Research Process. Método de Investigación.

We are academicians and not genealogists. Why does this matter? We investigate and document our research using peer-reviewed books and articles, and most importantly, original manuscripts.

Somos académicos y no genealogistas. Esto es importante porque investigamos y documentamos nuestros informes utilizando libros y artículos revisados por pares, y además, lo que es primordial es que tenemos acceso a manuscritos y fuentes originales.

An overview of our research process. It is an integral part of the reports we produced.

☞ Ver sección en español

Applying my expertise as an academic historian of medieval Sephardic Jews and conversos and as an archival specialist with experience in approximately fifty (50) municipal, notarial, church, provincial, national, and papal archives, I use a two-part investigation.[1] These research tasks include a secondary literature review, an investigation of digital archive indices and records, and a review of my previous examinations of physical manuscripts at the Archivo Historico Nacional (Madrid) and other sites. It should be noted that in order for a researcher to examine and authenticate original manuscripts, they must have the proper paleographic training.

Paleographic Expertise

As an expert trained by the renowned professor of Spanish paleography and medieval history, Dr. Carla Rahn Phillips (University of Minnesota and Mellon Foundation Paleographic Institutes), I have extensive expertise with medieval handwritten manuscripts. Typically, genealogical researchers, as opposed to academic scholars, lack the paleographic skills necessary to read early forms of European vernacular languages, or the Romance (Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, etc.) and Germanic languages (German, English, etc.) that developed after the 5th century decline of the Roman Empire and its universal use of the Latin language.  This highly specialized skill, the ability to read old forms of writing (paleography), is one of specialties. My particular specialty, 12th through 15th century paleography, is recognized internationally via my position as an Associate Professor of History at the University of Colorado and a European Commission Marie Curie Fellow at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (Spain). Further, my research on paleography is published in the academical peer-reviewed journal, The Bulletin of the Association for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies.[2]

Literature Review

To perform the literature review, I utilize the Biblioteca Nacional de España’s online library catalogue, the Online Computer Library Center’s WorldCat (the world’s largest network of library content and services), and the international Interlibrary Loan (ILL) program that provides academic scholars with access to the full array of published traditional secondary sources (printed scholarly texts, catalogues of documents, finding aids).

The Biblioteca Nacional de España (BNE) is the national library of Spain and it holds all texts published in Spain, as well as most international texts pertaining to its national history. The BNE theoretically preserves a copy of every text published in Spain, as well as “holds an extremely valuable collection of incunabula, manuscripts, illustrations, drawings, photographs, audio recordings, musical scores, etc.”[3] Within the BNE is the Biblioteca Digital Hispánica (BDH), a web portal that allows users to investigate the institution’s electronic collections, which include access to over 25 million pages from books, engravings, ephemera, maps, manuscripts, newspapers, photographs, and other items.[4] The BDH is best utilized as a finding aid and search tool for the BNE’s digital collections. Lastly, the OCLC is “a global library cooperative that provides shared technology services, original research and community programs for its membership and the library community at large.”[5]

Traditional scholarly research works (also known as secondary works) are excellent sources for locating a fountainhead of family information. The process is relatively straightforward in that the researcher performs a comprehensive search for any and all texts with any relation to the geographic region for the appropriate time period. While the researcher should focus on city histories, local church histories, and Jewish specific texts, a broad search is advisable and might include texts on the agriculture, trade, etc.  

What distinguishes “scholarly research works” from other written and online publications is that they have been vetted through the rigorous peer-review system where scholars evaluate each other’s research and writing to verify its robustness. Peer-reviewed scholarship is the most reliable source of Jewish history because scholars not only evaluate the quality of the writing and analysis, but also the veracity of the sources as well as assess how well the author’s findings can be reconciled with existing peer-reviewed research. In this way, scholarly research works are substantially different from other published sources that may or may not meet these demanding standards. Another distinguishing characteristic of scholarly research works is that they are written by highly-trained specialists who hold terminal university degrees (often, a Doctor of Philosophy) in their respective fields (such as Spanish history) as well as are specially trained and certified in research languages (Spanish, English, French, German). Scholars typically dedicate six to eight years of higher education training beyond Master’s level university education (which is two years of training) and Bachelor’s level university education (which is four years of training). Doctors of Philosophy, or Ph.D.s, require extensive theoretical, methods, and language training that involve multiple series of examinations that certify knowledge of a general field (for example, medieval European history) and a specific field (medieval Spanish Jewish history). The most important distinction of a holder of Ph.D. is that they must generate an original piece of research that substantially-advances their respective scholar field and this research is certified in the form of a written doctoral dissertation and an oral examination by a panel of established scholars. The final characteristic of scholarly research works is that they are only published by university presses and a few well-known research presses, such as Brill Publishers in the city of Leiden in the Netherlands.

