication—and even the preservation—of legal documents developed as a separate system from the functions of the courts, and its advocates, or attorneys. Under a legal tradition that valued the introduction of written evidence over oral testimony, notaries were responsible for preparing those legal documents and authenticating them for use by partiesto an infinite variety of legal transactions, as well as for presentation to the courts.

Spanish historian Agustin González de Amezúa captures the unique ways notarial documents can offer intimate views of the past:

"How much and how many peculiarities and rarities can be read in these long documents, unburying innumerable lost or today unused objects, revealing genuine practices or customs; apparently silent witnesses, but eloquent and expressive as few others, of the social condition of the parties, of their way of life, of their opulence, of their necessities, tastes, and whims. [In those pages] it is as if the hours had remained petrified, distilled in the symbols and genuine representations of thousands upon thousands of existences."

Protocolos as the Means of Recordation and Preservation: Physical Arrangement and Indexing

In addition to preparing and authenticating documents, the escribano público also had full responsibility for recording his transactions in a format that would preserve them for future reference by the parties, courts, and other elements of society. The result was the creation of the permanent notarial register or protocolo. Generally, at the end of each year, the notary arranged for the binding of the individual documents he had prepared into a single volume arranged in chronological order, often adding a cover sheet and índice (table of contents).

Be aware that in many cases the law required a document to be signed before the notary but did not require that it be recorded for permanent preservation. However, in the mid-nineteenth century, a movement started in Latin America to have all protocolos bound. At that point, most of the older legajos were organized and commercially bound in volumes containing all of the documents drafted by a single notario during a specific year or series of years.

For certain times and areas of Latin America where no appointed notaries functioned, the records were still bound into protocolos, but identified by the geographic locality of origin. Not all documents prepared before a notary in Spain and Latin America were bound into a Protocolo. (This process is called protocolización). Be aware, in many cases, the law required a document to be signed before the notary but did not require that it be recorded for permanent preservation.

For additional information on notary documents, see the following:

  1. General Format of Notarial Documents
  2. The History of Notaries in Spain and Her Colonies.
  3. Spanish Laws Relating to Notary

Click on the type of record below to learn more and see samples.

Capitulación Matrimonial
(Marriage Investigation)
Compras - Ventas Reales
(Purchases and Sales of Real Property)​
Inventario de bienes de difunto
(Inventory of Decedent's State & Property)
Inventario de dote
(Dowry Inventory)
(Power of Attorney)
​Venta de propiedad mobiliaria
(Sale of Personal Property)

Image taken by Jacob Badal in the Archivo Histórico Provincial de Cáceres, Spain


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