Using birth records (geboorteaktes) to find your Dutch ancestors

Birth records (Dutch: geboorteakte) are a part of the civil registration and were kept since 1811 (or slightly earlier for some parts of the Netherlands). A birth record lists the following data:

  • Place, date and time of birth
  • Names of parents
  • Name, profession and age of the one registering the birth (often the father)
  • Names, profession and age of the witnesses
  • Often: address where the birth took place

Reliability of birth records

The law required that each birth was registered within five days by the father, or in his absence, by a person who attended the birth or in whose house the birth took place. The informant had to appear at town hall and bring two witnesses (usually family members or neighbors). Two copies of the record were created and signed, one to be kept at the municipal level and the other to be kept at the provincial level. Both copies were signed at the time the record was created. If the information was later found to be false, it could only be changed by court order. Such a change would be noted in the margin. These regulations make the birth records very reliable.

What to look out for

  • To protect the privacy of living people, birth records are only public after 100 years.
  • Because the births could be registered up to five days after the birth, there can be a difference of a few days between the document date and the actual birth date. Index sometimes refer to the document date instead of the birth date.
  • Stillborn children are not registered in the birth records, only in the death records.

Illegitimate children

Some children were born from unmarried mothers. In these cases, the birth was often registered by the midwife. If the mother married later, and her husband acknowledged the child as his, a note can be found in the margin of the birth record.

If the mother didn’t marry, she had to acknowledge her child as hers at a later date (at least before the child married). This had to be done because at the time of the registration, the mother was still recovering from labor. To make sure she was the real mother, she had to acknowledge the child.

Example: birth record of Maria Verstraeten (aka Gommeren)

Birth record with note in the margin

Birth record of Maria Verstraete, aka Maria Gommeren

Translation:

In the year One thousand eight hundred sixty four, the third of September,
Appeared for us mayor, clerk of the civil registration of the municipality of ETTEN en LEUR, Mr. Bernardus Gillemans, age fourty four years, obstetrician, residing in this municipality, who declared to us, that on the second September of this year at seven o’clock in the evening, within this municipality in the house district letter I number twenty-six was born a child of the female sex, of Maria Verstraeten, laborer, residing in this municipality, to whom he declared to have given the name of Maria.

Said declaration took place in the presence of Petrus Josephus de Wolf, age twenty-eight years, clerk, and Andries Broekhoven, age seventy, municipal messenger, both residing in this municipality.

As such recorded, which we, after having read by us to the informant and the witnesses, signed with them.

[signed]

B.J.B. Gillemans
De Wolf
A. Broekhoven

The clerk mentioned above,
[illegible]

[Left margin:]

Nr. 130
Maria Verstraeten.

By marriage record of Jan Gommeren and Maria Verstraeten, passed before the clerk of the Civil Registration of the municipality of Etten en Leur on the sixteenth of August of the year eighteen hundred seventy-one, the child mentioned in the next record was acknowledged by them.

Etten, the sixteenth August eighteen hundred seventy-one.

The clerk of the civil registration of the municipality of Etten en Leur (signed) J.J. COopmans.

Breda, 17 August 1871.

The recorder of the District Court of Breda,

[illegible]

Analysis

This record is an example of the birth record of a child born out of wedlock:

  • Only the name of the mother was given
  • The informant was the obstetrician, who must have attended the birth
  • The note in the margin shows the mother subsequently married and that she and the groom acknowledged the child as theirs.

This record not only gives us the information about the birth of Maria Verstraeten, but also the marriage date of her parents. Whether or not Jan Gommeren was the biological child is another question, but according to the law, he was her father.

Where to find

Birth records can be found in both local and provincial archives. Many birth records can be found in WieWasWie.

See also: How to order my own birth certificate from the Netherlands?

Dutch Genealogy source score

5 Stars Amount of information about births, marriages, deaths
3 Stars Amount of background information about your ancestors
4 Stars Online availability of scans
4 Stars Online availability of indexes or transcriptions
2 Stars Easy to understand if you don’t know Dutch

About Yvette Hoitink

Yvette Hoitink is a professional genealogist in the Netherlands. She has been doing genealogy for 20 years. Her expertise is helping people from across the world find their ancestors in the Netherlands. Read about Yvette's professional genealogy services.

