BLOG: Back to the Archives for the First Time: The Archivo General de Notarías de la Ciudad de México, Fondo Siglo XVI, Part 1 by Josh Anthony

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I am pleased to continue the “Teaching with H-Latam’s Research Corner Blog” series featuring graduate students from Rutgers University. Whether you are a graduate student or a scholar at any other level of your career, I want to know about your research this summer. I'm also looking for selections from archivists or librarians who would like to inform our readers about your resources. I'll edit your posts this summer or in early fall, and publish them not long after. Please email me at or fill out this Google Form to express your interest in blogging.

Josh Anthony is a History PhD student at Rutgers University specializing in Indigenous communities, family, and gender in colonial Mexico. His research explores how Nahua kinship networks evolved as a result of demographic collapse, Spanish colonization, and Christian evangelization. Through his research at the AGNM, he hopes to understand how Nahua men’s economic activities in the capital were linked to individual status, communal and familial obligations, and gendered expectations during the sixteenth century.

Back to the Archives for the First Time: The Archivo General de Notarías de la Ciudad de México, Fondo Siglo XVI, Part 1

I began my history PhD in 2019. In retrospect, it was an inopportune time to do so. I remember spending my first semester extensively discussing the archive, a part of the historical profession of which I knew little, and daydreaming about my first trip out in the field. I furiously typed out notes on Archive Fever, The Allure of the Archives, etc, and listened spellbound as colleagues shared stories about their adventures in the stacks.1 Mid-February of 2020 saw me planning my first trip to Mexico for exploratory research (and reading Edward Anthony Polanco’s post on the Archivo General de la Nácion multiple times).

But in March, the world shut down. Thanks to the generous scholars and archivists who printed, microfilmed, and digitized sources, my research continued despite the pandemic. If nothing else, being stuck at home provided more time to prepare for the first archival trip than I ever could have imagined and allowed me to be more efficient once I arrived. After multiple aborted trips, I finally traveled to Mexico in March 2022 for that long-awaited exploratory archival expedition.

In this, the first of three blog posts, I summarize my research preparations for the Archivo General de Notarías de la Ciudad de México (AGNM), the main notarial archive for Mexico City and its periphery, specifically its Fondo Siglo XVI. I will offer a brief description of the archive; explain the registration process; and describe the resources I used to identify relevant sources within each collection. The second post will address the actual experience of working at the AGNM.  The third post will cover the resources I used to prepare to visit the Archivo General de la Nación, and how I put that preparation into practice once I finally arrived. I direct these posts to anyone interested in Mexican archival research with limited knowledge of the relevant institutions, as I was in February 2020 (and still am).

The AGNM is divided into two main bodies: the Acervo Histórico and the Acervo Contemporáneo. The Acervo Histórico is the building researchers will be most interested in. Since 2003 the Acervo Histórico has been stored in the Ex-Convento Corpus Christi (see Figure 1), the first convent for Indigenous women in Mexico. Now this colonial building, located on the south side of the beautiful Alameda Central, houses notarial records that span centuries, and is open to researchers weekdays between 9:00 AM and 3:00 PM.

Figure 1: Façade of the Ex-Convento de Corpus Christi. Photo by Dr. Tatiana Seijas. Used with her permission.

The Acervo Histórico’s Fondo Antiguo contains over 5,000 libros de protocolos compiled between 1525 and 1902. Each libro is a compilation of all the documents a notary prepared in that year, which the state eventually collected. Researchers interested in Mexico City’s social and economic history will find a treasure trove of sources behind Corpus Christi’s imposing walls, useful for research on topics like land tenure; petty business; slavery; marital practices; and more. Besides the Fondo Antiguo, the Acervo Histórico also contains the Fondo Contemporáneo, which contains over 23,000 libros de protocolos compiled between 1875 and 1948, and finally the Fondo Consular, which contains 28 libros compiled between 1843 and 1937. The latter two fondos will be of special interest to scholars of modern Mexico.2

The latter half of this blog post will focus on the Fondo XVI within the Fondo Antiguo, which contains ninety-eight libros de protocolos from the sixteenth century. These volumes constitute less than 1% of the Fondo Antiguo, and many are in poor condition. Nevertheless, they constitute a remarkable resource as they offer an invaluable vantage point to understand daily life in early central Mexico.

Before you can begin researching in Corpus Christi’s Acervo Histórico, however, you need to get registered at the AGNM’s central location (see Figure 2), which also contains the Acervo Contemporáneo.3 This building is located in the Candelaría de los Patos neighborhood (see Figure 3). To get registered, you need to bring an ID and reference letter from your home institution and fill out a form identifying your research interests at the Acervo Histórico. The Candelaría location is a very busy place, with many people visiting each day, so plan to arrive as soon as the doors open at 8:30 AM and have patience. More information on the services offered by the AGNM can be found here.4

Figure 2: The AGNM’s central location. [].

Figure 3: Directions between the AGNM’s two buildings. The black line shows the 30-minute walk between the two stations, and the pink and blue lines show the 20-minute metro journey connecting the two nearest stations to each location.

Fortunately for researchers stuck at home, the AGNM offers a searchable online catalogue for the Fondo Siglo XVI (see Figure 4).5 Dra. Ivonne Mijares Ramírez oversaw this cataloguing project, organized under UNAM’s Seminario de Documentación e Historia Novohispana, which restored, digitized, and completed the cataloguing effort for the entire Fondo. The archive no longer allows researchers to physically handle these precious documents, and their digitized photos are only available on-site. However, researchers can prepare for their visits by sorting through the online catalogue here, or by consulting the multiple published catalogues.6

Figure 4: Catalogue launch page.

