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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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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This Change in Access to Belgian Vital Records Will Please Family Historians

In a previous post I mentioned that Belgian vital records less than 100 years old are not open to the public. This is about to change, and genealogists with recent Belgian ancestry should be excited. The new law will take effect on 31 March 2019.1

  • Death records will become public after 50 years. I.e. on 1 April 2019 you will be able to request a transcript of the death record for anyone who died before 1 April 1969.
  • Marriage records will become public after 75 years. I.e., on 1 April 2019 you will be able to request a transcript of the marriage record for anyone who married before 1 April 1944.
  • Birth records remain closed for 100 years.
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Navigating Belgian Vital Records at FamilySearch: A Flemish Example.

The nineteenth-century civil records for Belgium were microfilmed by The Church of the Latter-Day-Saints, and have since then been digitized. They are freely available at FamilySearch.org. Indexing of the records however is very sparse. You will need to browse the records, so it is helpful to have a general idea of time and place before you start.

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About Belgian Vital Records.

Kalmthout, Belgium. Register bestemt ter Inschrijving der Huwelijks-Akten voor het Jaar Een Duizend Acht Honderd Zes en Negentig.
Kalmthout, Belgium. Register bestemt ter Inschrijving der Huwelijks-Akten voor het Jaar Een Duizend Acht Honderd Zes en Negentig. [Register for the purpose of Registering the Marriage Acts for the Year Eight Hundred and Eighty-Nine.]

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.

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