Belgium Civil Registration
If you know where your ancestors came from in Belgium, you are in for a real treat because civil registration began around 1795-1796 while under French rule. This was also a period of administrative reorganization. Prior to that time, the Parish Registers, which were maintained in duplicates by the priests, served as Civil Registers.
The Parish Registers contain Belgium’s Vital Records:
There are other less-used records, such as marriage banns (or publications) and marriage pieces (annexes). These registers usually contain more information than the Parish Registers do and, although the population registers enable you to see the lives of a family over a 10 yr span, these records provide you with additional information about parentage and relationships to witnesses.
The Civil Register can be divided into three periods.
- Pre-1796: Parish Registers
- 1796 to the end of the 19th century: The Old Register
- The New Register: 20th century to the present
The New Registers (end of the 19th and all of the 20th centuries), along with their indexes, are also kept in duplicate copies for each locality. One is kept at the local courthouse, where it can only be accessed with permission of the local burgmaster or the Civil Register clerk. At the end of each year, the other copy is turned over to the court clerk and can be accessed only with written permission, stating just cause.
You can request a photocopy or a literal copy, which must include signatures. It is often necessary to provide exact information (at least approximately), such as name, event’s locality, and date because the local clerks do not provide genealogical research.
The Old Registers may not contain as much information as the newer ones. However, some records can be fountains of information, especially marriage records in cases where the spouses’ parents are both deceased. In such cases, you will likely find the parents’ death information, along with information on the grandparents.
As for the more recent records, the locality keeps one copy and the other copies are turned over to the State Archives (Algemeen Rijksarchief/Archives Générales du Royaume in Brussels, or Rijksarchief in de Provinciën/Archives de l'État in the provinces). Researchers can access them by writing to:
Algemeen Rijksarchief Ruisbroekstraat 2
Telephone: 32 2 513 76 80
Fax: 32 2 513 76 81
- 1 Provincial Archives
- 1.1 Algemeen Rijksarchief Brussel / Archives Générales du Royaume
- 1.2 Archief van het Koninklijk Paleis
- 1.3 Rijksarchief te Antwerpen
- 1.4 Brabant
- 1.5 Brussels Capital Region
- 1.6 East Flanders / Oost-Vlaanderen / Flandre Orientale
- 1.7 Hainault / Henegouwen / Hainaut
- 1.8 Limburg / Limburg / Limbourg
- 1.9 Liege / Luik / Liège
- 1.10 Luxemburg / Luxemburg / Luxembourg
- 1.11 Namur / Namen / Namur
- 1.12 West Flanders / West-Vlaanderen / FlandreOccidentale
- 2 Content
- 3 External Links
- 4 Related Articles
Algemeen Rijksarchief Brussel / Archives Générales du Royaume
Telephone: 32 (0)2 513 76 80
Fax: 32 (0)2 513 76 81
Archief van het Koninklijk Paleis
Telephone: 32 (0)2 551 20 20
Fax: 32 (0)2 512 56 85
Rijksarchief te Antwerpen
Door Verstraeteplein 5
Telephone: 32 (0)3 236 73 00
Fax: 32 (0)3 236 73 00
Rijksarchief te Leuven
College van Villers
Telephone: 32 (0)16 31 49 54
Fax: 32 (0)16 31 49 61
Brussels Capital Region
Rijksarchief te Anderlecht / Archives de l'Etat à Anderlecht
Telephone: 32 (0)2 524 61 15
Fax: 32 (0)2 520 93 21
East Flanders / Oost-Vlaanderen / Flandre Orientale
Rijksarchief te Beveren
Telephone: 32 (0)3 750 29 77
Fax: 32 (0)3 750 29 70
Rijksarchief te Gent
'Geraard de Duivelstraat 1
Telephone: 32 (0)9 225 13 38
Fax: 32 (0)9 225 13 38
Rijksarchief te Ronse
'Van Hovestraat 45
Telephone: 32 (0)55 21 19 83
Fax: 32 (0)55 21 19 83
Hainault / Henegouwen / Hainaut
Archives de l'État à Mons (Bergen)
Avenue des Bassins 66
Telephone: 32 (0)65 40 04 60
Fax: 32 (0)65 40 04 61
Archives de l'État à Tournai (Doornik)
Place Paul-Emile Janson 3
Telephone: 32 (0)69 22 53 76
Fax: 32 (0)69 54 54 83
Limburg / Limburg / Limbourg
Rijksarchief te Hasselt
Telephone: 32 (0)11 22 17 66
Fax: 32 (0)11 23 40 46
Liege / Luik / Liège
Telephone: 32 (0)87 55 87 77
Fax: 32 (0)87 55 87 77
Archives de l'État à Huy
Ancien Couvent des Frères Mineurs
rue Vankeerberghen 20
Telephone: 32 (0)85 21 53 95
Fax: 32 (0)85 21 53 95
Archives de l'État à Liège
Rue du Chéra 79
Telephone: 32 (0)4 252 03 93
Fax: 32 (0)4 229 33 50
Luxemburg / Luxemburg / Luxembourg
Archives de l'État à Arlon
Parc des Expositions
Telephone: 32 (0)63 22 06 13
Fax: 32 (0)63 22 06 13
Archives de l'État à Saint-Hubert
