Thursday, July 4, 2013

The State Archives of Belgium Primer

My online journey started at  I was looking the Belgian documents.  Having just recently discovered that there is a wiki for every collection, I looked at the one for the "Belgium, Civil Registration, 1795-1910".  Included in the information on this collection

The images for the Belgium Civil Registration, 1795-1910 have been temporarily removed from the FamilySearch website to assist with the development plans of the Belgian National Archives Website. The digitization of images by the State Archives of Belgium is ongoing; however some of the provincial registers are available for viewing online at the State Archives of Belgium

That last part is indeed a link.  I followed it.  Caveat:  it will be difficult to proceed without either the Chrome browser installed or fluency in Dutch or French, depending on the origin of your ancestors.  (Mine were Dutch-speaking.)  Chrome will ask you if you want to translate any pages it recognizes are from a different language.

Once you get to the archives and have Chrome translate from Dutch, you will find this section in the middle of the page:

If you have any familiarity with the Dutch civil registers, you will recognize the layout of the Belgian archives.  I was interested in the civil registers, so I clicked on the last link in red on this section.

The next page will take you to a place to select the region your ancestors lived in.  I knew mine were from Oost-Vlanderen (East Flanders), but I didn't know which district (arr. is the abbreviation for arrondissement, or district) the town Maldegem belonged to.  A quick Google search led me to Ghent.

So I clicked on the Ghent district and was presented with a long line of towns in the district to choose from.  Luckily, I knew my great-grandparents had emigrated from Maldegem, so I clicked on that...

Here were my choices.  These words are easy to learn, geboorteakte means "birth certificate"  (think about boor, like "born" in the middle of it), overlijdensakte means "death certificate" (I think "over" like they are "over you in heaven"), and the third is huwelijksakte which means "marriage certificate", no easy mnemonic here, it's just the one left over, lol.

When you click the arrows to the left of the three categories, you will find this:

Now, I started with the births.  I had two last names to work with and I opened up the birth indexes.  (tienjarige tafel means ten-year table, or index, I found what I was looking for in the indexes, so I didn't need to go into those).

Maldegem gave me two choices of indexes, 1871-1900 and 1901-1910.  I accessed both, but started with the earlier first.  

Now, this part is important.  You will have to register with a name and password to continue from here.  If you are using the Chrome browser, it will ask you to translate every page unless you told it to automatically translate and down on the left hand side, there is a link to register.  You will be taken to a page to enter a name, an ID, an email address and a password.  You cannot continue without this.  They will send you a verification email, click the link and you are in.

Here is the difference:
This is not logged in
This is logged in.

There is a second tab next to the blue box once you are logged in, and this is the tab where the actual scans of the documents are located.  When you click on that link, this is what you get:

I am using screen capture to make this tutorial, so I can't capture the entire page, but there are seven rows of thumbnails and navigation at the bottom of the page to get to each of the nine pages that makes up the 171 scans for this index.

One of the surnames I was looking for is De Clerck, so I picked a page to start my navigation at, by clicking on one of the thumbnail images, it happened to be number 10.  These indexes are alphabetical.
Similar to Family Search scans, this opens up in your window.  Unfortunately, unlike Family Search, there are some vital buttons missing.  There is absolutely no way to save or print the entire page or any portion of it.  Also, the percentages of magnification are set rigidly and you cannot go above 100%.

The De Clerck's begin on page 11, but the first one I was looking for was on page 12, so we will skip to there:

In this image, the ancestor I am looking for, Honore is listed as number 182 in 1878.  You will need both pieces of this information to find his birth certificate.  

The number 182 represents that he was the 182nd birth certificate of 1878.  In the next section of books, the actual certificates are filed numerically by this number.

Click on the x at the top left of the scan screen (you can see it in the image above this one) and it will take you back here:

Click on the left tab "Archive Description" to get back to the list of books.
This time we want just "geboorteakten" and not the index.

This was a long line of books, which I cropped down, since I knew we were looking for the book for 1878. Clicking on that book brings you to here, which should look familiar:

See your tab on the right with the digitized records?  If you are not logged in, you will not see this.  From here, you will see your screen with the thumbnails of the images, similar to the one above.  You can pick a thumbnail to start navigating.  For the sake of brevity, I found the 182nd certificate of the 1878 on page 47 of these scans. (Remember, this book has three years of certificates in it.)

In this book, there are four scans per page. Later books have six per page.  My great-grandfather is the bottom right on the page.  Once again, there is no way to print or save this image.  If you make it smaller to get in one screen shot, it is almost impossible to read.

At this point, your options are to save multiple scans of the document and stitch them together with an image manipulation program, or to extract the information without saving.  Chrome will not translate the text from an image file, but all of these documents are in the same format unless there are extraordinary circumstances.  

In this case, Honore was born on the 26th of September to Charles Louis De Clerck and Barbara Geyssens.  The first name listed in the document is an official of the town and then there are usually two sponsors, in this case, I think maybe only one, Pieter De Clerck.  If you can decipher the handwriting, you can open a window of Google Translate and type in what you see and it will attempt to translate the document from Dutch for you.  Since the format is identical, it doesn't take too many and you see the pattern.

When I began my search of this archives, I opened the each of the two indexes and made and Excel file of all the births for the two surnames I was looking for.  Then I opened up each book and recorded the data, including the scan number and book title of each record.  I originally started by trying to save each scan, but this quickly became difficult because of the time needed to stitch the screen shots together to try and get an entire document.

At the end of each year in the birth certificate books, there is an index for all the names of the year, sorted alphabetically, so if you misrecord a birth sequence order number from the index, and know the name you are looking for, you might be able to find it from this additional index.  This index also includes death dates, if they are known, but this is far from complete.

I was able to find three sets of 3rd great-grandparents in these records, even with the limited time frame available online.  Family Search has a large quantity of these records available on microfilm, there are 21 films available for the town I am searching in alone.  Some of these records have come online there recently as well:

I hope you find this helpful.  I am by no means an expert at this, your mileage may vary.  Good luck searching!


  1. Thank you for this blog article. I was struggling with viewing the records and did not realize I had to log in first.

    1. So happy to hear that after all I've learned from your blog! Thanks for stopping by!