Sources Revealed: Orphan Chambers

Whenever a person died and left an orphan child, the possessions of the deceased were managed by a so-called "weeskamer" (orphan chamber). Appointing a guardian for the orphans by testament was a common way to exclude the orphan chamber. This practice was common among the rich.

Records from orphan chambers are very valuable to genealogists because they reveal quite a lot about the financial situation of an ancestor and about family relations. Very interesting are the inventories made by the chamber of the assets to be managed. These can be quite detailed and give a very nice insight in the kind of housing, furniture, clothing and the like your ancestors had.

Orphan chamber records can also give clues about the family solicitor that drew up the testament (crucial in finding a testament in Dutch archives). When the deceased left no testament then the orphan chamber would distribute the inheritance to all rightful heirs.

Whenever an heir came of age and accepted an inheritance, a receipt for it was drawn up by the chamber. These receipts can also be very interesting because they reveal who inherited what, at what age, and from whom.

In the mid 1800s, orphan chambers were replaced by state institutions. Records of orphan chambers can be found at the provincial government archives (Rijksarchieven). Be aware though that the Eastern provinces had very few orphan chambers, and inheritance matters for orphans were handled by the local court. Here, records of orphans' inheritances can be found in court records that are also preserved by Rijksarchieven.

Most orphan records have not yet been digitized, but copies of records can be requested by e-mail at most archives.

So, if you have a Dutch ancestor that was an under-age orphan at some point, it is worth having a look if any orphan chamber records have survived. If you need any help, unearthing or reading orphan records, just contact us.

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