State Archives of Belgium

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What do we preserve?

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Archives. But what are they?

  • Archives bear witness to the past undertakings of individual persons, groups of people or organisations (= the archive creators). They form a general testimony of acts and activities, unlike documentation, which is a collection of documents gathered for a specific purpose.
  • The date of origin is not essential. Archives are traces of the past, whether this past was yesterday or 500 years ago.
  • The material form may be varied. Archives can be written, printed, audiovisual or digital. Furthermore, maps, drawings, photographs, audio recordings, computer files … can also be archives.
  • Archives are collected per archive creator (the so-called principle of provenance) and not per subject matter or topic. An archival holding originating from the same archive creator is called an archival fonds, record group or archive.
  • Archives steadily increase in volume. But not all records can be kept. Therefore, appraisal is necessary and controlled destruction inevitable, provided that the archive in question has lost its initial function as a piece of evidence.

Which archives are preserved?

  • Public records form the major part of the archives of the State Archives and are subdivided in two periods of time:
    • the Ancien Régime (prior to the French invasion of 1795, when many public administrations were abolished) and the period from 1795 until today, the contemporary period.
       
  • The private archives held at the State Archives comprise:
    • archives of church institutions (abbeys, cloisters, churches, chapels, …)
    • archives of private individuals (among which politicians) and (mostly noble) families
    • that have played an important role in politics, the economy, culture and the society of the country
       
  • Various collections: maps and plans, placards and ordinances from the Ancien Régime, obituary notices, ...

Are the archives freely accessible?

All records older than 30 years that have been transferred by a public authority to the State Archives are public in principle (Law on Archives of 1955, amended in May 2009). The State Archives will spare no effort to also render archives of earlier origin accessible provided that the protection of privacy is safeguarded. Furthermore, the law on the publicity of administrative documents guarantees access to the latter from the moment of their creation. In some cases, however, free accessibility must be limited in order to protect the document from damage. Access to originals is not allowed if a replacement copy (a microfilm) or a digital copy of the document is available. Access is thus restricted if a document is in danger of suffering irreparable damage.

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