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:
- 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.
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
- 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
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.
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
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