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.
Since the introduction of the Code Civil in Belgium, most Belgians traditionally have gotten married twice: first at the town hall [voor de gemeente in Dutch], and subsequently in the church [voor de kerk]. The French Revolutionary Law of 20 September 1792 had muzzled the role of the church and from now on the sacrament of marriage, which was made optional, had to be preceded by a civil contractual marriage. The Code Napoléon of 1804 retained this stipulation, and it became the model for the Belgian Code Civil.1
The marriage had to be celebrated publicly before the officer of civil registration in the town of residence of either bride or groom (Civil Code, article 165).2 Most often this was the bride’s village. No minister was allowed to conduct a nuptial ceremony prior to receiving a marriage record issued by the officer of civil registration (Penal code, article 199 and 200).3
The Catholic hierarchy may have been quite upset about this change, but it was a boon for future genealogists. Detailed marriage records exist for some Belgian towns from as early as 1796.4.
A typical, in this case Flemish, marriage record of the early days of the Belgian kingdom might have looked as follows:5
Most marriage acts reveal:
- when and where the bride and groom were born, what their occupation was, and where they were residing at the time of their marriage
- who the parents were of the bride and groom, what the mother’s maiden name was, how old the parents were at the time of the marriage of their child, what their occupation was, and where they were living (if one of the parents was no longer living, the place and date of the death was recorded)
- whether or not the parents were present at the marriage
- whether or not the parents consented to the marriage
- the names, ages, occupations, and current residences of the four witnesses, and their relationship to the bride and groom (if any)
- the place and date of the marriage announcements
- the signatures of all parties (it was explicitly stated if one of the parties could not write his or her name)
To find marriage records of the nineteenth and very early twentieth century for your ancestors, search the FamilySearch Catalog for “Belgium <name of province> Civil Registration,” or visit the Civil Registration page on the website of the Belgian State Archives. See previous posts on how to navigate these websites: Navigating the Belgian Vital Records at the State Archives or Navigating Belgian Vital Records at FamilySearch.
For more recent records, write, email, or visit the town where the marriage occurred, keeping in mind that for a few more weeks access is restricted to acts older than 100 years. However, as of April 1, 2019, you will be able to solicit records for marriages that occurred only 75 years ago (i.e. April 1, 1944). Some towns allow you to request vital records online.
To find their contact information:
- In Flanders, google the name of the town + burgerzaken.
- In Wallonia, google the name of the town + Etat Civil.
Cite this post
Kristine Smets. “Belgian Marriage Records: A True Gold Mine,” The Belgian American, posted 19 March 2019 (https://www.thebelgianamerican.com : accessed (date)).
- James McMillan, France and Women, 1789-1914: Gender, Society and Politics (London: Routledge, 2000), p. 34. Also, René Piret, “Le Code Napoléon en Belgique de 1804 à 1954,” Revue internationale de droit comparé, v. 6, no. 4 (1954): 753-791. Also, Gustave Beltjens, Les Codes belges annotés: Code Civil interprété par les décisions des justices de pais, de Tribunaux de première instance et des Cours d’appel et de Cassation (Brussels, Belgium: Bruylant-Christophe & Cie., 1880), p. 212-232. Also, Dictionnaire des bourgmesters et échevins, des conseillers, receveurs et secrétaires communaux, des commissaires d’arrondissements, marguillers, membres de fabriques d’église, des commissions de hospices, bureaux de bienfaisance et autres établissement publics, commissaires et agents de police, gendarmes, gardes champêtres et forestiers, etc. (Brussels, Belgium: Société typographique belge, 1837), p. 132, and 170.
- Gustave Beltjens, Code Civil interprété par les décisions des justices de paix, des tribunaux de première instance et des cours d’appel et de cassation […] de 1830 à 1880 (Brussels, Belgium: Bruylant-Christiophe & Co., 1881), p.219.
- Dictionnaire des bourgmesters et échevins, des conseillers, receveurs et secrétaires communaux, des commissaires d’arrondissements, marguillers, membres de fabriques d’église, des commissions de hospices, bureaux de bienfaisance et autres établissement publics, commissaires et agents de police, gendarmes, gardes champêtres et forestiers, etc. (Brussels, Belgium: Société typographique belge, 1837), p. 132, and 170.
- The exact year varies from town to town.
- Kalmthout, Antwerpen, Belgium, Huwelijksregister [Marriage Register] 1831, no. 2, Simons-Suykerbuyk; digital image, “Belgique, Anvers, registres d’état civil, 1588-1913,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:9392-WJSM-3G?cc=2138481&wc=Q82R-LKR%3A1007735501%2C1007761201 : accessed 18 March 2019), Kalmthout > Huwelijken 1802-1832 > image 497 of 530; citing België Staatsarchief (Belgium State Archives), Brussels.
Kristine. Thank you again for an excellent piece. It might be noted too that many of the civil marriage registrations list the dates and place of posting of the marriage banns; consultation of the banns documents can be particularly helpful for confirming information that may be poorly written or smudged, etc., on the marriage registration itself. Other sometimes useful information on the registrations include the groom’s military service and resolution of the status of children born to one or both of the marriage partners prior to the civil marriage.
Thank you so much Ronald. Your are absolutely correct! I am drafting two follow-up posts: one entitled “Anatomy of a marriage record,” and a second one on marriage banns and those supplemental records. Hope to get those out in the next couple of weeks.
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