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Genealogy: how to get started?

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Would you like to find traces of your ancestors but do not know how to get started? You need help kicking off your genealogical research? You want to know how far back in time you can go? Whom to address? Which mistakes to avoid?

Carrying out research about your ancestors is a fascinating activity. It allows you to better know those in whose footsteps you walk, their life and their times. However, genealogy requires patience. For your convenience, we suggest you start searching for information about yourself and then climb up the family tree.

  1. Gather information
  2. Question your family members
  3. Request excerpts or copies of certificates from the municipal administration
  4. Visit cemeteries
  5. Use the search engines on the website of the State Archives
  6. Search digital archives on the State Archives website
  7. Come to one of our reading rooms
  8. Take part in our volunteer projects
  9. Register at a genealogy or local history association

Gather information

Collect all information in your possession: certificates of birth, marriage and death, old photographs and other family-related documents.

Note down the place and date of birth of your parents, grandparents, etc.

Question your family members

Ask your (oldest) family members for information in order to find out as much as possible about the previous generations of your family.

Request excerpts or copies of certificates from the municipal administration

Civil status registers less than 100 years old cannot be accessed at the State Archives. But you can request an excerpt or copy of documents about yourself or your ancestors from the civil status office of the municipal administration that preserves the records in question. For further information, you can address your municipal administration or have a look at article 45 of the Civil Code.

Visit cemeteries

Cemeteries might also provide useful information. On tombstones you may find birth and death dates of relatives and the names of their spouses. You might find the tomb of a distant relative in the cemetery of your municipality or a neighbouring municipality.

Use the search engines on the website of the State Archives

The State Archives offers you a number of user-friendly search engines on its website to aid you with your research:

Search digital archives on the State Archives website

The civil status registers and parish registers contain lots of information about your ancestors. They comprise certificates of baptism, birth, marriage and death.

Register now via our website in order to get free online access to these digital records.

Simply fill in the form, and choose a user name and password. You will then receive an e‑mail with a link to activate your account.

Once your account is activated, you will be able to search some 25,000 parish registers and a steadily increasing number of civil status registers more than 100 years old from all across Belgium via the Internet, wherever you are.

Click on the province in which the municipality whose records you wish to search is located. Then choose the city or municipality.

Please be aware that at this stage, not all available certificates of birth, marriage and death have been digitised. We are continually digitising and making these scans accessible online.

By the way, it is impossible to digitise all the documents preserved at the State Archives: put together, the  archives our institution holds occupy some 270 kilometres of shelves. Only the most fragile and/or the most often requested documents are available in digital format on the website of the State Archives at http://search.arch.be.

Come to one of our reading rooms

You have no Internet connection? Each reading room of the State Archives (except the Archives of the Royal Palace) is equipped with computers on which you can access our digital archives.

The civil status registers are also available on microfilm in the different reading rooms of the state Archives. The location at which the archives and microfilms are preserved depends on who is the archives creator.

But civil status registers and parish registers are not the only sources which can help you to find traces of your ancestors. The State Archives preserves numerous other types of documents, such as notarial minutes, population censuses, archives of aldermen registries, judicial archives, etc. Our archivists will be pleased to inform you about the various archival documents available at our different repositories.

Be sure to have a look at our useful research tools: inventories and research guides.

Take part in our volunteer projects

Are you passionate about archives? Then click here for an overview of the fascinating projects carried out by volunteers at the State Archives. You can even participate while sitting comfortably in your living room thanks to the online project Demogen.

Register at a genealogy or local history association

Many Belgian cities are host to associations for genealogy or local history. These local societies may have answers to your questions and may further guide you in your research. Contact details are usually available upon request from the municipal administration or via a quick search of the Internet.

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