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Searching Your Belgian Ancestors

Posted by Sean Daly on Aug 18, 2022
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Do you have ancestors from Belgium? Here are some tips, links, and key resources to help you search for them, on Geneanet, on Belgian sites, and elsewhere.

Searching for ancestors from Belgium can be challenging if you don’t know the town of origin. Emigrants could have sailed from Antwerp, Rotterdam, or even Le Havre or Cherbourg. Registers may be in French, Flemish, or German. As always, the key is to work backwards from descendants. When did your ancestor emigrate? Have you inspected vital records, censuses, naturalization documents, obituaries in the country of immigration? Identifying the town of origin is a worthwhile effort.

It’s also important to understand Belgium’s history from the 18th century on, with many battles at the crossroads of Europe. There was successive Spanish, Austrian (the Habsburgs), French, and Dutch rule until independence in 1830. Belgium (or more precisely King Leopold II) established colonies in Africa: today’s Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi. The World Wars, of course, deeply affected Belgium. Today, common governance of French-speaking Wallonia, Flemish-speaking Flanders, German-speaking Ostbelgien, and the growing Brussels region remains complex.

Geneanet projects

On Geneanet, you can of course do a name search, but if you know your ancestor’s town, you can go further. Here are a few quick links to learn about Geneanet features and the work done by volunteers and available for free:

Origin of Last Names: https://en.geneanet.org/surnames/

This is a quick starting point if you have no idea where in Belgium your ancestor was from. Enter a last name; Geneanet will generate a heatmap on the fly of places where people of that name had life events, drawing on indexed archival registers and members’ family trees. Move the sliders above the map to restrict the time period, for example to exclude years after 1900. Of course, this tool will not pinpoint a single precise place. However, it may help you learn if you ancestor was from Flanders or Wallonia, from the Brussels region, from the coast or from further inland.

Here is a heatmap of the last name LOUCKX. Under the map, you will find the municipalities with the highest number of individuals with that name. On the right, you will see variants of the name. This is very useful, as an emigrant to another country may have changed their name to simplify spelling, or to mirror pronunciation in English.

Photos of graves: https://en.geneanet.org/cemetery/geo/BEL/belgique

Thousands of photos have been uploaded as part of our Save Our Graves project. Have you already tried our free smartphone app? Consider it if you will be visiting a cemetery which hasn’t been photographed yet!

Memorials and building plaques: https://en.geneanet.org/memorials/geo/BEL/belgique

Gravestones are not the only subjects for photos! Many people are listed on memorials, monuments in honor of leaders or even building plaques which mention worthy citizens in the history of the town.

Geneanet volunteer pylambert uploaded ten photos of this World War I monument near Antwerp this month, including shots which clearly show the names of the fallen soldiers. Thank you pylambert!

Digitized historical registers: https://en.geneanet.org/archival-registers/geo/BEL/belgique

Digitized registers are rich sources of genealogical information: civil records of course, but also censuses, tax records, voter lists, and so on. Browsing register images page by page can be tiring, but sometimes key information can be found which is not transcribed (indexed), and thus invisible to search engines!

Collaborative indexes (without images): https://en.geneanet.org/collaborative-indexes/geo/BEL/belgique

These text-only indexes have been created as part of our Marriage Tables project; it’s the Belgian version of the original French project. The goal is to index every marriage in Belgium, and to make this data freely available on Geneanet. If you can read French or Flemish, volunteers are welcome as this project’s work is ongoing!

Digitized archives in Belgium

As in other countries, archives have been digitized or digitization is underway. Access the online national archives here and be sure to read their genealogy page here.

To access scanned images of civil or parish registers, comparable to those of France, select “Online resources” then “Search engines”, then “Search archives”:

Alternatively, access the page directly at https://search.arch.be/en/

A free account on the site is required to access digitized images. Click on “Create an account” in the left column, or go to this page. Activate your account with the link sent to your e-mail, then login to the site.

Now, click on the Themes tab then on the “Tips voor onderzoek” (Tips for research) link. The civil and parish registers will appear at the head of the list; click on the one you wish. You can also access the civil archives directly here or the church registers here . Note that the site may show menus and tabs in Flemish even if English is selected; don’t let that bug stop you!

The list of municipalities is shown after the introduction text, click on the small triangles to drill down into the list to the register you want. Then, click on the date period. Keep in mind that some registers may not have been digitized yet!

Next step: click on the right tab to see the image thumbnails.

Finally, click on a thumbnail; you will obtain the image in full screen mode and you can navigate from image to image with the document viewer.

Wait, why is this 1797 register in Flanders written in French? History books will tell you: France annexed Belgium in 1795, for twenty years, until the fall of Napoléon I!

Other resources

Here are a few links to online resources to help you find your people from Belgium!


Questions? Visit our forum !

4 comments

linda1710
8/30/22

Thank you. I can’t wait to try some of these research sites.


suzbur
8/20/22

very useful, thank you. I was aware of some of these sources but there are a lot more that I’ve not come across before


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