Comments

  1. Would the mother’s acknowledgement of the child be in the margin as well? GGGrandmother had child Jan 1887 unfathered. She emigrates to US in Oct 1887 with child and husband, but I can’t find record of marriage either. I wonder if they ever married.

    • The mother’s acknowledgement usually took place much later, often before the child got married and needed proof of parentage. If the mother acknowledged the child, it would be recorded in the margin.

      In the case you describe, the child probably never was acknowledged by the mother because they emigrated before this was an issue. How do you know they were married when they emigrated? If you can’t find a marriage, it may be that they were unable to get married for some reason (first wife still alive?) and just ‘eloped’ and pretended to be husband and wife. Alternatively, they could have been married in a place where the marriages haven’t been indexed yet, or their names were slightly different in the index than you think.

      • The only document I have found is the ship manifest which lists them all with the same last name. His name is pretty simple (Jacob Van Hal), but hers is terrible to look for, Josina, Jozina, Jerena, Irene, lots of different things. Both sets of their parents emigrated as well and they all ended up living in the same county in New York.

        • What religion were they? If they were Protestant or Christian Reformed, perhaps the church council had something to say about this child. In church council notes, I’ve sometimes come across the names of the fathers of illegitimate children.

  2. They were Protestants. Where would I look for church records like that?

    • In the church records, which can usually be found in the regional or provincial archives. They are rarely available online so usually require an on-site visit. What town was the child born in? I could check for you where the archives are kept.

  3. Zuidzande, Zeeland. Thanks!

    • Zuidzande is a municipality in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen whose records were largely destroyed during the bombing of Middelburg in World War II, including the baptism, marriage and burial records from before 1795. Some church council notes have been preserved. They are available at the Zeeuws Archief in Middelburg, record group 335, “Hervormde Gemeente te Zuidzande [Dutch Reformed church of Zuidzande].” Unfortunately there is a gap in the church council notes between 1882 and 1967. It may be that these notes are still residing with the church or that the 1883-1945 notes were destroyed in World War II. I advise you to contact the Zeeuws Archief to ask them if they know if these records still exist.

  4. Thanks so much for looking it up for me. I’ll check it out!

  5. Thank you for your informative and insightful website! It helps me believe information is available if I know where to look.
    I have been researching my Dutch family named Wolfert, Wolferd. They were, and maybe some still are, from Ternuzen, Zeeland. My direct line immigrated in 1854 and are well documented in the US in US Census records. I’ve found older generations in marriage records dating back to mid 1700′s. Before that is a blank. I have reason to believe they are Jewish, maybe moving from Germany (because of the name) to Belgium, and then to Zeeland. How do I verify this possibility with other countries involved? Would there be Synagog records?

    • You’re welcome!
      The church records in Terneuzen go back to the early 1600s and the court records go back to 1589, so you should be able to get back further than the mid 1700s. There were Wolferts in Terneuzen as early as 1585, as you can see from this Wolfert pedigree. What is your brick wall?
      Why do you think they may be Jewish? In Zeeland, a lot of people had biblical names like Abraham and Sara, which are mostly associated with Jewish families in the rest of the Netherlands. There were only a few Jewish families in Zeeland, mostly in Middelburg. I don’t think there was a synagogue in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen (the area around Terneuzen) but I’m not sure.
      I would advise you to find out as much as you can about your brick wall ancestors and follow the clues in those records, rather than randomly searching in other countries. Since many Zeeland records were destroyed in World War II, this may require expanding your search beyond the ‘easy’ church records to court records and tax records. These are mostly not available online and may require on-site research at the Zeeuws Archief.

  6. Thank you so much for your website. I’m currently trying to research my mother’s family, which has always been shrouded in secrecy. My mother, the middle of three children, discovered as an adult that it’s likely her parents weren’t actually married until my grandmother was already pregnant with her youngest child. The family is now very curious about whether the person my mother always thought was her father really is. We’ve gotten her birth certificate and know now, thanks to your site, that my mother’s birth was recorded by a midwife, not her father. Nine months later he acknowledged her but as far as I can tell there’s no mention of marriage. Was it common for a father to acknowledge the child significantly after it was born? Is there any reason for this delay besides the child being born out of wedlock? Would it say explicitly that the acknowledgement was happening because of marriage?

