Population registers

Population registers can be a great source of information because they list all the inhabitants of a house, usually one or more families together with their domestic staff. Since 1850, the Dutch population registers form a continuous registration where you can find who lived where at all times. They look like census records but differ in one important aspect: population registers were kept up-to-date during the period the register covers (usually ten years). If you think of the census record as a snapshot, the population register is a movie.


Governments have always felt the need to register their population. There were several reasons for this:

  • taxes
  • finding out who could defend the towns if needed
  • registering people for the military drafts
  • determining who was eligible to vote in elections

The first nation-wide census was held in 1795. As a result of the French occupation, a democracy was established. The goal of the census was to find out how many representatives each province was allowed.

After this, a census was held every 10 years. After the 1849 census, the government decided to change the registration from a static to a continuous population registration. This population register would track the population through time. The inhabitants of each address were registered and the record was kept up to date if people were born or died there, moved there or went away.

Often, a seperate registration was kept for domestics, since they moved so frequently. Some garrizon towns also kept seperate records for people in the military because they were often reassigned.

In 1920, the address-based registration was converted into a family-based registration. For each family, their information was collected on a family card. If the family moved, the card went with them. The system was changed into a personal registration in 1938 with the introduction of the personal index card.


The original census records (which counted the population at a certain time, not the population registration of the later period) listed the head of household and his occupation, the name of the person who supplied the information and the number of people who lived at that address.

Address-based registration

Population register

Breda, population register 1860-1869, vol. 10, p. 105, household of Cornelia Platschart

The address-based population register lists all the persons at that address. Because of the frequent mutations, new books were started every 10 years based on the information of the previous books.

For each person, the following information is registered:

  • full name
  • birth place
  • birth date
  • death date (if death occurred within that particular 10-year period)
  • marital status
  • marriage date (if marriage occurred within that particular 10-year period)
  • relationship to head of household
  • religion
  • sometimes: tax class
  • date of registration
  • date of moving to that address (if within that particular 10-year period)
  • place or address from where he came
  • date of moving from that address (if within that particular 10-year period)
  • place or address to where he moved
  • notes

Use for emigration research

Census records, in particular the continuous registration that started in the 19th century, are one of the most important resources for finding emigrants. Most people reported to their municipality that they were going to emigrate. For them, the ‘moved to’ information often lists ‘America’.

However, not everyone officially reported themselves. Some people had some outstanding fines or were afraid to be drafted into the military. They left the country without notifying the government. For these people, their departure will not be recorded in the census records. Sometimes they can be found in passenger lists or arrival records.

Where to find

Most original census records can be found in local archives such as municipal archives or regional archives. Some of them are online at the website of the local archive and/or via WieWasWie. Unindexed scans for many municipalities are also available on Familysearch. You can also check the Digital Resources site to see if there are any census records for the province you’re doing research in.

Difference with civil registration

Many people get confused about the difference between the Dutch census records and the civil registration. The records of the civil registration each record a single event (a birth, marriage or death) whereas the census records provide a snapshot of an entire family during a certain period.

Case study

Do you want to know how to use population registers in your own research? Check out the following case study for inspiration:

Dutch Genealogy source score

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

About Yvette Hoitink

Yvette Hoitink, MLitt, CG®, QG™ is a professional genealogist, writer, and lecturer in the Netherlands. She has a Master of Letters in Family and Local History from the University of Dundee, and holds the Certification of Genealogist and Qualified Genealogist credentials. Yvette served on the Board of Directors of the Association of Professional Genealogists and won excellence awards for her articles in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly and the Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly. Yvette has been doing genealogy for over 30 years. She helps people from across the world find their ancestors from the Netherlands and its former colonies, including New Netherland. Read about Yvette's professional genealogy services.


  1. Judd Zandstra says

    I recently started looking at population register and I have a couple of questions. Here is the link to one I’m interested in: https://www.wiewaswie.nl/en/search/search-results/record-details/a2apersonid/506485540/srcid/34354701/oid/26. (1) in column 2 the date is 6 Mei 1869 but in the accompanying details the record date is stated as 1862; (2) in the image there is no address or gemeente, so how do we know where this record is from? Thanks.

    • The description of the book is on the WieWasWie page. It states that the register (book) covers the period 1862-1880. Each page shows you who lived at that address between 1862 and 1880. The page you linked to is for house number 309. Both the information on WieWasWie and the title of the page at the website of the Alkmaar archives state that this is a register for Heerhugowaard.

      Reading the page from top to bottom, you first see a Jan Schenk living there from 1862 to 1867 (death). Then you see the family of Klaas de Ruiter moving in in 1869 and moving out in 1878.

      • Judd Zandstra says

        Thanks. i really appreciate your response. Then the Record Place is the actual city or municipality the house is located in and not the place of some central repository. And the record date is is the date the book was put into use and not the date of the last entry. I’ve been looking at more population register entries and I thin I’m catching on. I did find one with my grandmother’s family in it and the last entry indicated they were leaving for “Amerika”!

  2. Karin Harms says

    I found an ancestor in the 1852-1853 Amsterdam Population Record. Unlike his siblings, he has two records. One includes “Datum vertrokken” which I saw translated as “date left” in Oct 1851. The other includes “Datum ingekomen” or “date entered” in Aug 1852. He was 17/18 at this time. What do these lines mean?

  3. Craig Veenstra says

    Can you explain why the house numbers are frequently struck out with a new number listed?

    • You have to check the neighbors. If they were all changed in the same order, the houses were renumbered. If only the one house is struck out, they moved to another house in the same street/ward.

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