A few weeks ago, the State Archives of Belgium launched its new genealogical website. It has fast become my go-to site for retrieving Belgian vital records. The new site at https://genealogie.arch.be/ bypasses the complex multi-step and often confusing process one must follow when starting from the archives’ main website. It is, at least in my opinion, also simpler and faster than finding the same records on FamilySearch.1
As of today, no single database indexes all Belgian vital records with links to the exact digital image of the source. Therefore, finding a particular birth, marriage, or death record, even when place and date are known, often requires browsing through images of the digitized registers. The new website makes this process much faster and simpler than before. A search for an 1885 birth record from Sint-Laureins in East-Flanders, as shown in this example, will retrieve just the 1881-1890 birth registers for that town.
Finding the decennial indexes (Tienjarige tafels,” or “Tables Décennales”) is also more straightforward, as is illustrated in this example of a search for decennial indexes of Lodelinsart, a town near Charleroi in the province of Hainaut, between 1850 and 1880.
Currently, the search engine primarily provides access to vital records (birth, death, marriage) in church (before 1796) and civil status registers (after 1796). For some towns you can find other sources, such as naturalization and divorce certificates (after 1796) or lists of confirmands and penitents (before 1796), and the expectation is that more will be added.
The site offers an excellent English-language user guide as well as a helpful “How to Get Started” document for genealogists who are new to research in Belgium. Assistance is never far away with a FAQ and Contact Form. One important thing to note is that the “Genealogy” website does not work on Internet Explorer! The supported browsers are Edge, Firefox, Google Chrome, and Safari.
As before, users of the website need an account to view the digitized images. Registration is free, but mandatory, and can be done by selecting login on the upper right side of the screen, or at https://search.arch.be/en/login/registration. User accounts for the old search engine remain valid for this new one.
Searching for persons in the database of the State Archives has not changed. Selecting this option from the new Genealogy Website merely brings you back to the old “Search Persons” page at https://search.arch.be/en/zoeken-naar-personen. The English version of the search page requires some knowledge of Dutch terms such as Zoeken (search), Eerste Persoon (first person),Achternaam (last name), Voornaam (first name), etc. You may want to bookmark https://search.arch.be/fr/rechercher-des-personnes if you prefer French terminology.
Remember that, even though the database as of today includes more than 42 million names, it is not a complete index to all vital records for Belgium. For many towns you still need to browse decennial indexes and/or the annual registers to find the desired record. On the flip sidem the search engine does analyze other types of documents such as notarial deeds, building applications, etc.
Cite this post
Cite this post: Kristine Smets, “A New Genealogy Website at the Belgian State Archives” The Belgian American, (https://www.thebelgianamerican.com : accessed [date]), posted 20 February 2023.
Starting this fall FamilySearch will begin scanning Belgian civil registration records from 1910 until 1950 at the State Archives in Beveren (Antwerp), Leuven (Brabant), and Mons (Hainaut). As before, the digital images will be made available on both FamilySearch’s and the Belgian State Archives’ web platform. The usual, legally imposed, restrictions for genealogists still apply:
Birth records become public after 100 years
Death records become public after 50 years
Marriage records become public after 75 years
A quick review of how to access Belgian Civil Registration records at FamilySearch and the State Archives of Belgium might be in order.
Civil Registration Records at FamilySearch
Access to FamilySearch is free, but users do need to create a free account. FamilySearch has three indexes to selected Belgium births, marriages, deaths, and burials.
The emphasis is on selected: Only a few localities are included, and the time periods varies by locality. For most towns you will need to browse the digital images, so it helps if you know the name of the town where the person of interest was born, married, or died.
At FamilySearch you can choose one of two approaches: (1) use the FamilySearch Catalog or (2) start from the collection record for each province. I prefer the first one, because I have found it to be more up to date.
FamilySearch will suggest a complete hierarchy for your search term. For example, Kaprijke should be searched as Belgium, Oost Vlaanderen, Kaprijke.
