Here is the good news for Americans who are tracing their ancestors in Belgium: unlike the United States where some states did not require civil birth, death, or marriage records until the end of the nineteenth century, vital records have been meticulously kept for about 225 years in Belgium, and they contain a wealth of information.
We have the French to thank for this, who with their 1789 revolution uprooted the ancien régime [the old regime] of absolute monarchy, feudal system, and church influence, replacing it with a system based on equal opportunity, freedom of speech, and representative government.
Civil registration [Burgerlijke Stand, Etat Civil, Zivilstand] was one of these modern inventions, and it was introduced in the Southern Netherlands during the French occupation (1795-1815). The executive order of 17 June 1796 laicized the registration of births, deaths, marriages, and divorces and vested the authority with the local communities. The change met with some resistance at first, but most communities had complied by 1804. In the Northern Netherlands, this did not happen until 1811. After the defeat of Napolean, civil registration was adopted by the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1815, and it was written into the code of law of the Kingdom of Belgium in 1830 as well.
The civil registers are made in duplicate. One is kept in the municipal archives, the other is deposited annually with the Court of First Instance [Rechtbank van Eerste Aanleg, Tribunal du Première Instance, Gericht Erster Instanz]. The town registrar compiles the annual index. The court creates a decennial index.1 After 100 years, the court deposits their copy with the State Archives.
In Belgium, civil vital records are restricted for 100 years. To access more recent records that pertain to an ancestor, one must ask permission from the Justice of the Peace [Vrederechter, Justice de Paix, Amtsrichter] at the Court of First Instance in the town’s district [Arrondissement].
Most vital records older than 100 years have been microfilmed and are available online at Ancestry, FamilySearch and the Belgian State Archives.
Cite this post
Kristine Smets. “About Belgian Vital Records,”The Belgian American (https://www.thebelgianamerican.com : accessed [date]), posted 7 January 2019.
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