Archival Review

Subsequently, after completing my secondary research for this investigation of your family, I conduct a search and review of digital, original, and scholarly-transcribed archival primary sources (original manuscripts). The principal digital collections that were utilize in a study derive from the Portal de Archivos Españoles (PARES). PARES is a project of the Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte, which was created for the preservation and diffusion of the national historic patrimony of documents held by the Spanish government. It was conceptualized as an open and dynamic project of public and private archives and is an open access and free resource that links to documents that have been digitized by the national archives. PARES is often thought of as a document search engine (“finding aid”) to access those manuscripts and books that have been digitized by the primary national institutions, including the Archivo Histórico Nacional.

Utilizing a digital research method that I published in the peer-reviewed journal, Bulletin for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies, I work systematically to identify family members in the historical record.[6] The primary elements of this method included:

  1. The first consideration is to understand how the topic or theme of investigation might be represented in documentary evidence and material culture.
  2. The second approach appreciates how documents are accumulated into collections and subsequently gathered and organized by state and private institutions.
  3. Thirdly, the researcher should conduct an exhaustive electronic investigation of the institution’s Internet presence, as well as those of its partner organizations and patrons.
  4. The fourth consideration is to understand how the institution possessing the documents has made its documents and material culture available in digital formats – not all of which may be accessible via Internet websites.
  5. Fifth, researchers should understand that digital archival indexes and catalogues are not comprehensively “relational” – that is, at times indexes and individual records are not directly interconnected when using online search tools.

[1] For more information on my scholarly background and professional expertise, please see Who we are.

[2] See: Roger Louis Martinez-Davila; Perrone, Sean; Serrano-Nebras, Francisco Garcia; and Martin de Vidales Garcia, Maria (2018) “Deciphering Secrets of Medieval Cathedrals: Crowdsourced Manuscript Transcriptions and Modern Digital Editions,” Bulletin for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies: Vol. 43: Iss. 1, Article 2.

[3] “About us,” Biblioteca Nacional de España, (accessed February 18, 2015).

[4] “Digitización Fondos Biblioteca Nacional de España,” Vive Telefónica, (accessed February 18, 2015).

[5] OCLC, “About,”

[6] Martínez-Dávila, Roger Louis. “Spanish Online Resources for Spanish and Latin American History.” Bulletin for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies, Volume 41, Issue 1 (2016). ISSN: 0739-182X.

Nuestro proceso de investigación es una parte esencial de los informes que producimos. Una visión general.

Aplicando mi experiencia como historiador académico de judíos sefardíes medievales y conversos, y como especialista en archivos con experiencia en aproximadamente cincuenta (50) archivos municipales, notariales, eclesiásticos, provinciales, nacionales y papales, uso una investigación que consiste de dos partes. Por un lado está la revisión de la literatura secundaria, y por otro, una investigación de índices y registros de archivos digitales. Cabe señalar que para que un investigador examine y autentique los manuscritos originales, debe tener la formación paleográfica adecuada.

Experiencia Paleográfica

Como experto formado por la renombrada profesora de paleografía española e historia medieval, la Dra. Carla Rahn Phillips (Instituto Paleográfico de la Universidad de Minnesota y de la Fundación Mellon), tengo amplia experiencia con manuscritos medievales escritos a mano. Por lo general, los investigadores genealógicos, a diferencia de los académicos, carecen de las habilidades paleográficas necesarias para leer las lenguas vernáculas europeas, o el romance (español, francés, italiano, portugués, etc.) y las lenguas germánicas (alemán, inglés, etc.) que se desarrollaron después de la decadencia en el siglo V del uso universal de la lengua latina. Véase, por ejemplo, mi investigación sobre paleografía publicada en la revista académica, The Bulletin of the Association for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies.[1]

Revisión de literatura

Para realizar la revisión de la literatura, utilizo el catálogo de bibliotecas en línea de la Biblioteca Nacional de España, WorldCat (la red más grande de contenidos y servicios bibliotecarios del mundo) y el programa internacional de préstamos interbibliotecarios (Interlibrary Loan).

