Ask Yvette – How to find a Dutch will

One of our Twitter followers, Karen de Bruyne, asked on Twitter how to find the will of her great-grandfather-in-law Jacob Bruijn, who died in The Hague on 28 May 1927. Since there are several ways to go about it, I thought I would write a blog post about it.

Death record

Death record of Jacob Bruijn, as provided by Karen de Bruyne

Most people in the Netherlands did not have wills, either because there was not much to inherit, or because they were happy with the default way their estate would be inherited. Since 1811, wills were recorded by notaries. Before 1811, it depends on whether there was a notary in the area; otherwise the will would be recorded by the lower court in the series of voluntary records.

Find out if there was a will

To find a will, you will have to know the date of the will and the name of the notary or court who recorded it. Here are several ways to find out if there was a will. This is easiest if you know when they were born and when and where they died. Consult their birth record and death record first.

Central Last Wills Register (wills created since 1890)

In 1890, the government started a central register of last wills. Notaries were required to register their wills. The register is organized by birth year of the testator and gives the name of the testator, the name of the notary, the place where the notary was located, the date, and the number of the will. This allows you to look up the will (see below).

For the period 1890-1973, the Central Last Wills Register is available via FamilySearch. For wills created after 1973, you will have to contact the Central Last Wills Register. They will require you to submit proof of death.

Death duties files (deaths between 1811 and 1928)

After a person died, their heirs had to submit a declaration to the death duties office to determine whether they had to pay death duties, estate tax. The death duties file will mention whether the deceased had a will, and if so it will mention the name of the notary, and the date and place the will was created.

Death duties files are kept in the archives in the provincial capitals. Some archives have created online indexes of death duties files, which makes them easy to find. Other archives have not done this. The death duties files have contemporary indexes since 1856 (called table V-bis). You can consult these in the archives, or as scans online if they have been digitized. The death duties file had to be submitted within six months of the death, so can be in the year after the death occurred.

Digital indexes

Several archives have indexed notarial records. You can search websites of archives or national genealogical databases to see if you can find the will. See the websites in the Top 10 Dutch Genealogy websites for the most important websites or check the website Digital Resources Netherlands and Belgium to see if local archives have an index online.

Contemporary indexes

Notaries often created handwritten indexes called “repertorium” for the records they created. These repertoria are increasingly being scanned and available online. If your ancestor died in a smaller town, you can check the contemporary indexes to see if you can find the will.

Reference in other records

Sometimes, you find a reference to a will in other records, for example in a sale of inherited property or in an estate division.

Manual browsing

If all these methods fail, the only option is to manually browse the notarial records for the town where the ancestor left. Wills were typically either drawn up toward the end of a person’s life, but could be drawn up at any point during an adult’s life. I typically only do this after I have exhausted all the other avenues.

Consulting the will

Once you know the name of the notary, the place where the notary had his business, and the date of the will, you can find the actual will. Notarial records become public after 75 years, have to be transferred to government archives at that time though sometimes this can be delayed.

Wills that are not in an archive yet

If the will is not in an archive yet, you can contact the Central Last Wills Register to find the name of the current notary that keeps the records of the notary that created the record. You can then contact the notarial office to request a copy. Copies are typically only provided to next-of-kin unless the will is more than 75 years old.

Wills that are in an archive

Wills that are older than 75 years are typically found in government archives. They are increasingly being scanned. You can check the website Archieven.nl, a website used by many archives, to search for the name of the notary. Otherwise, you will have to go to the website of the local or regional archive in the area where the notary had his business.

If you are lucky, the notarial records will be indexed and you can click through to the scans. Sometimes the wills are indexed but the index is attached to the whole call number (typically a whole year or longer period) rather than the individual will. In that case you have to use the information in the index, like the date or record number, to browse the digital images.

If the notarial record is not indexed, you will have to find the archive that keeps the notarial records, and then search their finding aids for the name of the notary. You can then browse the finding aids to find the series of wills (“testamenten”), or they may be in the general series of notarial records. If the records have been digitized, you can browse the images to find the will based on the date. If the records have not been digitized, you may be able to order them via scanning-on-demand, or you may have to contact the archives to see if they will look it up for you. This is usually a paid service.

Example: Jacob Bruijn

Back to Karen’s original question: did Jacob de Bruijn have a will, and if so, where can we find it?

Digital index

The Hague has its own archive, the Haags Gemeentearchief, where notarial records for The Hague are kept for the period 1597-1935. The records for 1843-1935 are partially indexed, so that is where we start. When we search the Personen database for Jacob Bruijn and filter for “notariële akte” [notarial record], we do not find his last will. This is inconclusive since the index is incomplete. We do find a reference to a conveyance of a house in Scheveningen to Jacob Bruijn dated 2 April 1891, but that is not a last will. The original record will have more details and may show if this record is for Karen’s great-grandfather-in-law or a namesake.

Central Last Wills Register

Since Jacob died in 1927, chances are that any will he wrote would have been created after 1890, so the Central Wills Register is the next place to check, but for that we need to know his year of birth. The death record says he was 66 years old and born in Zaandam, so he was born in 1860 or 1861. A quick search at Archieven.nl, which indexes several Zaandam records shows he was born on 12 February 1861.

When we check the Central Last Wills Register at FamilySearch for 1861 and then search for Bruijn, we find a few cards for a Johannes Bruijn but none for a Jacob Bruijn. This suggests there was no last will.

Death duties file

Since it is possible Jacob Bruijn wrote a will before 1890, we try to find his death duties file. Death duties files for the province of South Holland are kept at the National Archives in The Hague in record group 3.06.05. There were three offices in The Hague at the time. Unfortunately, the index tables for 1927 have not been scanned yet. These can be ordered via scanning-on-demand, a paid service, where you can indicate what names you are interested in. They can be found in call number 7117 (office 1), 7135 (office 2), or 7139 (office 3). Ordering the scans of these indexes should show the number of the death duties file. This can be used to find the call number that has that number in the finding aid for 3.06.05, and then the death duties file can again be ordered via scanning-on-demand.

Contemporary indexes

The notarial records of The Hague are kept at the Haags Gemeentearchief in record group 0373-01. The online finding aid has the archival descriptions, organized per notary. The contemporary indexes (“repertoria”) have been scanned, and many of the records themselves have been scanned as well. The Hague was a large city so there were many notaries working in parallel, so this would be very time-consuming, but this is another way to try and find the last will.

What next?

I think there probably was no last will, since a man born in 1861 probably did not have a will drawn up before 1890. It will be up to Karen to decide how to proceed. If she wants to try and find it, the route via the death duties files is probably more efficient, but will require ordering four records at 16.75 each. The route via the contemporary indexes in the finding aid of the notarial archives at the Haags Gemeentearchief will be very time-consuming.

Personally, I would pursue the death duties file since even without a will, that will be an interesting document to have since it will show whether Jacob Bruijn owned any real estate, which can open up a whole new avenue of research even if he did not have a will. And I would follow up on that conveyance record to see if he was the man who purchased the house in Scheveningen in 1891.

About Yvette Hoitink

Yvette Hoitink, CG® is a professional genealogist in the Netherlands. She holds the Certified Genealogist credential from the Board for Certification of Genealogists and has a post-graduate certificate in Family and Local History from the University of Dundee. She has been doing genealogy for over 30 years and helps people from across the world find their ancestors in the Netherlands. Read about Yvette's professional genealogy services.

Leave comment

*