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Municipal Archives

Obtaining records from a Municipality


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Introduction

Contrary to what happens in the United States, vital records and population registers (a sort of "dynamic census") are a responsibility of the individual municipality, not of the county.

There are two types of records that may be of interest to the researcher:

  1. Civil records of birth, marriage/divorce, and death
  2. Population Registers (sort of dynamic census)

You will always have to look for and refer to the municipality as it existed at the time your ancestors lived there. You can use our search page to look for the place name, click on one of the following links:


Provinces | Districts | Cantons | Municipalities and Place Names | ZIP codes
A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
E.g.: Your ancestors lived in Meerdonk, East Flanders, which became an independent municipality in 1846, following a split from the municipality of Vrasene, and ceased to exist as an independent municipality in 1977, when it was joined to Sint-Gillis. For records before 1846, you will have to look in the records of Vrasene, from 1846 to 1976 in those of Meerdonk, and after 1976 in those of Sint-Gillis.
Confused? Post a query to BELGIUM-ROOTS.

Before writing to a municipality in Belgium to obtain copies of records, you should check with your Family History Center if these records have been filmed by the LDS, in which case you can just as well order the films to view them at your FHC. Generally, all civil records (birth, marriage/divorce, death) have been filmed until the 1870/1890 period. Unfortunately, only few population registers have been filmed.

For records that are not accessible on film (vital records more recent than 1870/1890, population registers not filmed) you will have to write to the municipality. For this purpose we have included on our web site a list of all municipalities in Belgium, with their postal code and other useful information.

Records in Belgium are protected by the Privacy Act of 1955, making them not available until at least 100 years old. There are some ways to circumvent this Act, but these would be difficult for you. You can however obtain copies of the records if you are a proven descendant. This implies that you should indicate in your letter how you are related to the person the record pertains to.

Since most of the employees of the municipality will read and write English, there is no major problem in writing to them in your own language. You may receive a reply in Dutch, French, or German though.

In order to avoid any confusion at the municipality's administrative services -- in many cases your request will be handled by the most junior employee -- you should address your request to the proper department (see below). If you would be writing to both departments at the same time, do so in two separate letters. If you send both letters in the same envelope, you may want to add in either letter that a letter to the other department is enclosed and that you would prefer to receive the reply in one single mail. You may however decide not to bother about the extra postage and send two separate letters.

Always put the address and the subject in the official language of the municipality, which can be found in the lists of places on my web site.

Don't give them your entire family tree, but limit the information you are giving to the people you are looking for. Be as precise as you possibly can be: full names, dates, places.

If you can't give precise indications, the municipality will have to do research for you, which is payable (in Antwerp EURO 30.00 per hour).

Considering the fact that it typically takes 7 to 8 days for air-mail to cross the ocean (but just recently a letter from Superior took 6 weeks to reach me), you should expect to receive a reply within one or two months.


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Check before you write:


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Form Letters

  1. Civil registrations of birth, marriage/divorce, death

    1. You should address your letter to (if Dutch is the official language):
      Gemeentebestuur
      De Ambtenaar van de BURGERLIJKE STAND
      Gemeentehuis
      BE - xxxx ABCDE
      Belgium (Europe)
       
            Betreft:  FOTOKOPIE AKTEN BURGERLIJKE STAND
            Gemeente: [name of the municipality your ancestor lived in]
      
      
      Dear Sir, Madame
      
      

      I would like to receive a photocopy of the birth record of my great-grandfather

      [José SCHOEVAERTS]

      born in [Mechelen] on [26 December 1888].

      I need this document for my genealogical research.

      I noted that the cost amounts to BEF 260 plus postage BEF 34 = BEF 294. Enclosed you will find a banknote of USD 10.00 (about BEF 340) to cover the expenses.

