Netherlands Court Records
Court records are usually searched after other records have already been investigated, but they should not be overlooked. Court records can establish family relationships and places of residence. They often provide occupations and other excellent family history information.
Unfortunately, court records tend to be difficult to use. The records usually are not well indexed, there are many records, court jurisdictions may have changed, and the records use many legal terms. To interpret court records you may need to consult a legal dictionary in connection with a language dictionary. A useful legal dictionary is:
Black, Henry Campbell. Black’s Law Dictionary. 6th ed. St. Paul, Minnesota: West Publishing, 1990. (FHL book Ref 340.03 B564L.)
There are three main types of legal cases you may find in Dutch court records:
Voluntary cases [vrijwillige rechtspraak]. These cases are the most important genealogically. Types of records include wills [testamenten], marriage contracts [huwelijksvoorwaarden], divisions of estates [boedelscheidingen], estate inventories [boedelinventarissen], land transfers [akten van verkoop or transporten van onroerend goed], mortgages [hypotheken, rentebrieven, or plechten], and powers of attorney [volmachten]. This group of records is sometimes collectively called allerhande akten. All of these records usually give family relationships. For example, land transfers often name all of the brothers and sisters of the seller, since all had an inherited interest in the land.
Civil cases [civiele rechtspraak]. These involve violation of laws when an individual (but not society) is harmed. Such violations include property damage, trespass, or libel. In these cases one or more individuals file suit against other individuals to enforce private rights or to receive compensation for violation of rights.
Criminal cases [criminele rechtspraak]. These involve the violation of laws in which society is or may be harmed. Such violations include theft or murder. In these cases the government files suit against the defendant.
Before the Netherlands was annexed by France in 1811, each province had its own laws and was administered somewhat differently than its neighboring provinces. Further, each town and rural district had separate laws. In the towns and districts, local government and court administration were in the hands of the same men. The court was composed of a group of aldermen [schepenen] in the towns and by the sheriff [drost, schout or scholtis] and his assistants in the rural areas. The courts handled land and probate transactions and civil and criminal cases. People could appeal civil and criminal cases to higher courts, the highest being the provincial court or, after 1798, the High Court of Justice [Hof van Justitie].
France annexed the country in 1811 and established a uniform legal system. There were district, circuit, and appellate courts, which continued after the Kingdom of the Netherlands became a nation in 1814. The court system was reorganized in 1838, with the district court becoming the peace court and the circuit court becoming the court of first instance (main trial court).
Reasons for Using Court Records
You will want to use court records:
- When church records do not exist. This is especially true for minority religious groups such as Mennonites.
- To distinguish between two or more people of the same name. Often people who are only listed by a patronymic name in church records will be recorded with a family name in court records.
- To learn the mother’s name. Frequently, only the father’s name is given in the church records.
- To learn the names of close relatives such as brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles.
- To verify relationships.
- To learn your ancestor’s occupation or the value of his or her property.
Locating Court Records
Court records are stored at state, regional, and municipal archives. Those created before 1811 are referred to as old judicial archives [oud rechterlijk archief]. Sometimes the archive will assign a particular name to a group of court records (for example, land records [transportregisters]). However, more than land transfers will be included; the books will contain all kinds of voluntary cases.
Records at the Family History Library
The Family History Library has many Dutch court records on microfilm. The majority are pre–1811 voluntary cases for all provinces except Limburg and Noord-Brabant. Check the Family History Library Catalog under:
NETHERLANDS, [PROVINCE] – COURT RECORDS
NETHERLANDS, [PROVINCE], [TOWN] – COURT RECORDS