The civil register was introduced in 1811, during the brief French occupation of The Netherlands (1810-1813), and exists
basically unchanged until the present day. Since 1811, marriages have to take place before the magistrate, and for each marriage,
an act of marriage is written into a marriage register. All births and deaths have to be reported within three working days,
and acts are written into the relevant registers. Birth, death and marriage acts are by far the most important sources for 19th
and early 20th century genealogy research. Other registers exist, but they are of less importance to us.
The registers were closed at the end of each year, and an index was added to the birth, death and marriage registers. New
registers were started at the beginning of the next year. To be able to find acts without searching each yearly index, a large
index was compiled every ten years - the so-called tientarige tafels (ten-yearly tables). The first of these was compiled
after 1822, and covers the period 1813-1822. Until recently, these indexes were the best way to find your ancestors in the
civil register, but currently many digital indexes exist, often available on the internet, on websites like
Wie Was Wie. See Online research
for more information.
Birth, death and marriage registers were kept in duplicate: One copy for the local magistrates, and one for
the arrondissementsrechtbank (district court). Currently, one copy is kept in the provincial archive, the other
usually in a local or regional archive. Other registers and marriage supplements are kept in the provincial archives. Note
that each municipity kept its own register: There is no central death or marriage register in The Netherlands!
The contents and form of acts varied from one town to the next, and changed over time. Rules were sometimes strictly
adhered to, and sometimes freely interpreted - this, too, seems to differ from place to place and from period to period. Rules
also changed, in particular the rules about genders of declarants and witnesses have been dropped in the mid-20th century.
As The Netherlands were part of the French Empire from 1810 until 1813, acts from this periods should be in French, though
acts in Dutch do exist. From 1813, all acts should be in Dutch.
Acts of birth
Births had to be registered within three working days, by the father or by someone present at the birth. A birth act usually
contains the name, age, occupation and sometimes address of the declarant, the name of the mother, the name, gender and birth
date of the child, and the names, ages and occupations of the witnesses. It was signed by the magistrate, declarant and two
witnesses. The declarant could be male or female, the witnesses had to be male.
If the name of the child changed afterwards (e.g. because of adoption or legitimization), there will be a remark in the margin
of the birth act stating the new name, the date of and the reason for the change.
For privacy reasons, birth acts from the last 100 years can not be consulted.
Acts of death
Deaths had to be registered within three working days, by two
male declarants who had first-hand knowledge of the death. Death
acts usually contain the names, ages and occupations of the
declarants, the name, age, usually occupation and death date of
the deceased, the names of the parents (if known), whether the
parents were still alive and if so, their place of residence, the
names of former spouses (if any) and whether the marriages ended
by death of the spouse or divorce, and the name of the current
spouse (if any). Acts were signed by the magistrate and
For privacy reasons, death acts from the last 50 years can not
Acts of marriage
All marriages have to take place before the magistrate. Church
marriages are not valid, and indeed not allowed unless a civil
marriage exists. It is common to marry before the magistrate and
in the church on the same day (but always first before the
magistrate). Marriage acts contain a lot of genealogical
information: It lists the names, ages, occupations and residences
of both spouses, their parents and the witnesses. Acts were
signed by the magistrate, both spouses and four witnesses. If a
spouse was under 30, their parents had to give permission for the
marriage, and they would also sign.
If the marriage ended in divorce, there will be a remark in
the margin stating the court that declared the divorce and the
date of the divorce.
For privacy reasons, marriage acts from the last 75 years can
not be consulted.
Bride and groom had to provide a number of documents before
they could be married. These documents, called
huwelijksbijlagen (marriage supplements) were kept with
the marriage act. They are still accessible to us, and can be a
genealogical treasure trove.
These documents should at least include extracts from the
birth acts of both spouses. Sometimes, that's all there is, but
often there are many more documents. The groom had to provide
documentary evidence he had fulfilled his conscription
obligations (which does not necessarily mean active service). If
the marriage was not their first, there should be documents
proving the death of (or divorce from) earlier spouses. If one of
the spouses were not yet 30 years old, and their parents were
dead, they had to prove this, as their parents had to give
permission for this marriage. Sometimes you will even find
documents proving the death of grandparents (who had to give
permission in place of the parents, if the parents were dead). A
variety of other documents may have been added to the marriage
For privacy reasons, marriage supplements from the last 75
years can not be consulted.
