Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Archives of the Archbishop of Burgos, Spain

Researching Hubby’s Roots in Spain

“El Archivo Diocesano de Burgos” is the archive for church records in the city of Burgos, Spain, located at the Archbishop’s palace next to the Burgos Cathedral. This northern city is also famous as the hometown of “El Cid”, the famous warrior also known as Francisco Diaz de Vivar, the national hero of Spain. Any church records no longer held at the individual churches are stored here. So, any very old books of baptisms, marriages, funerals, no longer being used for recording sacraments of the Catholic Church, are gathered into this archive. It is important to know that there is also an “Archivo de la Catedral de Burgos”, which is located next door in the cathedral, but that doesn’t have the genealogical records.

I learned these facts ahead of time, before we went to Spain to visit family, have a vacation, and (of course!) work a little bit on Hubby’s side of the family tree. I’m glad that I found out ahead of time that there were two archives, and which one held the correct records. It is also important to know ahead of time the hours, days, holidays, etc. for archives and libraries in Spain. God forbid you arrive at the wrong time, wrong day or on one of the countless holidays and find the library closed! They were only open certain days, and only for three hours. The most important thing to note was that only seven researchers were allowed into the archive at a time, and a line formed early in the morning. I had no idea how important this was until I arrived in Burgos.

Hubby is a Spaniard, but he was born in the U.S.A. so he understands both mentalities. To him this meant get there one hour ahead of time and be prepared to wait. So we did, and we were first in line, with my father-in-law in tow. Within fifteen minutes a man with a briefcase joined us on the sofa in the lobby, followed quickly by two priests. Later a tweedy looking professor type man joined us. That was seven. A young student showed up, counted each head aloud, sighed in disappointment and left. We all sat until the bell rang exactly at 10 AM, and Mr. Briefcase got up and walked through a door down into the basement, and we all followed.

Downstairs we met Brother Archivist, a stern looking man who tolerated no nonsense. No talking, no pens, no more than seven people. He counted heads, nodded and we sat down sat at one table, side by side. I looked at my watch. We had only three hours! Everyone started to furiously fill out call slips and hand them to Brother Archivist. We waited patiently for our books. Hubby and I decided to first ask for the marriage records of my father-in-laws village, Sinovas. Brother Archivist sat at his desk at the head of the table, watching everyone carefully with eagle eyes.

With our heads together we pored over the book, starting in the back, looking for the surname ROJO and furiously copying everything of interest. We had to pass notes when I had questions about the Spanish (I’m not a very good Spanish speaker, or reader!). Several times Brother Archivist shushed me when I would gasp in delight at finding an ancestor. He wasn’t happy when we whispered either. I couldn’t help but marvel that we hadn’t been issued gloves and book cradles for these old books, which dated back to the early 1800s.

We decided things would go faster if we each got our own book to look at. I took a book of deaths, and Hubby got a book of baptisms and we furiously continued copying all the records of interest. The Catholic records were very good at recording the dates, names, witnesses (usually other relatives) etc., so we were gathering mountains of information. I had lots of questions, too many to scribble on notes passed to Hubby, and we tried to whisper, but eagle eyed Brother Archivist caught me every time. It was extremely intimidating. Mr. Student from this morning, who didn’t get a seat, came in counted heads and sighed another very loud stage sigh, so Mr. Briefcase took pity, got up, and let him have his treasured seat. Mr. Student was ecstatic, and mouthed a plethora of “Muchas Gracias!” to Mr. Briefcase. Brother Archivist shushed him.

My father-in-law bravely decided to chat up Brother Archivist. Once upon a time, he lived with the Jesuits as a young man, and even considered taking holy orders. The next time I looked up, the two men were deep in conversation at the desk! Hubby and I were grateful that Brother Archivist was distracted, so we had a chance to whisper a bit. We were only shushed once more in the last hour. Before I knew it, the bell rang for lunchtime, and it was over. Brother Archivist gathered everyone’s books, glared at me one last time, and closed the door.

That experience was over very fast! We traveled all that way for one day (well, three hours) in the archives of Burgos. However, it was a very fruitful morning and we brought the family tree back to the Napoleonic Wars. Earlier records were destroyed by the war, and few survive. We have all the records, and sources, and countless cousins' records, too. These books were never filmed by the LDS church, but we found them, and survived the experience. Thank you, Brother Archivist!


We were in the archives of Burgos eight years ago. When I searched for the website for this archive, I saw that the archives are now open from 9:30 to 2:00 PM Monday to Friday, closed in the month of August. There is still a limit of 7 “investigadores” at the table. I wonder how Brother Archivist likes the new hours?

Archivo Diocesano de Burgos. Located at the Palacio Arcobispal, Calle Martinez del Campo, 18, Burgos, Spain. Phone number in Spain 947- 208440


website (in Spanish)


Copyright 2010, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. You have to play by the rules! Glad you found the information you were looking for :-)

  2. Great story, Heather! And how lovely to be able to find such exciting records, even under Brother Archivist's sharp eyes. Having one's ancestors in an hierarchical/organized church certainly helps! Thanks for posting ... and reminding everyone to check ahead of time for all the details for any archives.

  3. This is a delightful post! So this is how genealogical research goes in Spain. Very intimidating indeed. I teach (actually just retired) at Fairfield University, which is a Jesuit school, so I know about those eagle eyes. And my nephew, summer before last, spent three weeks in Burgos on a school-sponsored trip for the Spanish students at his high school. He goes to Roxbury Latin, which you might know of. I'm glad you had so much luck, and were so persistent even though you got "shushed" too much!

  4. This post was so helpful as I am planning a trip to Spain to research for my husbands line in Burgos. Thanks so much.

  5. This was very helpful, thank you!