Notarial archives

Notarial archives constitute, within the State Archives, the real hinge between the records of public archives (e.g. the trials of the ancient magistracies are very rich in notarial acts) and private archives (a large part of the documentation of the noble archives consists of notarial acts).

Most notarial protocols – from a diplomatic point of view among the densest of documents – have a promiscuous character: a great variety of contractual forms appear within a narrow time span (usually the year). Most of the documents refer to economic and legal commitments (powers of attorney, purchases, leases, concessions, etc.), but there are also many documents concerning family relations: emancipation of children, marriage pacts, donations and wills (often recorded in special volumes). The importance for genealogical and family history research of this particular type of documentation is very significant. In fact, in every notarial document there are precise genealogical references for at least two different generations: for that person to whom the deed refers and for that person’s father.

Of much greater genealogical importance, however, is the will: a deed in which there are very often precise references to three, sometimes four successive generations.

In the period between the middle decades of the 16th century and the end of the 18th century, three different strategies for preserving notarial documents were developed in Italy. The first consisted in the establishment of large concentration archives created in the small states of northern Italy (Lucca, Siena and Florence, Genoa, Venice, Padua) to collect all material of a private nature produced by notaries. The second, implemented particularly in the Papal States, led to the creation of conservation structures in practically every community. Finally, the third strategy, in line with the French model and implemented in particular in the Kingdom of Sardinia and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, was centred on notary studies and thus on the passing of deeds from notary to notary.

In the Napoleonic era, the notariat and notarial archives in the Italian peninsula were reorganised with the introduction of French regulations: with the law of 25 Venti of the year XI (16 March 1803) and with the regulation on the notariat in the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy of 16 June 1806.

The pre-unification regulatory fragmentation was ended in 1875 by the first Italian law on the notariat of 25 July 1875, which was substantially inspired by pre-unification legislation, also with regard to the professional training profile. This law was to be followed in 1879 by an amending law and then by a Consolidated Collection Act that was to be in force until the 1913 law.

By the Consolidation Act of 25 May 1879, no. 4900, the Insinuation Offices (now Registry Offices) were obliged to deliver notarial acts to the notarial archive of the respective district. It also provided for the possibility of subsidiary archives in other towns in the district. These archives were suppressed by art. 9 of Royal Decree 31 December 1923, no. 3138 and was allowed to function ‘only for operations relating to the acts, which are already deposited there’. Therefore, these archives currently, where they still exist, no longer receive new deeds and only keep those post-centennial.

On the occasion of the second unified notary law of 16 February 1913, no. 89 the problem of the preservation of ancient notarial protocols was addressed again and was established in art. 96, that a district notary archive be established in each municipality with a court seat. The two ministries involved, the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Justice, were also given the power to enter into agreements for the deposit of pre-50 years documents in the State Archives. What had been a simple option became an obligation with the law of 22 December 1939, no. 2006, which stipulated in Article 11 the reunification at the State Archives ‘of notarial acts received by notaries who ceased professional practice before 1 January 1800’.

Another significant change came with Law No. 17 May 1952. 629, on the ‘Reorganisation of notarial archives’, which, by reaffirming the dependence of notarial archives on the Ministry of Grace and Justice, established for the delivery of protocols to State archives a term that was no longer fixed, i.e. linked to a precise date, but mobile, consisting of one hundred years. The same rule was later confirmed by the 1963 Archival Law (Presidential Decree 1409 of 30 September 1963).

Notarial acts from the last hundred years are kept in the District Notarial Archives whose districts coincide with the districts of the Court of Appeal.