Source: prayer cards

I vividly remember the first time I visited the Central Bureau for Genealogy in The Hague. I must have been about sixteen years old, and had just started doing genealogy. My mom also became interested and went with me. When we checked the catalog, we found that there was an envelope with prayer cards of people named Flooren, my grandmother’s maiden name. Within minutes, we held the prayer card of Petrus Flooren, my three-times-great-grandfather.

My mom and I were very excited about this find. But we were sternly spoken to by another visitor, who warned us not to steal the card! We were shocked that he would think that of us, we were just very grateful for the opportunity to make a photocopy. The scanned copy below doesn’t do it justice, the original was very beautiful with black and gold ink.

Prayer card of Petrus Flooren

Prayer card of Petrus Flooren

What are prayer cards anyway?

Prayer cards are remembrance cards printed to commemorate a recently deceased person. This is mostly a Catholic tradition. Most prayer cards contain the following information:

  • The name of the deceased
  • The name of the spouse
  • The place and date of birth (not always)
  • The place and date of death
  • References to appropriate bible verses
Prayer card of Johanna Buis

Prayer card of Johanna Buis, widow of Petrus Flooren (grandson of the man in the first prayer card)

Genealogical value of prayer cards

You may wonder why you would bother looking for prayer cards since most of the information is also available in the death record. There are several reasons why you would want to check for prayer cards:

  • Sometimes death records are not available, for example if the death took place less than 50 years ago so the record isn’t public yet.
  • You may be able to glimpse information about their personalities or lives from the quoted bible verses. For example, the second bible verse on the prayer card of Johanna Buis translates to “My hopeless ailment would not be cured, it became to me a treacherous water, that could not be resisted,” which suggests she died after a lingering illness.
  • The prayer card may reveal the name of a previously unknown spouse.
  • The card will give you some insights into the religious beliefs of your ancestor.
  • They make great illustrations for a genealogical publication.

Where to find prayer cards

Prayer cards are documents created by the family, not the government. The first place to look for them is in your own family. But many historical and genealogical societies also collect prayer cards, so you might try your luck there.

One of the largest collections of prayer cards in the Netherlands is owned by the Central Bureau for Genealogy. They are digitizing their collection of over one million prayer cards. Some are available online via CBG Verzamelingen (members only). Others can be consulted in the reading room of the National Archives in The Hague after a reservation.

Dutch Genealogy source score

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

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.


  1. Mary Muir says

    Another bonus from prayer cards is that some include a picture of the deceased.

    When I first started researching my Dutch side of the family, I dumped out one of the drawers in my grandmother’s dining side board which contained many prayer cards that was sent to my great grandparents in Canada from their cousins left behind. It helped me confirm the towns where the family came.

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