Protestant or Reformed churches have a church council that administers the church. The church council consists of the minister, the elders and deacons. Some churches also appointed guardians who were responsible for the management of the church estates.
Especially in earlier centuries, the council was involved with all aspects of the lives of their parishioners, ranging from the baptisms of children to the admonishment of sinners. The minutes of the church council can be a real treasure trove of information.
Example: church council minutes of Sint Anna ter Muiden
Sint Anna ter Muiden is a very small town in Zeeland, near Sluis. Since the Reformation, it only ever had about 20 houses. Still, it had its own church and its own council. Here are some examples of topics mentioned in he church council minutes:1
- 13 April 1628
With great mildness was censured Mayken Christiaens for being absent from the sermon on multiple occasions. Promised to do better.
- 21 January 1629
Stayed away from the Supper Guiljaem v Rentergem and his wife and Elisabeth Lems because of the foul weather that prevented them from coming.
- 19 March 1630
The church council will try to mediate between Guiljaem v Rentergem, member in Sluis, and the bailiff Nicolaes de Vos, who disagree about accounts.
- 25 October 1631
Carel Parmentier has submitted his attestation from WesterSouburg
- 5 December 1632
Was reported that the younger Marcus Bauwens allowed some shameless gambling on Sundays during the sermon at his house, to the great temptation of the youth and disorder of the audience of the word of God, is therefore necessary that the same (not being a member of the church) will be reported to the magistrate, and requested that they will use their authority to prevent any further desecration of the Sabbath and defamation of God and justice.
- 13 January 1633
Understood that the hired hand and servant of mayor Iman Imansen live dishonorably and unchaste in his house. The mayor and his wife say they know nothing and he will take measures.
Cornelis Blanckaert went to Westkappelle on 9 January 1633 and had a child baptized in the idolatry church [i.e. Roman Catholic church], and had the child baptized while seeing their idolatrous and conjurous ceremonies. He is summoned before the full church council, which convened especially.
Genealogical information in church council minutes
These examples give a good impression of the type of information about your ancestors that can be found in church council notes:
- Information about church officials, like ministers, elders and deacons.
- Information about misconduct, such as unchaste behavior, adultery, gambling or fighting. Sometimes you can even find the names of the fathers of illegitimate children in the minutes.
- Information about their religion, such as people who went to a Roman Catholic church even though they were members of a Protestant church.
- Information about where people came from, when they submitted attestations from their previous church to show they were confessed members.
Where to find church council minutes
Church council minutes can be found in the church records. Older church records are usually kept at a regional archive, although some churches still keep their own records. Search for the words kerkeraad or kerkenraad (church council) or kerkeraadsnotulen or kerkenraadsnotulen (church council minutes) in the catalog of the archives, or do a Google search for these words in combination with the name of the town you’re looking for.
Hardly any church council notes have been digitized or transcribed, so these records can usually only be consulted on-site at the archives. You need to know Dutch to understand the records. Alternatively, you can hire a researcher to consult and translate these records for you.
Dutch Genealogy source score
Amount of information about births, marriages, deaths
Amount of background information about your ancestors
Online availability of scans
Online availability of indexes or transcriptions
Easy to understand if you don’t know Dutch
- Marianne Gossije, “Kerkeraadsacta St Anna ter Muiden, ZA, HG Sint Anna ter Muiden, inv.nr. 1, 1627-1660” [church council minutes Sint Anna ter Muiden, Zeeuws Archief, Reformed Church Sint Anna ter Muiden, call number 1, 1627-1660], transcription, PDF-file, Sint Anna ter Muiden (http://www.sintannatermuiden.nl/transcripties/NotulenKerkenraad1627-1660.pdf : accessed 30 November 2013)