The Historical Archive of the Archdiocese of San Juan is responsible for preserving the memories of the Catholic Church in Puerto Rico. Additionally, this archive includes information about the evangelization of the island and contains documents for demographic, genealogical and even epidemiological studies of Puerto Rico, given that religious officials kept records of all these facts.
The celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Discovery of America led to the idea that all of the documents that were kept at the San Juan Cathedral and in the former bishop’s residence should be recovered and stored in a single place. Joining this effort were the University of Puerto Rico in Río Piedras, the Sacred Heart University and the Center for Advanced Studies on Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. These universities, along with the Archdiocese of San Juan organized and cataloged documents, while several specialists from Mexico and a group of university students were given the task of filing, cleaning, identifying and classifying the documents. This archive has existed since 1988 and anyone interested in learning about his family history or ancestry can visit it.
The Archdiocesan Historical Archive is organized into three collections: the Diocese Historical Archive, the Historical Archive, and the Parochial Historical Archive. The combination of these three collections allows the public to learn about the administration of the Diocese of Puerto Rico up to the early 20th century, the history of the Catholic Church in Puerto Rico, the financial history of the Catholic Church in Puerto Rico in the 19th century, etc. Each collection is divided into sections. The Justice section is the one most frequently consulted by genealogical researchers because it contains the Dispensations from Consanguinity and the Proofs of Unmarried Status. Those interested can find data by searches based on town and year. These documents cover from approximately 1840 up to the 20th century. They were necessary documents, because they corroborated blood relationships and provided evidence that a non-member of the church had not been previously married, information that was needed to grant permission to marry.
There are other sub-divisions in the archive, such as the one that stores information about the legitimization of offspring, marriage licenses and ecclesiastical divorces. The legitimization of offspring is a document that is necessary to legalize the children of a couple that has lived together in a consensual relationship for many years and has decided to have a religious marriage. The marriage licenses were permits granted by the parents to male offsprings under 25 years of age and female offsprings under 23 years of age who wanted to get married. After a church wedding, if they decided to get divorced, they had to request an ecclesiastical divorce, which consisted of appearing before the Ecclesiastical Court and presenting the reasons and evidence justifying the separation. Once divorced, neither of the parties could ever marry again.
There are two deposits in the Historical Archive: Administration and Our Lady of Remedies. In the first are all of the records related to the administration of the diocese, while the Our Lady of Remedies Deposit houses the parish books of the Cathedral of San Juan. The oldest information in this deposit is found in Book 1 of the Marriages of Whites, which covers from 1653 to 1725. All of these books, up to 1854, were organized by rank, which means that the baptismal and marriage records of slaves, free blacks and mixed-race people were found in different books from those of the whites. Although the records are not totally complete, they help give an idea of the demographics of San Juan. In addition to this data, there is another subdivision in the Archive that contains records of deaths and wills up to 1920. Finally, there are books of confirmations. The documentation in the Archdiocesan Historical Archive is complemented by the collections belonging to the former Council Seminary and the Convent of the Reverend Carmelite Nuns. The Archive is located on San Sebastián Street in the Archbishop Palace building in Old San Juan.
Author: Else Zayas León
Published: November 11, 2015.
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