Nationwide censuses have taken place on a regular basis since
1828. However, information in censuses outdates quickly, and
local magistrates needed a better system to keep track of their
inhabitants. In 1850, the population register was introduced. It
contained the same information as earlier censuses. For each
address, the occupants were listed, with birth dates, occupations
and family relations. It was kept up to date: Changes of address
and occupation were added, as were births, deaths and marriages.
Pages would get messy because of all those changes, and from time
to time the register was closed and a new register was
Registers were written in bound folios. Early registers were
sorted on address, later registers on family name. Around 1900
(earlier in some towns, later in others) the bound registers were
phased out and replaced by a loose-leave system known as
gezinskaarten (family cards). A full (or messy) page could
easily be replaced, or an additional page could be added. This
system was in use until 1939, when they were replaced by
so-called persoonskaarten (person cards). These cards are
beyond the scope of this article.
Because of all the copying and changing, the population
registers contain a lot of errors. Birth, death and marriage
dates we find in these registers should always be checked against
the acts of the civil register. The population register does
contain a lot of information not easily found elsewhere: It lists
complete families, it contains addresses and occupations, and it
often contains remarks that were for some reason relevant to the
magistrates. These remarks can put you on the track to some
interesting facts about your ancestors, like bankruptcies,
insanity or imprisonment.
For privacy reasons, persoonskaarten can not be
consulted (but an extract can be obtained, for a fee, if the
person is deceased). Other population registers, including
gezinskaarten, are accessible to all.
Because of the privacy restrictions on birth and marriage
acts, the population register is the most important resource for
genealogy research in the early 20th century.
Churches started registering baptisms and marriages in the
16th century. Many of the earlier registers were lost, but they
generally still exist from the mid-17th century onwards. In 1811,
most church books were confiscated by the state to form the basis
for the new civil register. Pre-1811 church books are still state
property and are easily accessible in Dutch archives or family
history centres. Later church books are usually still owned
by the churches and are often hard to find and hard to
The most important churches were the Dutch Reformed Church
(the state church) and the Roman Catholic Church. Protestant
church books are usually in Dutch, catholic church books in
Baptism records usually contain the name and sometimes gender
of the child (or the Latin form of the name for catholic
baptisms), the names of the parents, the names of one or more
witnesses and the date of the baptims. From the late 18th century
onwards, the date of birth is usually also listed. Information in
early records can be scarce - sometimes nothing more than the
date of the baptism and the name of the father. Catholic children
were usually baptized within 24 hours after birth, protestant
children on the first or second sunday after birth. Baptists were
of course an exception: They were baptized in adulthood. The only
major group that were not baptized at all were the Jews.
Marriages were only allowed in the Dutch Reformed Church, in
the French-language Walloon Church and before the magistrate.
Catholics often married in their own church anyway, usually after
a civil or protestant marriage. Always check the marriage books
of the Dutch Reformed Church, even if your ancestors had another
Funeral registers contain very limited information. For
children and women often even the name is missing, it just lists
"the wife of..." or "a child of...". Later records (from the late
18th century onwards) usually do contain names and death dates.
Occasionally, funeral records will also list the cause of
Pre-1700 church books have many omissions, but the vast
majority of the other records described above have been
conserved and can be consulted today. There have been, however,
some important losses, mostly through fire or acts of war.
Some of the major losses:
- In 1766 fire destroyed most of the village centre of
Hilversum, including the Dutch Reformed church. Not only the
church books were lost, but also the archives of the local
magistrates and the local court, making it almost impossible to
trace protestant ancestors from Hilversum that lived and died
- Fire in Alkmaar in 1890 destroyed the archives of the courts
of Alkmaar and Hoorn. Losses included the civil registers of the
area. Birth, death and marriage registers were kept in duplicate,
and the other copy can still be consulted. But other registers
and the marriage supplements are lost, as were of course the
registers of the courts.
- Because of heavy fighting in May 1940 in the area around
Middelburg, the capital of the province Zeeland, Middelburg was
heavily damaged. Many of the church books for the province
Zeeland were lost.
- The population register of Arnhem was lost during the battle
of Arnhem in 1944.
- In March 1945, English bombers accidentally bombed the
Bezuidenhout region of Den Haag (or The Hague). Civil registers
for the years 1843-1944 were lost for the Den Haag and Leiden
regions. Duplicate registers are still accessible, but marriage
supplements and registers without a duplicate are lost.