From the results, select “Belgium, Oost Vlaanderen, Kaprijke – Civil registration.”
Expand the Civil registration selection and explore the options.
Results will vary. In this case:
The first selection is a link to the town’s church records from before the advent of civil registration in 1796. In some towns they will include some parish records beyond 1796 or some of the early civil registration records.
Selection two is a link to the town’s later civil registration records.
Selection three is a link to the town’s earlier civil registration records.
Make your selection and drill down to find the records you are interested in.
Access Through the Collection Records for Each Province
You can also browse the civil registration records by starting from the collection record for each province and selecting “Browse All Images.”
From the browse screen, select the town and then the records of interest
Civil Registration Records at the State Archives of Belgium
Free online access to digital records at the State Archives of Belgium also requires registration. Users can search for names in a global search engine, and/or browse the digital images.
Using the search engine
The search engine “Search Persons,” (https://search.arch.be/en/zoeken-naar-personen) provides access to thousands of genealogical records, including church and civil registration records. However, even though it contains 35+ million names, many towns have not yet been completely indexed.
From the page with search results, use the hourglass button on the right to see an extract of the record. Always check the original record, which is easy now that you have a place, date, and record number.
Drill down to the specific town, record set, and era of interest.
Once you have made your selection, look for the tab Gedigitaliseerde archiefdocumenten or Archives numérisées to see the digital images (this tab will not appear if you not are logged in!).
Navigate through the images with the buttons at the bottom of the screen (see Dutch and French browsing vocabulary at the end of this post).
Unlike FamilySearch, the State Archives does not provide an easy download option, so make a screenshot to have your own digital copy of the record.
How to Find and Use the Decennial Indexes
No matter where you browse the digital images, it is a good idea to consult the indexes first. From the year 1807 the civil registrar was required to end each year with a yearly index. Furthermore, the towns were required to create a 10-year index starting with 1803-1812. Some but not all towns went back and created indexes for the earlier years as well. The decennial indexes are called “Tienjarige tafels,” or “Tables Décennales.”
You can usually tell from the description of the microfilms where to find the tables, but sometimes you need to do a bit of hunting. Pay attention to the notes for each record! For example, the indexes for Liberchies are included on a microfilm with those of several other Hainaut towns. You need to return to the catalog and search for each particular film number.
The tables for Herentals, Antwerpen, are found with those of other towns in the Arrondissement Turnhout. You need to return to the catalog and search for Turnhout (Arrondissement).
Gedigitaliseerde archiefdocumenten = Digitized records
Huwelijk = Marriage
Huwelijksafkondigingen = Notices of marriage (Banns)
Huwelijksakten = Marriage records
Huwelijksbijlagen = Marriage supplements
Jugements = Judgments
Kind = Child
Laatste = Last
Lieu = Place
Mariages = Marriage
Mère = Mother
Mère de l’épouse = Mother of the bride
Mère de l’époux = Mother of the groom
Moeder = Mother
Moeder van de bruid = Mother of the bride
Moeder van de bruidegom = Mother of the groom
Naissances = Birth
Naturalisatie = Naturalization
Naturalisatieakten = Naturalization records
Naturalisation = Naturalization
Nom = Last name
Overlijden = Death
Overlijdensakten = Death
Père = Father
Père de l’épouse = Father of the bride
Père de l’époux = Father of the groom
Periode = Period
Période = Period
Pièces de mariage = Marriage supplements
Plaats = Place
Précédent = Previous
Premier = First
Première personne = First person
Prénom = First name
Publications de mariage = Notices of marriage (Banns)
Rechercher des personnes = Search for persons
Suivant = Next
Tables décennales = Decennial index
Tienjarige tafel = Decennial index
Tweede persoon = Second person
Vader = Father
Vader van de bruid = Father of the bride
Vader van de bruidegom = Father of the groom
Vers = Directly to
Volgende = Next
Voornaam = First name
Vorige = Previous
Zoeken naar personen = Search for persons
Cite this post
Cite this post: Kristine Smets, “FamilySearch to Digitize Belgian Civil Registration Records From 1910-1950″ The Belgian American, (https://www.thebelgianamerican.com : accessed [date]), posted 12 July 2022.
