Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Going Dutch, starting with Civil Registration

De Valk windmill, a landmark in Leiden, Zuid-Holland, The Netherlands

Back in April Yvette Hoitink issued her Ancestor Swap Challenge. Since visiting The Netherlands to attend the Gaenovium conference in Leiden earlier this month, I have been inspired to explore Dutch records. Civil registration records, the official secular records of births, marriages and deaths, are a good starting point for genealogical research. I present an investigation of these records for the city of Leiden, as a variation of Yvette’s challenge.

Online guides to the Dutch civil registration, known as Burgerlijke Stand, system include:
Comparing equivalent records from different countries is a good way to gain a deeper understanding of a record type. I regularly come across genealogists from outside the UK who are very confused by civil registration in the UK. Note that there is no British or UK-wide system, but separate and different systems for England & Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. This comparison of Dutch civil registration is with the England and Wales system only.
Netherlands England & Wales
Start dates 1795 or 1796 in Limburg & Zeeuws-Vlaanderen, March or June 1811 whole country 1 July 1837
Record closure periods Births 100 years, marriages 75 years, deaths 50 years Full details are required for GRO certificate orders from last 50 years. Indexes are un-restricted.
Record organisation Record date, year, record number Volume, page, record number, registration district
Number of copies 2
  1. Original created by municipality
  2. Copy sent to district court annually
2 or 3

Births, deaths & civil marriages –
  1. Original local registers collected by district registrar
  2. Copies sent to General Register Office quarterly (every 3 months).
  3. Religious marriages - church has its own register in addition to registrar's.
Index structure Index of district court copy register compiled every 10 years from 1813, arranged alphabetically by surname (sometimes only by first letter of surname) National index of General Register Office copy registers compiled quarterly, arranged alphabetically by surname, forename(s), referencing registration district, volume, page.

Each registration district compiles an index of its completed registers, the arrangement of which varies from district to district.
Language Dutch, French, Flemish English
Location of records
  1. Municipal registers over closure dates in city archives
  2. District court registers & 10 year indexes in provincial archives

  1. Completed local registers in district registrar's offices
  2. GRO copies at GRO
  3. Completed church registers usually in county archives
Access Everyone has access to provincial registers Access only via legally certified copies (certificates). Public access to the actual civil registers is legally forbidden. Church registers sometimes available.
Online indexes No reliable and complete index at national scale. FamilySearch recommends using WieWasWie as a general index for Dutch civil registration, but it is incomplete. Some regional and municipal archive websites have indexes. FreeBMD provides an online version of the GRO index. Some registration district indexes are at UK_BMD or on county council websites.

So, civil registration records for Leiden should be at the city municipal archive and the provincial Zuid-Holland archive. Erfgoed Leiden en Omstreken covers Leiden and surrounding municipalities. The Zuid-Holland provincial archives are housed at the Dutch national archives, the Nationaal Archief at The Hague, which is located in the province. The national website has an English version, but searches of its online catalogue return results in Dutch. I found Leiden civil registrations for 1811-1842 in the archive catalogue, but there are no online indexes or records. The municipal website is in Dutch, so time for the translation challenge.

Website translation
Website translation

For this website, Google translate proved entirely unhelpful. The Chrome browser’s built-in translate function was more useful. Both caused a noticeable delay and produce stilted English. My powers of persistence were tested, but worthwhile, as the website offers an archival catalogue, personal name search and images of original records.

Taking the marriage of Ary Coret in 1877 as an example, clicking on the entry in the search result list gives the indexed details and an image link to the original record. The index includes the names of bride, groom, fathers and mothers of both bride and groom; date and place of the event; birth place, age and occupation of bride and groom. That makes these records richly detailed compared to an English marriage register. The original contains even more information, but presents the challenge of reading old handwriting in a foreign language.

I can make out the following, but need some help with the square bracketed parts:
On the 26th December 1877, the couple appeared before the officials of the civil registration at the Town Hall in Leiden.

Ary Coret, aged 48, [a porter?] born in September 1829 in Leiden, resident in [??] was the adult son of Pieter Coret and Mary Magdalene ven de Wetering [? ???]

Elsje Gressie, aged 36, with no occupation, born on January 1841 in Leiden, resident ain [old Lange local canal?], widow of John Barentse, was the adult daughter of Gabriel Gressie [factory worker?] and Geertrui Phileman [??], residents in [?? South?? ??]

They requested to complete the marriage that had been notified on the Town Hall door on 16 December and [20th December? and ??]

No impediments to the marriage were reported, so in the presence of witnesses, the couple was asked if they accepted one another as spouses, [till death?] and promised to fulfill all the duties of marriage under the law. A declaration was made that

Arij Coret and Elsie Gressie [were married, witnessed by ? Barente, James Grijie. ? Niehuk, with some details of the witnesses and other ceremonial phrases]

[Witness signatures]

Corrections and refinements from Dutch genealogists or speakers would be much appreciated.

© Sue Adams 2014


  1. Erfgoed Leiden en omstreken is one of several Dutch archives which provide all of their data as open data, so developers can make their own website or app with this data. I build the website Open Archives, a search engines for genealogical data from archives (now with nearly 12 million persons available, large part with scans of records).

    One of it's features is that the site is multi-language, so besides Dutch it's also available English, French and German. As you can see with the marriage record for Ary Coret and Elsje Gressie, a large part of the interface is available in English, but obviously the data isn't. So thing like streetnames, occupations and archive descriptions are still in Dutch (have to work on that!).

    In contrast, Open Archives shows more links with the record than the archive website does, like a link to the weather on 26 december 1877 (cold!), a link to census data for Leiden around 1877, and links to related birth, marriage and death certificates.

    1. Hi Bob

      I agree Open Archives multi-language interface is more user friendly. I did not include it in the post only because it does not have national coverage (yet?) and I wanted to demonstrate the provenance of the records.

      Archives have a wider audience than just the genealogical community, so thier priority is a catalogue for general use. I would like more archives to publish thier catalogues online, and make them open so we can get the maximum benefit.

  2. An impressive explanation of Dutch records. I was struck by how early civil registration was introduced compared with countries in the UK.

    1. I was also struck by the early introduction of Dutch civil registration. It is all to do with Napolean Bonaparte and the French invasion of The Netherlands. The French Civil Code dates from 1804. An English translation is at If you take a close look at the legal wording of the registers, the connection is obvious.


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