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.

  • The coverage at both sites is often the same, but not always. You will find digital records at the State Archives that are not at FamilySearch and vice versa.
  • Even though the State Archives most often used the microfilm created by the Genealogical Society of Utah to create their digital images, the quality of the digitized images at the State Archives is sometimes much better.  There have been times when I was unable to decipher the words on FamilySearch, but could read them more clearly at the State Archives.

So what is the easiest way to go about this? In this example, we will look for the birth record of Xavier Martin, a Belgian-American immigrant leader in the Green Bay area during the second half of the nineteenth century. Literature suggests he was born 11 January 1832 in Grez-Doiceau, Walloon Brabant, son of Jean-Joseph Martin and Henriette Bossche [or Bassine].1

Begin with creating an account at the State Archives of Belgium, otherwise you will not be able to see the digital images: https://search.arch.be/en/login/registration.

Next, navigate to the English starting page for the Belgian Civil Status Registers (the URLs for the other languages are listed at the end of this article): https://search.arch.be/en/themas/tips/516-civil-status-registers-en

English "portal" to the Belgian Civil Status Registers

Select the registers for the Province of Walloon Brabant. Scroll down until you find and can select Grez-Doiceau.

Civil Registration Records for the province of Walloon Brabant at the Belgian State Archives.
Civil Registration Records for the province of Walloon Brabant at the Belgian State Archives (detail).

We are interested in births [naissances], not death [décès] or marriages.

Civil Registration Records for the province of Walloon Brabant at the Belgian State Archives (detail).

We feel confident about the year and date, so do not need the indexes and can go straight to the records, the Actes de naissances.

Civil Registration Records for the province of Walloon Brabant at the Belgian State Archives (detail).
Civil Registration Records for the town of Grez-Doiceau (Walloon Brabant) at the Belgian State Archives (detail).

1813-1842 is the time frame we are looking for.

Civil Registration Records for the town of Grez-Doiceau (Walloon Brabant) at the Belgian State Archives (detail).

I can tell you from personal experience that it took me a while before I realized that I needed to select the tab Gedigitaliseerde archiefdocumenten [digitized archival documents] to see the digital images. And if you are not logged in, this tab will not be active.

Birth Record for the town of Grez-Doiceaus (Walloon Brabant) at the Belgian State Archives.

Navigate through the images with the buttons at the bottom of your screen. Eerste [First], Vorige [Previous], Volgende [Next), Laatste [Last].  If you select one of the images, you will have the option to jump directly to a specific page [bottom right of screen Direct naar = Directly to].

The beginning of the 1832 birth register is found at image 326 (be patient, loading the images can be very slow). The start of the annual index is found at image 342. Xavier Martin’s birth record is listed on page one of the register, image 327.

Birth Record for Xavier-Joseph Martin (1811) at the Belgian State Archives.
Birth Record for Xavier-Joseph Martin (1811) at the Belgian State Archives.

Lucky for us the town of Grez-Doiceau was already using a register with lots of the recurring legal language pre-printed, so that reading and interpreting the birth record becomes a lot easier.

L’an mil huit cent trente-deux, le Onze du mois de Janvier, à Neuf heures du matin, par-devant nous Emmanuel Joseph Rayée, Bourgmestre, Officier de l’État Civil de la commune de Grez-Doiceau, province de Brabant, est comparu

In the year one thousand eight hundred thirty two, on the 11th of the month of January, at 9 am, appeared before us, Emmanuel Joseph Rayée, mayor and officer of civil registration for the town of Grez-Doiceau,

Jean Joseph Martin, né en cette Commune, âgé de Vingt Six ans, profession de Journalier, domicilié à Grez-Doiceau,        

Jean Joseph Martin, born in this town, 26 years old, a day laborer, residing in Grez-Doiceau

le quel nous a présenté un enfant du sexe masculin, né de Dix Janvier Courant, à huit heures du soir,        

who presented to us a child of the male sex, born on the 10th of January this year, at eight o’clock in the evening,

de lui, déclarant, & d’Azeline Bossel, son Epouse, née à Bruxelles;           

of himself, the declarant, and Azeline Bossel, his wife, born in Brussels,

& auquel il a déclaré vouloir donner le prénom de Xavier-Joseph.

