Trace your Dutch roots

Reading and understanding Dutch birth acts

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Understanding Dutch birth acts

Dutch birth acts from the 19th century have a relatively constant form. Reading and understanding these acts is a skill that you can learn, even if you don't speak Dutch. With practice, patience, perseverance, and a good dictionary, you can understand most birth acts, even though you won't be able to understand every word.

I have compiled and translated a list of Dutch words and phrases, all found in Dutch genealogy records. Many of these words and phrases are not in your Dutch dictionary, but you may still encounter them in Dutch acts.

An example: The birth act of Johannes Adrianus Pardoen

The birth act of Johannes Adrianus Pardoen

Let's have a look at the text of an actual Dutch birth act (click the image to enlarge). It is the birth act of Johannes Adrianus Pardoen (The Hague 1855, act no. 1017).

This act is the second on the page. The signatures from the previous act somewhat overlap the first lines of our act.

The first section of the birth act introduces the registrar and the comparant (appearer):

"Heden den zestienden Mei achttien honderd vijf en vijftig, compareerde voor ons Joannes Antonius de Sonneville Wethouder Ambtenaar van den Burgerlijken Stand der gemeente 's Gravenhage: Theodorus Pardoen, oud zeven en twintig jaren, verwer, wonende alhier."

This is a standard opening for Dutch acts for this period. With a good dictionary, or the list of Dutch words and phrases mentioned above, we can understand this paragraph. It starts with the date: Heden, today, den Zestienden Mei, the 16th of May (zestien means sixteen, den zestienden is the sixteenth), Achttienhonderd vijf en vijftig, eighteen hundred five and fifty, or 1855.

The registrar goes on to introduce himself: compareerden voor ons, appeared before us, Joannes Antonius de Sonneville (that's his name), wethouder, alderman, and ambtenaar van den burgerlijken stand, registrar, der gemeente 's Gravenhage, of the municipality 's Gravenhage (The Hague).

The person appearing before the registrar is Theodorus Pardoen, oud zeven en twintig jaren (litt. old seven and twenty years), verwer (dyer), wonende alhier (resident).

The next section is the main section of this act. It contains all the relevant data (except the name of the father, because he was already introduced in the first section).

"Dewelke ons heeft verklaard, dat van hem Comparant, en zijne huisvrouw Sara Catharina Springveld, op den vijftienden dezer, des namiddags ten vijf uur is geboren alhier een kind van het mannelijke geslacht, aan hetwelk hij verklaarde de naamen te geven van Johannes Adrianus, deze verklaring is geschied in tegenwoordigheid van Willem Meyzelaar, oud acht en twintig jaren en Isaac Johannes Bal, oud vijf en twintig jaren, verwers, beiden wonende alhier."

This section starts with the standard phrase dewelke ons heeft verklaard, who has declared. He declared that van hem comparant, from him the comparant, en zijne huisvrouw, and (from) his wife, Sara Catharina Springveld, op den vijftienden dezer, on the 15th of this month, des namiddags ten vijf uur, in the afternoon at 5 o'clock, is geboren, was born, alhier, here (in The Hague), een kind van het mannelijke geslacht, a child of the male gender, aan hetwelk hij verklaarde de naamen te geven van Johannes Adrianus, to whom he declared to give the names (litt. the names to give of) Johannes Adrianus.

The act then names the witnesses, Willem Meyzelaar and Isaac Johannes Bal, apparently colleagues of the father - they're both verwers, dyers.

The final section contains a standard closing phrase and the signatures:

"Wij hebben hiervan deze akte opgemaakt en na voorlezing onderteekend met de comparanten."

This section states that after the declaration this act was created, read out, and signed.

The act was signed T Pardoen, W. Meyzelaar, I.J. Bal, de Sonneville.

The complete translation of this act:

Today, the 16th May 1855, appeared before us, Joannes Antonius de Sonneville, alderman and registrar of the municipality The Hague: Theodorus Pardoen, aged 27, occupation dyer, resident of The Hague.
He declared to us, that from him appearer and his wife Sara Catharina Springveld, on the 15th of this month, at 5 o'clock in the afternoon, was born a male child, to whom he declared to give the names Johannes Adrianus. This declaration was done in the presence of Willem Meyzelaar, 28, and Isaac Johannes Bal, 25, dyers, residents of The Hague.
We have made up this act and after reading it out, signed it with the appearers.

There is one difficulty in the above act that I just ignored for this article: The occupations of the people appearing in the act. Some occupations (like timmerman, carpenter) will be listed in any decent Dutch dictionary, while the meaning of others, like the above verwer (dyer) will be very hard to find. Occupations are usually not necessary to understand the act, but do of course provide an interesting tidbit of information about your ancestors. For occupations not listed in your dictionary you may want to ask for help on one of the many Dutch message boards dealing with genealogy.

Let me know if the information helped you understand your ancestor's birth acts, or share your experiences with the users of this website.