State Archives of Belgium

Our collective memory!

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Our mission

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Preserving and managing more than 315 kilometres of archives

Permanent and adequate preservation of unique archive documents necessitates specially equipped storage facilities that meet high requirements with regard to temperature and humidity, and fire and flooding protection.

The intellectual management of these huge amounts of archival fonds, series and items is based on the automated archives management system, ABS-Archeion.

Sorting and inventorying archival documents

In order to improve access to the vast number of archival documents, the scientific personnel of the State Archives write overviews, inventories, guides and institutional studies, etc., that are published in print format but also online as PDF-files and digital content accessible via the search engine ‘Search archives’ at search.arch.be.

Because making as much content as possible available online is also one of our priorities.

Providing online access to archives

Millions of names from genealogical sources are available online for free via the search engine ‘Search persons’ at search.arch.be. This powerful search engine is an indispensable tool for finding analytical data on parish registers, civil status registers, notarial deeds, alderman court registers, estate inventories and militia registers, etc.

Every day, the State Archives digitises archive documents, be it externally or in our own in-house digitisation laboratory.

In addition to these genealogical document sources available online since 2013, countless other archives have been described and made accessible online: over 20,000 seal moulds; the minutes of the Council of Ministers (1918–1979); the Statistic Year Book for Belgium (and Belgian Congo), 1929–1995; and many more.

More and more inventories published by the State Archives will also become available in digital format via the search engines and as PDF-files.

Acquisition of new archives

The volume of archival documents preserved by the State Archives increases by 10 kilometres every year. The Law on Archives stipulates that public authorities, having lost their direct administrative function, must transfer all archives older than 30 years to the State Archives. In addition to these public archives, the State Archives also preserves archives of families, associations, businesses and politicians. More information about the different types of archives we preserve can be found in the section What do we preserve?

Although, in principle, all documents we preserve are accessible in our reading rooms, some restrictions apply in order to protect the privacy of people and/or the documents from damage by inappropriate handling. Nevertheless, no effort is spared in making a maximum number of documents accessible for research.

Advice to public authorities on archives management

The State Archives supervises the proper management of public archives. To this end, the institution publishes guidelines and recommendations, carries out inspection visits, provides training to civil servants and advice on the construction and furnishing of rooms for archive conservation and for archive management by public administrations. Our brochures can be downloaded in the Archives Producer section.

The ‘Supervision and Advice’ department of the State Archives coordinates all of these activities and monitors the central services of the federal authorities (FPS, PPS and other public institutions). The State Archives in the Provinces are in charge of the archival supervision of the decentralised services of the federal administrations, the courts and tribunals and the regional and local institutions.

Research about institutions and archival sciences

The scientific personnel of the State Archives continually carries out scientific research about archival sciences and the institutional history of the archive-creating bodies. Have a look online at our list of publications, in particular the series ‘Guides’, ‘Miscellanea Archivistica’ and ‘Studia’.

Public relations

The State Archives wants to make its mission and the cultural heritage it preserves better known among the general public. For this purpose it organises or co-organises various events such as exhibitions, open days, study days, colloquia, conferences and seminars, etc., throughout the country.

For a couple of years, it has even been possible to visit exhibitions of the State Archives from your living room at home – here is a list of our virtual exhibitions:

Would you like to have a look behind the scenes at the State Archives and discover the richness of our most precious archive items? Groups or associations are welcome to a guided tour at our 19 State Archives branch offices.

Registration of ISIL codes

The State Archives registers all ISIL codes of Belgian archives services. The ISIL system, short for International Standard Identifier for Libraries and Related Organizations, allows the allocation of unique identification numbers to every library and related organisation worldwide in compliance with the ISO/DIS 15511 standard. Through increased standardisation in the sector, the ISIL code has become the applicable norm among archives. Within the framework of EAD, ISIL applies a clear and unique reference to the origin of an item. This standardisation proves especially useful with a view to future connections between data structures and infrastructures, thereby furthering links and associations within and between archives, libraries and cultural heritage institutions in order to improve the visibility and accessibility of digital information.

Digitisation laboratory and Digistore

The State Archives decidedly opts for integrated digitisation. Since the set-up of the DIGIT project in 2005, the team in charge has been working full-time to make our digitised archive documents available online as soon as possible.

Digitisation is often mistakenly reduced to the process of scanning documents, although it is preceded by labour-intensive intellectual and material preparation work. Compiling metadata according to international and sector-specific standards plays a core role in the process. It is only after completing this preparatory step that the scanners come into action. When the digitisation laboratory at the National Archives was opened in Brussels in 2009, both the quality and quantity of the State Archives’ digitisation work increased exponentially. The laboratory is fitted with two book scanners (colour), one scanner for maps and plans up to size A0 and an automated microfilm scanner. Each scanner has special tools for the digitisation of precious archive documents: tables with adjustable book cradles for registers, tables with automatic flattening equipment for maps and plans, and cold light lamps, etc.

Digital archives are managed and inventoried in a format that allows the archives to be available online and to guarantee long-term preservation.

It is impossible for the State Archives to digitise all of the 300 kilometres of archives it conserves. Priority is therefore given to fragile documents and series that are consulted more frequently.

You can already find digitised documents in our databases via the following search engines:

Restoration workshop

The restoration workshop of the State Archives is located in the National Archives in Brussels and was set up in 1859. For decades, the workshop was one of the flagship departments of the State Archives before it was closed in 1980. Fortunately, restoration works resumed in 2009, after heavy investment in state-of-the-art equipment for document cleaning, humidification, flattening and repairing, etc. This enables the State Archives to carry out a number of core preservation and restoration tasks internally, again in order to ensure the best possible state of material conservation of its collections. Archival documents indeed risk being damaged by different physical factors such as paper acidity, room temperature, relative humidity, light, dust, and inappropriate incorrect handling, etc.

The workshop gives priority to the restoration of paper and parchment documents and of seals. But urgent repair of damage and preparations for exhibitions are carried out first.

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