Happy Birthday, DNI!

Front of an example of a modern-day DNI card.

One of the least-used resources of family research in Spain, and yet perhaps one of the most valuable, is the DNI, the acronym of the Documento Nacional de Identidad (National Identity Document). This small piece of plastic, which nowadays features not just the bearer’s name and surnames (remember that Spaniards usually have two surnames), but also their address, date and place of birth, parentage, and of course a photograph, has a very interesting history – one we should bear in mind considering the DNI’s value to any family historian.

The DNI was created 75 years ago this week by decree of Spain’s military dictator, Francisco Franco. Until then, Spaniards had no way of legally proving who they were, unless they produced a copy of their birth or baptism certificate – which could entail an obvious risk of committing fraud by assuming someone else’s identity. Spaniards would use other, less orthodox methods of “demonstrating” they were who they said they were: membership cards, letters issued by local authorities, and so on.

General Franco was issued with the first ever DNI card.

The order to create the DNI was given in 1944, a mere five years after the end of the cruel Civil War which tore Spain into two rival factions. However, it would not be until 1951 when the first DNI was issued – apparently the effects of the war made it impossible for the state to fund the launch of such a costly administrative procedure.

As each card has a serial number, the first one was issued in favour of Franco himself, while the second was given to his wife, Carmen Polo, and the third to their only daughter, Carmencita. Numbers 4 to 9 have never been used – and are likely to remain so. The next sequential numbers up to 100 are otherwise reserved for members of Spain’s Royal Family. Former King Juan Carlos I bears DNI number 10; his wife, Greek-born Queen Sofía, number 11; their eldest daughter, the Infanta Elena, number 12, and her sister Cristina number 14 (for superstitious reasons number 13 was omitted). Spain’s current king, Felipe VI, bears DNI number 15; his daughters, the Princess of Asturias and her sister the Infanta Sofía, bear numbers 22 and 23, respectively.

The first three DNI numbers were used by General Franco and his immediate family. Those between number 10 and 100, except number 13, are reserved for the Spanish Royal Family.

Numbers are otherwise assigned not in order of issuance at national level, but by region; therefore, depending on which area a new bearer is issued a card for the first time, he or she will receive a higher or lower number than would have been the case elsewhere in the country.

Naturally, the physical appearance of the DNI has changed over time. At first, given that many Spaniards were illiterate, adding the bearer’s fingerprint was compulsory. Photographs were stapled on, and then stamped over to try and avoid counterfeits. The information about the bearer was also modified over time, while those DNI cards issued in the Sahara (a Spanish colony until 1975) were issued bilingually in Spanish and Arabic. Nowadays DNI cards issued in Spain’s bilingual regions (Catalonia, Galicia, the Basque Country and Valencia) are also in the two respective languages of the area. A person’s marital status and profession, once featured on the DNI, are now no longer reflected in the modern version.

The leader of the Spanish Communist Party Santiago Carrillo had at least three fake DNI cards during Franco’s dictatorship.

Having a deceased relative’s DNI card can give a Spanish genealogist a wealth of information – not just the ever-solicited photographic portrait of the bearer, but an exact date of birth, and the parents’ names – all of which is essential information if we need to order the person’s birth certificate.

Who knew that such a small piece of plastic could bear so much interesting and useful information?

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