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Making sense of old handwriting

Parish Registers

What are Parish Records?


Church records are the most commonly used sets of records in Dutch family history research. There are records from several religions in the Netherlands and northern Belgium. Those of Protestant denominations were usually written in Dutch (or Flemish) in formats paralleling their English counterparts and are the primary focus of these tutorial pages. Others in the southern Netherlands and Belgium were also written in French. (See the French Script Tutorial for help in reading these.) Catholics maintained records in Latin. (See the Latin Script Tutorial for help in reading these.).

From about 1550 onwards, Churches started to keep registers of infants that had been baptized. Since the keeping of records as part of the civil registration systems did not start until the nineteenth century, parish records constitute an invaluable source of information about individuals. These records can be divided into two categories: sacramental records and non-sacramental records.

Sacramental Records

Since the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, Dutch Reformed pastors have been required to keep records of certain sacraments. These include records of baptisms or christenings, marriages, deaths or burials, and confirmations, as well as in some churches' first communions. Catholics were usually baptized within two days of birth. Protestants may have waited until a Sunday. Mennonites (Doopsgezinden) only baptized adults.

Although the specific requirements for keeping parish registers have changed from time to time, the formats of christening and marriage entries have stayed basically the same. This tutorial will introduce you to those basic formats; that is, it will focus on the specific information contained in each entry and locate where that information can usually be found. Earlier registers typically give less information, sometimes including only the child’s and father’s names and the baptism date. Earlier records do not always name the mother or give only her first name.

Non-Sacramental Records

Parish records also include church censuses, account books, and local history documents.


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