Physical descriptions in military records

As part of the appendices to a marriage record, the groom had to submit proof that he had fulfilled his military duties. This certificate of the National Militia often contains a physical description. In some cases, the physical description is left blank, for example if the man did not have to serve because he had brothers in the army already. This article will give an overview of the most frequent Dutch terms and their translations.


This national militia certificate of Arend Kastein, found in his marriage supplements, shows he was 1.74 meters tall, with an oval face, ordinary forehead, blue eyes, ordinary nose and mouth, round chin, and black hair and eyebrows.

certificate including physical description

National Militia certificate for Arend Kastein


The form itself

Dutch term English translation
Lengte Height
El Ell, old meassurement (see below).
Duim Thumb, old meassurement (see below).
Str. (streep) Stripe, old meassurement (see below).
Aangezigt Face
Voorhoofd Forehead
Oogen / ogen Eyes
Neus Nose
Mond Mouth
Kin Chin
Haar Hair
Wenkbraauwen Eyebrows
Merkbare teekenen Obvious features
Handteekening Signature

The values

Dutch term English translation
Arm Arm
Been Leg
Blaauw, blauw Blue
Blond Blond
Breed Broad, wide
Bruin Brown
De The
Dik Fat, thick
Dun Thin, skinny
Gekliefd, gekloofd Cleft
Gewoon Ordinary
Grijs Grey
Groen Green
Groot Big
Hoog High
Id., idem, identiek Identical (i.e.: same as the previous feature)
Klein Small
Laag Low
Lang, langwerpig Long
Licht Light
Lidtekeen, lidteken, litteeken, litteken Scar
Links, linker Left
Matig Moderate
Nek Neck
Op On
Ord., ordinair Ordinary
Ovaal Oval
Plat Flat
Pokdalig Poxy skin
Rechts, rechter Right
Rond Round
Rood Red
Smal Narrow
Spits Pointy
Vinger Finger
Vlak Flat
Wang Cheek
Zwart Black

Example: ‘klein lidteeken op de linkerwang’ = ‘small scar on the left cheek’.

The meassures

The height of the men is often recorded in el, duim (d.), streep (str.). These are old names for meassures. However, they have been converted to metric and are used as such. 1 el = 1 meter (3’4″), 1 duim = 10 centimeters (4″), 1 streep = 1 centimeter (0.4″). So if somebody is 1 el 72 str. or 1 el 7 d. 2 str., this simply means he’s 1.72 meters tall (about 5’8″).

You can use WolframAlpha to convert meassurements from meters to feet and inches. For example, type ‘convert 1.72 meters to imperial’.

About Yvette Hoitink

Yvette Hoitink, CG®, QG™ 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 diploma 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