Earlier this year I reported on the digitization efforts at the Center for Research Libraries (CRL) where some of the earliest years of the Gazette van Moline were placed online. Today I received word that the Rock Island County Historical Society has added to the endeavor by digitizing the remaining years of this important Flemish American newspaper. The Society’s digital holdings start on 23 April 1915, exactly where the run at CRL is interrupted, and end with the paper’s last issue on 18 April 1940 when it announced its merger with the Gazette van Detroit.
Search capabilities are more advanced than at CRL, but at both places the researcher must be cognizant of the limitations of Optical Character Recognition technology and spelling variations in the Dutch language during the early years.
Take a look today and explore the lives of Belgian Americans one hundred years ago.
Naturalization records can be a critical source when researching your immigrant ancestor. The documents may help you pinpoint their exact time of arrival and identify their place of origin.
The first naturalization law of the United States dates back to the initial years of the American republic. On 26 March 1790 Congress decreed that all free and white aliens may request naturalization after living in this country for at least two years. Aliens could petition in any court with jurisdiction over their place of residence.1 In 1795 the residency requirement was increased to five years. The law of 25 January 1795 also introduced the two-step process that remained in place until 1952: petitioners needed to first submit a Declaration of Intent, and then three years late, a Petition of Naturalization.2
The Center of Research Libraries, an international consortium of university, college, and independent research libraries, has digitized selected years of The Gazette van Moline, the Flemish newspaper that was published from 1907 until it merged with the Gazette van Detroit in 1940.
Surviving ship manifests, also known as passenger lists, make it possible for most genealogists to discover details of their ancestor’s voyage to America. In an earlier post I sketched a brief history of ship manifests in the United States. In this article I share some tips for searching online databases to find Belgian-Americans in the ships’ passenger lists.
Before the advent of commercial transatlantic airline flights in the 1960s, Belgian immigrants arrived in the new world at one of the Atlantic or Gulf Coast seaports in a sailing vessel or steamship. Surviving ship manifests, also known as passenger lists, make it possible for most Belgian-American family historians to discover the details of their ancestor’s voyage to America.
Before we delve into searching for the arrival records of Belgians in various databases and indexes, let’s take a closer look at the history of ship manifests in the United States.
1820-1890s: Customs Ship Manifests
While there are manifests that go back to colonial America, the systematic recording of passenger arrival information started in 1820, as a result of the Steerage Act, which was approved by the United States Congress on 2 March 1819.
This weekend, as many of us celebrate Mother’s Day, might be the perfect time to delve into your maternal roots. Who was your mother’s mother? Who was her mother, and her mother’s mother, and so on? Not as easy perhaps as tracing your paternal line, but researching the many mothers who contributed to your existence can have its own rewards.
The closest Belgian equivalent to United States census records are the population registers [Bevolkingsregisters – Registres de la population – Melderegister], large heavy folio books that contain information about the inhabitants of a particular town. Unlike census records, which provide a snapshot of what the population looks like at a particular moment, the registers are dynamic. They are kept up-to-date for ten years or more, until a new snapshot is taken and the process is started over again. In Belgium, hard copy population registers were created and maintained until 1992, at which point the government switched to a computerized database system.
You may have found mourning letters and memorial cards for Belgian relatives among the papers of your immigrant ancestors. But most often you will have to hunt for them in the archives of genealogical and historical societies and in the files of private collectors. Luckily many societies, archives and collectors have placed their indices online and will provide genealogists with a scanned image upon request.
The following is a selected list of websites for societies, archives, and private individuals who collect mourning letters and death memorial cards. Keep in mind that in most cases, location of the archive or collector does not reflect the scope of the collection.