    On another note, when do marriage records become public? I would love to track down my grandparents’ marriage certificate, but they wouldn’t have gotten married until 1943 or 44, and I’m not even sure where they were married. Is a direct relative (child or grandchild) able to request a marriage certificate if they are sealed?

    I would really appreciate some help if at all possible. Thanks again for your very useful website!

    • Hi Jennifer,
      Great to hear that the information on the website has been helpful.
      If the acknowledgement happened during the marriage, the note in the margin should say so. It is very unusual for a man to acknowledge a child at another moment. Personally, I have only encountered that situation once. In that case, the mother married but her husband did not acknowledge the child until 12 years later. The family knew that the man who acknowledged the child was not the biological father, who could not acknowledge the child since he was married. The child was acknowledged by the stepfather after the death of the biological father.
      One reason I can think of why a father would wait a couple of months to acknowledge his child is if he was absent or maybe in the military and not allowed to marry yet. I know conscripted soldiers were not allowed to marry in the 19th century, but I’m not sure if the same laws still applied in the 20th century.
      Have you consulted your grandparents’ personal record card? This should tell you where both of them were living. Comparing their timelines should tell you if they lived together when their children were conceived and if the father was absent for a long time.
      Marriage records become public after 75 years, in blocks of 10 years. Currently, the records until 1932 are public. Those for 1943/44 will become public in 2017. Until then, you will need consent of your grandparents or proof of their deaths. If you have that and know the place and date (the personal record card should tell you), you can order a copy from the municipality where the marriage took place. If you explain your relationship and include a copy of your ID, you should be able to order a copy of the record. The procedure is similar to what I described in the article how to order my own birth certificate.

      • Yvette, thank you for your very fast response! I examined my mother’s birth certificate more closely and found that the last note, which I’d previously given up as too tiny and illegible, does actually mention marriage. Specifically, here’s what it says as best as I can tell with my magnifying glass: “Door het huwelijk der ouders vol__ok_en te s’-Gravenhage op twintig Augustus negentienhonderd drie en veertig is dit kind gewettigd. Rotterdam, een en dertig Augustus negentienhonderd drie en viertig.” At least I think that’s what it says given the tiny handwriting and my extremely limited Dutch! Does this sentence in any way indicate that my grandfather was the biological father or does it just mean my grandparents were married on that date?

        Thank you so much for the tip on personal record cards. I had no idea they existed! I am just starting this journey and, again, truly appreciate your web site. Since all parties involved are deceased, I hope that I will be able to get copies of their record cards.

        Thanks again for your help!

        • You’re welcome! The missing word is probably ‘voltrokken.’ This note just tells you that the marriage took place in The Hague on 20 August 1943, at which time the child was acknowledged by the husband, and that the note in the margin was added on 31 August 1943. This is the normal phrasing for a child that is acknowledged by a man marrying the mother. This only has legal implications and does not say or imply whether or not the man is the biological father. But at least now you know the marriage place and date so you can order the marriage record. That will probably only confirm what you already know: that the bride had a child before she was married, which was acknowledged by the groom. What this does tell you is that he wasn’t married at the time the child was born, because he wouldn’t have been allowed to acknowledge a child if that would make the child the result of an adulterous relationship.

          • I just thought of another reason why they may have waited to get married. It could be that he received a call to work in Germany and was in hiding to avoid the ‘Arbeitseinsatz’. This was in the middle of World War II, after all.

  7. Thank you, Yvette! That was extremely helpful! I can certainly imagine WWII would complicate just about everything. To add to the intrigue, though, my mother is the MIDDLE child in the family; at the time, my grandmother already had a three-year-old son and was six months pregnant with her youngest, my aunt. Such a mystery. I will work on tracking down personal record cards for as many people as I can. My uncle is still alive and could request his birth certificate, though he may not be interested in doing so.

    Thanks again for your amazing web site!

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