Belgium: A Strategy to Identify your Ancestors

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The FamilySearch moderator for Belgium is Daniel Jones.

This page gives an overview for beginners of how to do genealogical research in Belgium and build a family tree.


Identifying a person[edit | edit source]

The first name and surname is not sufficient to identify a person, but what is?

Matching information[edit | edit source]

To verify if two records describe the same person, consider the data points that describe the person (name, age, name of parents, ...). The more information the two record have in common, the more certain you can be that they describe the same person. Unfortunately it is impossible to have absolute certainty. However, having four independent data points, such as first name, surname, year or place of birth or death, rarely creates errors without being to restrictive. Although, some common sense is advised. For example:

  • If the name is common and the place is a large city, then you should have an additional data point to be certain.
  • Similarly, if you know that the name is very particular, then three data points might suffice.
  • Obviously, the family name of the father is not a new data point, since it is always the same as the family name of the child. (Women often kept their maiden name.)
  • Knowing the sex does not count as a data point.
  • It is not uncommon for the birthplace and death place to be the same. Having these two match between records does not contain as an entire data point, but it does help.
  • If you have an exact date (either for the birth or death), that can be considered as two data points instead of one.
  • Having a birth date within the correct age range of 20 year does not count. Rather, not having it within that range is conflicting information.
Conflicting information[edit | edit source]

Even with the above standard, it is still possible to make mistakes. These can be spotted by conflicting information. However, most conflicting information does not make a match impossible. People can change their name, the age might be wrong by a couple of years, ... Although, conflicting information should not be ignored.

Research for the 20th century[edit | edit source]

The documents dated after 1920 are not publicly available, due to privacy concerns and documents dated between 1900 and 1920 are often unavailable as well.

Tip: If you can not find the documents in the catalogues, you might find it in on the website of the national archive.

To cover this period, it should suffice to ask you family members.

Research for the 19th century[edit | edit source]

Most information for this period can be found in the civil register. For more elaborate research, you might need to look at other records. To know which one, take a look at the Record Finder. The civil register contains three types of records: birth-, marriage- and death certificates. To find your ancestors who are born in the late 19th century, it might suffice to use the birth certificates. However, you will need all three to go back further.

Birth certificates[edit | edit source]

The birth certificate contains the name of the child, but also contains information about the parents, such as the name and age. If you are lucky it also contains the town of origin, which makes it possible to find their birth certificate. The older records might not contain the town of origin or even the age. To find their birth certificate, you might have to look at either their death certificate or marriage certificate.

To find the birth certificate of a migrant from Belgium, it is important to find the town of origin. Consider the article Finding Towns of Origin.

Marriage certificates[edit | edit source]

The marriage certificate contains information about the bride and groom, their name, age and town of origin. It also contains information about the parents. Most importantly, it either gives their residence or locates their death.

Tip: If a parent is still alive, they are likely to die in the following decade. Hence, you can often use the marriage certificate to find the death certificate of the parents.

There is very little information about the marriage contained in other certificates and can therefore be difficult to find.

Tip: Couples often married in the town where the wife was living. If you know where she was born, check there.
Death certificates[edit | edit source]

The death certificate contains the age, town of origin and the name of the deceased. It also gives the name of the parents and spouse. This information makes it possible to find the birth certificate.

Tip: First, see if you can easily find the marriage certificate. Then, take the last place of residence and go through the index table of that village to search for the death certificate.
Tip: Finding the birth certificate of siblings can help date the marriage and death dates of the parents.


Research for the 17th and 18th century[edit | edit source]

During this era the civil register did not yet exist. However, the church has similar record, that is records of baptism, marriage and burials. These records are in Latin, this wiki has a quick introduction to Latin words, for a more elaborate list we you could also check out vrijwilligersrab.be, which might also be more adapt to the use of Latin in (Western)-Flanders. As the church records get older, they contain even fewer information. The records for marriages and burial rarely contain information about the parents. Although, the baptism and marriage records mention the godparents and witnesses, which are often relatives.

For this era, it quickly becomes difficult to find the correct baptism record. However, finding siblings can be done quickly and for big households the list of godparents gives a reliable way to check if a match is correct. Hence, for this era you should first collect information about a household: find records of the baptisms of the children, the burials of the parents and if possible the marriage of the parents. From these records you have a full name, an approximate birth year and a list with likely relatives. Next, you should try to match this with the household of each parent. Finding their household can be difficult, but by looking at the index tables, to see if the names of most godparents show up, you can already eliminate some villages.

Tips:

  • It can be useful to look at other records, but their accessibility can depend on the region.
  • You might also want to look at other records, just to learn more about an ancestor. To know which records, take a look at the Record Finder.
  • If you can only find a few sibling, then the parents might have had an other marriage (before or after) or the parents could have moved and baptized children in an other town.
  • Suppose a surname shows up multiple times between the godparents in the same household and the surname is not that of one of the parents. A possible reason is that they are the children of the mother from an other marriage. An other reason is that they are the half siblings of a parent.
  • As with the previous era, if the ancestor is a migrant, the article Belgium Finding Town of Origin should help locate the birthplace and hence the baptism record.
  • As this can be a lot of work, it is a good idea to check if anyone else has done it. A lot of this research can be found on geneanet. Other peoples research can help you find primary sources, but do not just copy their work.

Research for the 16th century and earlier[edit | edit source]

There are no church records for this era. It might be possible to go back further by looking at notarial records, court records, orphanage records and Naturalization records, but there is no clear strategy here.