Ancienne Abbaye - Quartier Abbatial
Place de l'Abbaye
Telephone: 32 (0)61 61 14 55
Fax: 32 (0)61 61 14 55
Namur / Namen / Namur
Archives de l'État à Namur
Rue d'Arquet 45
Telephone: 32 (0)81 22 34 98
Fax: 32 (0)81 65 41 99
West Flanders / West-Vlaanderen / Flandre
Rijksarchief te Brugge
Telephone: 32 (0)50 33 72 88
Fax: 32 (0)50 33 72 88
Rijksarchief te Kortrijk
Guido Gezellestraat 1
Telephone: 32 (0)56 21 32 68
Fax: 32 (0)56 20 57 42
The Civil Registers contain the official Vital Records:
- Marriage Banns (i.e., Publications, published twice before the wedding, denote the bride's place of residence, which is where the wedding usually took place)
- Marriage Pieces (Includes whatever records were needed to verify the information given in the marriage certificate; this could include parents' death certificates if they were deceased at the time their child married, and proof of having fulfilled military duty)
A basic knowledge of the local language can help you retrieve very important information, but don’t let this keep you from accessing the documents. The FamilySearch Research wiki has word lists for:
You could also use an online translator to help you better understand the records.
Samples of translated records can also help you learn to find the documents’ key words.
Document Layout and Indexes
The records are organized in different ways, depending on the time frame and location of the record. The records will be either in Dutch, French, or German. The Parish Registers can also be found in Latin, depending on the area of Belgium in which you are researching.
Some towns record all the events in chronological order, regardless of the type of event. However, the records are numbered according to their type. Other places use a “chapter format” for every year: One chapter for the births, one for the marriages, and one for the the deaths.
If the records are not numbered, look for a page number. Be aware that pages are sometimes numbered on one side only (right side). Therefore, they are found in the index as “Recto” (Front) and “Verso” (Back).
Yearly indexes are available in most cases, but sometimes you have to work with ten-year indexes. These will either precede or follow the actual records. Yearly indexes changed over time, especially the Marriage ones. At first the clerk only alphabetized the grooms. In this case it may be necessary to read each entry so as not to miss the bride. Later, however, all spouses are alphabetized in one list, which greatly simplifies research.
If the records are combined, you will find them indexed in categories at the end of the year. These indexes make it much easier to sift through the records, but be mindful of multiple spellings. This is especially important with your emigrant ancestors, whose names were often changed either on purpose or through the emigration process.
The old Parish Registers are of great use to the genealogists. They include:
- Baptism Records - note the sponsors, i.e., godparents and their place of origin
- Marriage Records - note the witnesses
- Deaths or Burials - often disconcertingly sparse in information
Alphabetical indexes by parish are available and could comprise more than one village. All of these records are generally kept at the National Archives (Archives générales du Royaume) for the Brabant Province, and at the State Archives in each of the other Provinces (see list above for addresses). They are sometimes found in City Archives (Brussels, Antwerp, and Mechelen for example).
Depending on the parish, the records go back to the early 18th century, and in some cases, to the 17th and 16th centuries. Although some may not have been available, all of Belgium’s Parish registers that are extant have been microfilmed, along with their indexes (Tables). In an effort to preserve the records in Brussels (AGR), using the microfilms is preferred over handling the originals.
Parish records sometimes give minimal information, such as missing parents’ names on christening records. In such cases, it is vital to take note of the godparents or sponsors to establish kinship.
Belgian genealogists have created a huge national file that contains all old Parish registers Indexes. This should prove invaluable to all researchers.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has microfilmed and is continuing to microfilm these records for all of Belgium for the Archives Générales du Royaume (AGR) as the privacy laws permit. The microfilms can be viewed at the Archives’ facilities or through a Family History Center. Check the Family History Library Catalog at http://www.familysearch.org to find the one you need.