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Making sense of old handwriting

Civil Registers


What are Civil Registers?


Civil registers (Burgerlijke Registers) present the facts of an individual's life.  Civil registrations, comprising the vital records of births, marriages, divorces, and deaths, are an excellent source of accurate information on names, dates, and vital events.

From about 1550 onward,  Church records  began to be kept in the Netherlands. These recorded baptisms (or circumcisions), marriages, and burials. Between 1795 and 1811, the Netherlands became increasingly influenced by France. Church records from that time, especially marriages and burials, became more detailed. In 1810 the Netherlands was incorporated into the Napoleonic Empire.

On 6 January 1811, the French Imperial (Napoleon) decree served notice that by  1 March 1811,  all births, marriages, and deaths had to be recorded by the civil authorities of each municipality. The civil officers were made responsible for keeping vital records. Civil registration was accomplished by requiring the people to report all births, marriages, and deaths to a civil registration office [Burgerlijke Stand], located in the municipality [gemeente]. Unlike in other countries such as Italy, after Napoleon's defeat, the Dutch government continued the civil registration system.

In Limburg and parts of Zeeland, Civil Registration began as early as 1795 because they had already been conquered by France. Civil Registration applied to the entire population and has 1-year and 10-year indexes. Civil registration records are the most important source for genealogical research in the Netherlands and are easily accessible on and several of the Provincial and municipal websites.

The Records


The books of a civil register are organized into three principal separate sections: births, marriages, and deaths. Generally, there is one volume or more for each year, although in some cases during the early years when district populations were small, a volume may cover more than one year. Often, each volume and/or each year will be indexed.

In the civil register, the format of the entries and the information they contain is similar to that found in parish registers. There is, however, a much greater uniformity within a given time period between civil register books than between parish books due to the fact that the material that the civil register contains is dictated by national law, and the national government has often provided printed civil register books. The information given in a civil register entry also tends to be much more complete and even superior to parish entries of the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The completeness of the content of civil registers varies over time and place but generally provides the major information about the event. All birth and death records have in common the procedure in which a declarant, often the parent or other relative, appeared before the secretary of the civil register and reported the event recorded. The first person described, often with his marital status, age, and/or place of birth and/or residence will be that declarant.  These records may be either handwritten or on printed forms and are often indexed by given name rather than surname.

Beyond birth, marriage, and death registers, civil records may include: emancipations made by fathers when their sons reached 18 years of age (not required after 21 years old), land sales, and corrections of children’s names.

Page Information and Documents Extracted From:


Paleography Introduction