      Sincerely

       

      [Jan SKOOVARS]
      [1234 2nd St W]
      [Neevraunce, WI 67890]
      
    2. You should address your letter to (if French is the official language):
      Administration Communale
      L'Officier de l'ETAT CIVIL
      Maison Communale
      BE - xxxx ABCDE
      Belgium (Europe)
       
            Concerne: PHOTOCOPIE ACTES D'ETAT CIVIL
            Commune:  [name of the municipality your ancestor lived in]
      

      I would like to receive a photocopy of the birth record of my [great-grandfather]:

      [José SCHOEVAERTS]

      born in [Mechelen] on [26 December 1888].

      I need this document for my genealogical research.

      I noted that the cost amounts to BEF 260 plus postage BEF 34 = BEF 294. Enclosed you will find a banknote of USD 10.00 (about BEF 340) to cover the expenses.

      Sincerely,

      [Jan SKOOVARS]
      [1234 2nd St W]
      [Neevraunce, WI 67890]
      
    3. where xxxx is the ZIP-code, and ABCDE the name of the municipality. Both can be found in my Places lists on this web site. De "Ambtenaar van de Burgerlijke Stand", "Officier de l'Etat Civil" is the Civil Registrar; "Gemeentehuis", "Maison Communale" means Town Hall.
    4. Vital records in Belgium are kept in Dutch, French, or German. Since language is a main barrier for today's Americans, I included a page on this site with the transcript of typical records of birth, marriage and death, in Dutch and French with their translation in English. Moreover, the FHC do have leaflets with the translation of the most common terms used.
  2. The population registers

    One of the best sources for genealogical research are the population registers, which can be best described as a "dynamic census at the township level". Since the early 1800s, every ten years, the township will note down all vital data of all habitants in large registers: one page per household. Any change within the next ten years will be inscribed in that register, e.g., date and place of death, date and destination when somebody moved, etc. Also incoming people will be registered, including the date they moved in and their previous address.

    These registers are filmed by the LDS for a few townships in Belgium only.

    I always suggest American descendants to write to the municipality of origin of their family and request a photocopy of the page on which their family is registered at the time they left Belgium. I really don't know if the authorities comply with that request, but I guess it will largely depend on the clerk who is handling it.

    1. You should address your letter to (if Dutch is the official language):
      Gemeentebestuur
      De Ambtenaar van de
      DIENST BEVOLKING
      Gemeentehuis
      BE - xxxx ABCDE
      Belgium (Europe)
       
            Betreft:  FOTOKOPIE BEVOLKINGSREGISTER
            Gemeente: [name of the municipality your ancestor lived in]

      I would like to receive a photocopy of the entry of my great-grandfather's family in the population register of the period covering the year [1860]:

      • Guillaume SCHOEVAERTS, born in [Mechelen] about 26 December 1838, and his wife
      • Margriet BEAUJEAN, born in Namur around 1840
      • and all persons registered at their address

      I need this document for my genealogical research.

      I noted that the cost amounts to BEF 200 plus postage BEF 34 = BEF 234. Enclosed you will find a banknote of USD 10.00 (about BEF 340) to cover the expenses.

      Sincerely,

      [Jan SKOOVARS]
      [1234 2nd St W]
      [Neevraunce, WI 67890]
      
    2. You should address your letter to (if French is the official language):
      Administration Communale
      SERVICE POPULATION
      Maison Communale
      BE - xxxx ABCDE
      Belgium (Europe)
       
            Concerne: PHOTOCOPIE REGISTRE DE POPULATION
            Commune:  [name of the municipality your ancestor lived in]

      I would like to receive a photocopy of the entry of my great-grandfather's family in the population register of the period covering the year [1860]:

      • Guillaume SCHOEVAERTS, born in [Mechelen] about 26 December 1838, and his wife
      • Margriet BEAUJEAN, born in Namur around 1840
      • and all persons registered at their address

      I need this document for my genealogical research.

      I noted that the cost amounts to BEF 200 plus postage BEF 34 = BEF 234. Enclosed you will find a banknote of USD 10.00 (about BEF 340) to cover the expenses.

      Sincerely,

      [Jan SKOOVARS]
      [1234 2nd St W]
      [Neevraunce, WI 67890]
      

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