From the website, upon clicking BÚSQUEDAS, you are met with an unfiltered list of all the archive’s documents and five search boxes (see Figure 5).7 The documents are ordered based on name of the notary, the volume of the notary’s libro de protocolo, and the date of the document. Documents are also numerated under Ficha, which restarts with each libro de protocolo. The search boxes allow you to make inquiries based on the following:

  • Escribano
  • Lugar
  • Año
  • Asunto
  • Resumen

Figure 5: The BÚSQUEDAS page.

The most useful index is Resumen, as it usually contains all the other indexed information. Once you’ve identified an interesting document, click on its document type under Asunto for its catalogue file. See Figures 6-8 for the catalogue file for a sample document.

Figure 6: Datos del documento from the catalogue file for Miguel de Párraga, “Obligación de pago,” 10 de mayo de 1576. This page contains data not shown in BÚSQUEDAS; notably, the type of notary who prepared the document and the organization responsible for its cataloging.

Figure 7: Resumen from the catalogue file for Miguel de Párraga, “Obligación de pago,” 10 de mayo de 1576. Note the presence of the (*) symbol, which indicates a document in poor condition.

Figure 8: Imágenes relacionadas from the catalogue file for Miguel de Párraga, “Obligación de pago,” 10 de mayo de 1576. All document images are stored as JPEGs.

You can use the following special characters to refine searches:

  • ? can stand for any single character, something especially useful for inconsistently spelled Nahuatl toponyms and searching by decade.
  • ;; can be used to search with an “or” function.
  • * can stand for an unlimited number of characters, allowing searches with an “and” function.

Using “?” and “;;”, for instance, I searched for every usage of the words “indio” and “india” between 1520 and 1549 (see Figure 9). Then, using “*” and “;;”, I searched for every usage of the words “guerra” and “chichimeca” (see Figure 10).

Figure 9: Searching for all documents that contain “indio/a” between 1520 and 1549

Figure 10: Searching for all documents which contain the words “chichimeca” and “guerra.” In the language of the search function, I am searching for all documents that contain “chichimeca” followed by “guerra,” or, all documents that contain “guerra” followed by “chichimeca.”

As with any searchable catalogue, the strength of all inquiries is limited by unavoidable factors. Resúmenes have varying levels of detail, as Mijares's team sometimes depended on prior cataloging efforts. Some of the most exciting documents I’ve found have […] in the most provocative places, or the dreaded (*) at the end of the Resumen. Perhaps the information they held is truly lost; perhaps they’re only waiting for a stubborn historian to come make sense of them.

While I was prevented from researching in the archive these past two years, I tried to make up for my lost time by researching all I could on the archives before I visited them. Luckily, this preparation made my first visit to the AGNM all the more efficient. I hope that other junior scholars can make use of what I learned for when they (finally) get into the archive themselves. Keep a look out for my second post, where I describe my experience when I actually visited the AGNM in March!


1 Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, trans. Eric Prenowitz (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996 [1995]); Arlette Farge, The Allure of the Archives, trans. Thomas Scott-Railton (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013 [1989]).

2 For more on how to locate notarial records in Barranquilla, Colombia, see Laura Carolina De Moya-Guerra’s first post on the Archivo Histórico del Atlántico. For more on how notarial records can be used to do economic, business, and immigration history, see her second post.

3 The Acervo Contemporáneo, besides functioning as the administrative center of the AGNM, also houses more modern documents. Scholars interested in Mexico in the 1950s and beyond should direct their attention there.

4 The central location is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 am to 1:30 pm, and the Ex-Convento Corpus Christi is open Monday through Friday from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm.

5 Mijares and the Seminario de Documentación e Historia Novohispana also produced an online partial catalogue for the seventeenth century libros de protocolos, available here. This selection came from Volume 2 of the catalog they published on CD-ROMs, fully cited below. In 2016, Mijares wrote that the team plans to continue adding to this catalog, though the formidable tasks of preserving documents and correcting the pre-existing catalogues take priority.

6 See the following published catalogues: Agustín Millares Carló and José Ignacio Mantecón, Índice y extractos de los protocolos del Archivo de Notarías de México, 2 vols (Mexico City: Colegio de México, 1945-1946). Print; Mina Ramírez Montes, Guillermo Luckie, Silvio Bravo Sandoval, Raquel Pineda Mendoza, and Edén Mario Zarate Sánchez, eds., “Archivo de notarías de la Ciudad de México protocolos,” special issues, Catálogos de Documentos de Arte 7, 16, 29, 30, 34, 35, 6 vols (Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, 1993-2012), vols. 1-4 print, vol. 5 CD-ROM, vol. 6 print and CD-ROM; Ivonne Mijares Ramírez and the Seminario de Documentación e Historia Novohispana, Catálogo de protocolos del Archivo General de Notarías de la Ciudad de México. 4 vols. (Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas, 2002-2007). CD-ROMs.

7 First time researchers may also want to pursue the PRESENTACIÓN and CATÁLOGO tabs, where they can learn about the cataloguing process. Also of interest is the INVENTARIO tab, which allows searches for libros de protocolos themselves, rather than the documents within them – though most will be more interested in BÚSQUEDAS.


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