& to which he declared he wants to give the first name of Xavier-Joseph.

Lesdites déclaration et présentation faites en présence de

This declaration and presentation was made in the presence of

Jean François Duquaine, âgé de quarante trois ans, profession de Journalier, domicilié à Grez-Doiceau,     

Jean François Duquaine, 43 years old, day laborer, residing at Grez-Doiceau

et de Guillaume Joseph Mariol, âgé de vingt huit ans, profession de Secrétaire Communal, domicilié à Grez-Doiceau.        

and Guillaume Joseph Mariol, 28 years old, town secretary, residing at Grez-Doiceau.

Et ont le Père et les témoins signé avec nous le présent acte, après qu-il leur en a été fait lecture.

And the father and the witnesses have signed the act with us, after it was read to them.

Azeline Bossel??? We thought his mother’s name was Henriette Bossche [or Bassine]! Our exercise is a good reminder why we always need to look at the original records, something I was not aware of seventeen years ago when I wrote my little bio of Xavier Martin.2 Yikes! I will follow up on this in a later post. For now, let’s assume we have found the correct record.

Next step is to find the marriage record for Xavier’s parents. Were they married at Grez-Doiceau or Brussels?  Grez-Doiceau is a much smaller town than Brussels, so let’s well start there.

ext step is to find the marriage record for Xavier’s parents. Were they married at Grez-Doiceau or Brussels?  Grez-Doiceau is a much smaller town than Brussels, so let’s well start there.

The digital marriage record is probably at the State Archives, but the decennial indexes for the years 1820-1830 are not. Thus we need to go back to FamilySearch.  

Grez-Doiceau civil records at FamilySearch

The Tables Decennales mariages 1823-1832 [decennial index for 1823-1832] reveals that Jean-Jos. Martin and Azeline Bossel were married 21 8bre [October] 1829.

Entry for the Martin-Bossel marriage in the decennial index.

At FamilySearch the actual record is found at: “Belgique, Brabant, registres d’état civil, 1582-1914,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:9398-FZGV-K?cc=1482191&wc=STJQ-ZNL%3A966683701%2C966931301 : 9 January 2015), Grez-Doiceau > Huwelijken 1813-1860 > image 165 of 554; België Nationaal Archief, Brussels (Belgium National Archives, Brussels).

Digital image of Martin-Bossel marriage record at FamilySearch.

At the State Archives the record is found at: “Inventaire de l’État civil. Province du Brabant wallon (digital)” digital images, State Archives of Belgium (https://search.arch.be/nl/zoeken-naar-archieven/zoekresultaat/ead/index/eadid/BE-A0542_708752_706720_FRE), Grez-Doiceau > Etat civil: actes de mariages > Etat civil: actes de mariages > 1813-1860 > image 160 of 544.

Digital image of the Martin-Bossel marriage record at the State Archives of Belgium.

Notice the difference between both images. The FamilySearch image is faint and hard to decipher. The image at the State Archives is much darker and easier to read.  I know which one I will use.

Cite this post

Kristine Smets. ” Navigating Belgian Vital Records at the State Archives: A Walloon Example,”The Belgian American (https://www.thebelgianamerican.com : accessed [date]), posted 5 February 2019.



  1. Mary Ann Defnet,  Jean Ducat, Thierry Eggerickx, and Michel Poulain, From Grez-Doiceau to Wisconsin: Contribution à l’Etude de l’Émigration Wallonne vers les États Unis d’Amérique au XIXème Sciècle (Brussels, De Boeck-Wesmael, 1986), p. 18 and 148. Also, Antoine De Smet, “Antécédents et Aspects Peu Connus de l’Émigration Belge dans le Nord-Est du Wisconsin,” [Background and Little Known Facts About the Belgian Emigration to the Northeast of Wisconsin] in Wavriensia, 2 (1953), p. 26.
  2. Kristine Smets, “Martin Xavier, January 11, 1832-December 16, 1897,” in Making It in America: A Sourcebook on Eminent Ethnic
    Americans,
    Elliott Robert Barkan, editor (Santa Barbara:
    ABC-CLIO, 2002), p. 222-223.

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  1. Thank you. This is very helpful to me. I have had trouble reading French records online. Jeanne Loesch

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