Los fondos de la Biblioteca Nacional de España (BNE) incluyen todos los textos publicados en España, así como la mayoría de los textos internacionales relacionados con su historia nacional. La biblioteca digital de la BNE cuenta con una colección extremadamente valiosa de incunables, manuscritos, ilustraciones, dibujos, fotografías y grabaciones de audio entre otros, lo cual la convierte en una de las mejores colecciones digitales del mundo. Por último, también está la organización OCLC, “una cooperativa de bibliotecas globales que proporciona servicios de tecnología compartida, investigación original y programas comunitarios para sus miembros y la comunidad de bibliotecas en general”.[4]

Los trabajos tradicionales de investigación académica son excelentes fuentes para ubicar el origen de información familiar. El proceso es relativamente sencillo, ya que el investigador realiza una búsqueda exhaustiva de todos y cada uno de los textos relacionados con la región geográfica durante el período histórico relevante. Si bien el investigador debe centrarse en las historias de las ciudades, las historias de las iglesias locales y los textos específicos de los judíos, se recomienda una búsqueda más completa que podría incluir textos sobre la agricultura, el comercio, etc. 

Lo que distingue a los “trabajos de investigación académica” de otras publicaciones escritas y en línea es que han pasado por el riguroso sistema de revisión por pares en el que los académicos evalúan la investigación y los escritos de los demás para verificar su solidez. Estos trabajos revisados por pares son la fuente más fiable de la historia judía porque no solo se evalúa la calidad de la escritura y el análisis, sino también la veracidad de las fuentes, y la calidad de las aportaciones al campo de investigación. Otra característica distintiva de los trabajos de investigación académica es que están escritos por especialistas altamente capacitados con una formación excelente.

Revisión de Archivos

Posteriormente, después de completar la investigación secundaria, se realiza una búsqueda y revisión de las fuentes primarias de archivos digitales, originales y de archivos académicos (manuscritos originales). Las principales colecciones digitales se encuentran en el Portal de Archivos Españoles (PARES). PARES es un proyecto del Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte de España, que fue creado para la preservación y difusión del patrimonio histórico nacional de documentos proporcionando un acceso abierto a los manuscritos y libros digitalizados.

El método de investigación digital que sigo, y sobre el cual he escrito en la revista, Bulletin for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies, es un trabajo sistemático para identificar a los miembros de la familia en el registro histórico.[5] Los pasos fundamentales de este método son:

  1. La primera consideración es el tipo de documentación que pueda existir sobre el tema a investigar.
  2. El siguiente paso es apreciar la forma en que los documentos se acumulan en las colecciones y luego cómo son recopilados y organizados por instituciones tanto estatales como privadas.
  3. En tercer lugar, el investigador debe realizar una investigación digital exhaustiva tanto de las instituciones, como de las organizaciones y lo patrocinadores asociados.
  4. La cuarta consideración es tener una idea más concreta de cómo la institución que posee los documentos ha hecho que éstos y su cultura material estén disponibles en formatos digitales, ya que frecuentemente, no se puede acceder a todos los documentos por internet.
  5. Por último, los investigadores deben entender que los índices y catálogos de archivos digitales no siempre se relacionan de manera integral, es decir, en ocasiones no están directamente interconectados cuando se utilizan herramientas de búsqueda en línea.

[1] Roger Louis Martinez-Davila; Perrone, Sean; Serrano-Nebras, Francisco Garcia; and Martin de Vidales Garcia, Maria (2018) “Deciphering Secrets of Medieval Cathedrals: Crowdsourced Manuscript Transcriptions and Modern Digital Editions,” Bulletin for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies: Vol. 43: Iss. 1, Article 2.

[2] “About us,” Biblioteca Nacional de España, (accessed February 18, 2015).

[3] “Digitización Fondos Biblioteca Nacional de España,” Vive Telefónica, (accessed February 18, 2015).

[4] OCLC, “About,”

[5] Martínez-Dávila, Roger Louis. “Spanish Online Resources for Spanish and Latin American History.” Bulletin for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies, Volume 41, Issue 1 (2016). ISSN: 0739-182X.