Anatomy of a Death Record: Examples from both sides of the language border.

Deaths have been recorded by civil registrars in Belgium since about 1796. The task of reporting the death to the authorities usually fell on two family members or neighbors of the deceased. Today the task is most commonly handled by an undertaker who submits the medical certificate, created by the physician, to the town clerk.

Until March 2019, each town created two copies of each death register. Keep in mind that in small towns, births, marriages, and deaths may have been recorded in one single register. The original copy was kept by the town, the duplicate sent to Court of First Appeal. As of 31 March 2019, all civil registration records are recorded electronically only in a national civil registration database (Databank Akten Burgerlijke Stand (DABS) or Banque de données  centrale  d’actes  de  l’état  civil (BAEC).1

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Did my ancestor speak Flemish or Dutch?

The answer to this question is complicated.  Most Flemish immigrants at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth century told their family and friends they spoke Flemish [Vlaams]. It is also what they told census enumerators. However, more recent Flemish-Americans, myself included, probably will tell you that they speak Dutch [Nederlands]. Were your ancestors wrong? Or are we both right? Is there a difference between Flemish [Vlaams] and Dutch [Nederlands]? What word should we use when we talk about our Flemish ancestors? If you are confused, you are not alone.

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In Search of Anton Diedrick, also known as Diedrick Dutchover.

Not long ago, a friend passed me an article published in Texas Highways, a monthly publication of the Texas Department of Transportation, which featured an interview with West Texas columnist and raconteur Lonn Taylor. During the interview, Taylor mentions a little Mexican restaurant in Fort Davis, Texas, called Poco Mexico, which is owned by one of the oldest Hispanic families, the Dutchover family. And here is where it got interesting for me: the Dutchovers’ founder was a Belgian immigrant by the name of Anton Diedrick.1

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Belgian Marriage Supplements

In a previous post we analyzed a typical marriage record from a town in Flanders. Today we will take a look at marriage supplementary records. They are often overlooked, and indeed, they often repeat information you can find elsewhere, but I am here to show you they can still be worth your while.

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Belgian Immigration to America between 1880 and World War I

Between 1880 and 1920 some towns in Belgium experienced a real “America-rush.” Although alternatives to overseas migration were still available and used by many, Belgians were attracted to the New World in increasing numbers.

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Anatomy of a Flemish Marriage Record: An 1832 Example from Kalmthout.

My great great great grandparents, Benedictus Vanhooydonck and Maria Catharina Greefs, were married at Kalmthout on Friday 6 May 1832. He was the son of Adriaan Van Hooydonck and Maria Greefs, and grew up in the Nieuwmoer hamlet of Kalmthout, where his mother managed a small store in the Capelstraat. Maria rented the house, and Benedictus, Maria’s second husband, was a common manual laborer who could not read or write. Benedictus had one older sister and seven older half-siblings.1

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Belgian Marriage Records: A True Gold Mine.

The first time you encounter a Belgian civil marriage record, your eyes may glaze over, because they tend to be long and contain a lot of so-called ‘legalese.’  But they are worth your close attention, because they are a true gold mine of information.

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Belgian Immigration to America until 1880.

The first “Belgian” settlement in America dates back to 1624, when some thirty Protestant families, “for the most part Walloon,” landed at Manhattan island aboard the “Nieuw Nederland”.1 They had fled religious persecution in the Spanish Low Countries (present day Belgium), and sought refuge in the town of Leiden in the Netherlands. There some of them had come in contact with the West India Company, who organized and financed their emigration to the New World.2

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The Eight Sons of Moeder Cordula.

One of my favorite Belgian singer songwriters, Willem Vermandere, wrote a song that captures the grief and sorrow of a mother who watched all but one of her sons emigrate to America in the early twentieth century.

Acht kloeke zeuns had moeder Cordula
En zeven zijn der naar ‘t vreemde gegaan
Zo wijd over zee daar lag Canada
Moeder Maria, lat dat schip nie vergaan
Lat dat schip nie vergaan

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Navigating Belgian Vital Records at the State Archives: A Walloon Example.

Searching the Belgian State Archives (Rijksarchief in België, Archives de l’État en Belgique, Belgisches Staatsarchiv) for vital records can be confusing, especially when you are not familiar with the language.  First, there are four possible starting places, depending on your language of preference. But with almost all of them, as you dig deeper, the language in the background switches to either Dutch or French. Second, there is no comprehensive index (although you can always try your luck at https://search.arch.be/en/zoeken-naar-personen), so for now browsing the images town by town is the only way to do exhaustive research, which means you must know the town and approximate date for the vital event. Last, and this very unfortunate, there is no download option, so the best you can do it take screenshots in order to have your own digital copy of the record.

Don’t let this deter you however!  There two very good reasons for exploring birth, marriage, and death records at the Belgian State Archives as well as at FamilySearch.

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