Dutch Birth Records Basics

The Netherlands have been registering births as far back as the 1500s. First only baptisms were recorded by the Church. Later, the government took over and started registering births. What data you can find and where to look for them depends on the place and date. This article will help you understand Dutch birth records and will teach you how to use them.

Before 1811: Baptisms

In 1563 the Council of Trent imposed the registration of marriages and baptisms and in the years afterwards baptism and marriage records were kept at most churches in the Netherlands. Only 15 years later in 1578 the Netherlands became a Protestant state. The new official Protestant Church maintained the mandatory baptism an marriage records and added also burial records.

Until the 1600s the records were not checked for accuracy and some are fairly incomplete or even non-existent. After 1611 the Church started to inspect the records for completeness and accuracy and quality improved over time. For those faiths that did not baptize children, the government imposed family registration records from 1714 on. However some churches did not comply until 1739. From 1785 on churches were obliged to turn in a copy of their records at the city hall every half year. Finally in 1811 all recordkeeping was transferred to the State.

The oldest baptism records that have survived are those of the Oude Kerk (old church) in Amsterdam and date from 1564. Many church registers have survived although they are not always complete. A full inventory of church records that have survived can be found in a little booklet called the Repertorium DTB. Since the last edition of the booklet is from 1980, much of the information on where to find the surviving records is clearly not up-to-date anymore. It can still be useful though to find out if any records can be found for a certain place and period.

Baptism Data

All baptism records state the child's first name, that of the father and of course the date of baptism. Be aware that this is not the date of birth, which lies usually 1 to 10 days before the baptism. Later and more accurate records also state the mother's name and the witnesses. From 1792 on you may also find the date of birth. The name of the clergyman that recorded the baptism is often noted as an initial under the date. If the child is illegitimate this is often stated so with the word onegt. Sometimes, however, the records are not that explicit but illegitimacy can be induced from the fact that no name of the father is stated.

Deciphering baptism records can prove no easy task due to the old handwriting and the frequent use of Latin and Old Dutch. This combined with abbreviations and misspelling can make reading a baptism record a real puzzle. It can be wise to follow an introductory course on paleography (old writing) to make the task easier. In addition, this list of common abbreviations in Dutch archival records can be very helpful (unfortunately available in Dutch only). Our article on Dutch birth record terminology can get you started also.

After 1811: Birth Records

With the introduction of the Burgelijke Stand in 1811, the State took control over the registration of birth, marriages, and deaths. From now on every birth had to be registered at the municipality. This was usually done by the father and two witnesses. The latter were in most cases family or friends. If the father had no witnesses, usually someone at the town hall or some volunteer from the street would figure as one.

The new birth certificates recorded far more data about the birth than the old baptism records. They stated date and time of birth, full name of the child, gender, name, occupation, and domicile of the parents and names of the witnesses.

Special Birth Records

Illegitimate children have slightly different birth certificates. In the standard certificate, the name of the father is not mentioned. If the child was later adopted or recognized a special erkenningsakte (certificate of recognition) was drawn up and signed by the mother and recognizing father. Needless to say that this was not necessarily the biological father of the child. The recognition was then also noted in the margin of the original birth certificate. From then on, the child would officially get the surname of the new father.

Foundlings are another special group. Instead of a birth certificate, they were registered with an akte van vinding (finding certificate) at the birth registry. The finder would present the foundling to the municipality and the clerk would then write down all possible details about the foundling and the circumstances under which the infant was found, such as the place of the finding and what the child was wearing. Often the founder would adopt the child in the same process.

After 1913: Privacy Laws

Birth certificates only become public a 100 years after they have been issued. This is done to protect the privacy of people that are still alive today. At the current date, you can only access birth certificates issued before 1913. Although you cannot get a copy of more recent certificates, you can request for data that are of interest for your genealogical research, such as the name of the parents or the exact date of birth. You can direct you request to the municipality were the birth took place and make clear that you will be using the data for personal genealogical purposes only. Keep in mind that you are not allowed to publish any data about living persons! If you stick to that condition, most municipalities will have no problem in providing you with the requested data.

Requesting Baptism Or Birth Records

A digital copy of many records is available through www.wiewaswie.nl or www.familysearch.org. If you cannot find what you are looking for there, you can request a copy of any birth/baptism record at the corresponding archive. To do so follow these three easy steps:

1. Collect the basic data: Name of the baptized, approximate date of baptism and the place of baptism.
2. Find out in what province the place lies. This index of place names per province can be helpful for this.
3. Look op the e-mail address from the corresponding archive for this province and make your request. This list of archive homepages and addresses will help you out