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Church books

This is the fifth and last part of our Sources for Dutch genealogy series.

Church books

Churches started registering baptisms and marriages in the 16th century. Many of the earlier registers were lost, but they generally still exist from the mid-17th century onwards.

The most important churches were the Dutch Reformed Church (the state church in the time of the Dutch Republic) and the Roman Catholic Church. Protestant church books are usually in Dutch, catholic church books in Latin.

The church books are the main source for Dutch genealogy research in the 17th and 18th century.

Why were they made?

Churches wanted to keep track of who belonged to their church and who did not, especially after the reformation (when there were multiple churches). Church membership, confirmation and baptism conferred certain rights: within the church (e.g. in the Dutch Reformed church you can only partake in the communion after your confirmation), but also outside the church (many official functions were only open to members of the Dutch Reformed Church).

What information do they have?

The most common of the church books are the books of baptisms (doop). A book of baptisms lists the date of the baptism, the name of the child, usually the gender, the names of the parents (in the oldest books the name of the mother is often missing), and the names of witnesses. Only since late in the 18th century have churches listed dates of birth. In general, Catholics baptized their children within 24 hours, while Dutch Reformed children were baptized on the first or second Sunday after birth.

Two groups of people did not baptize their children: Baptists, who only baptize adults, started registering births in their membership books in the 18th century, and Jews often did not register infants at all.

Marriages had to be performed before the magistrate or in the Dutch Reformed church. Members of other religions would often marry in their own church as well as in the Dutch Reformed church1). So you should always check the marriages of the Dutch Reformed church, even if your ancestors were Catholic.

Marriage books may list marriages (trouw), but more likely they will list marriage registrations (ondertrouw). The books usually list the date (which may be the marriage registration date, sometimes the marriage date is listed as well), the names of the spouses, whether the spouses were single or widowed, the names of witnesses, and usually their place of origin.

Funeral books are less common then baptism and marriage books, but also exist for many places. They usually list just the name and the date of the funeral.

The Dutch Reformed church also kept membership books, which lists confirmed members. It usually lists the name of the member, often the date they became a member, and how they became a member (either by confirmation or by transferring membership from another Dutch Reformed church).

Where can I find them?

Around 1811, church books were confiscated to form the basis of the new civil register. These confiscated church books are still state property and can be found in local, regional or provincial archives. If you want to consult them in a Dutch archive, you should check with the archives where they are kept: locally or in the provincial archive. Some archives have started making the church books available online. There are microfilmed copies of many church books in the study room of the Central Bureau for Genealogy in The Hague and in the collection of the LDS (usually available for consultation in family history centers worldwide).

Church books created after 1811 still belong to the churches. Some are kept in local or regional archives, but many are still kept by the churches, and often difficult to access.

A few examples

This image (click it to enlarge) is an extract from the marriage book of the Dutch Reformed church in The Hague (a print-out of a microfilmed copy):

den 23 Maart Paulus Pardou J.M. zijnde van de gereformeerde Religie met Johanna Pieterse J.D. zijnde van de Roomsche Religie en beyde wonende alhier

It describes the marriage of Paulus Pardou, Dutch Reformed (zijnde van de gereformeerde Religie, being of the reformed religion) and Johanna Pieterse, Roman Catholic (zijnde van de Roomsche Religie, being of the Roman religion), on 23 March 1777. This is the marriage date, the marriage registration took place on 17 November 1776. I don't know why the marriage took place so long after the registration, usually there is only a few weeks between registration and marriage. Note that the year is not visible on the scan, I had to find out the year by browsing back in the marriage book to January 1.

Try to read and understand the text on the scan, you should be able to do so after reading my transcription and English summary (refer to my Dutch genealogy dictionary if necessary).

Our next example is an extract of the Roman Catholic baptism book of Nijkerk, listing the (two) baptisms of October 1764. The book is in Latin, but as there is hardly any text that should not be a major problem. The first entry is the baptism of Hendrick, son of Bernardus Thomassen and Jantje Peters. Witness was Aeltjen Thomassen. The second entry is the baptism of Gijsbert, son of Lammert Hoeting and Aeltjen Gijsbers. Witness here was Gijsbertjen Gers.

1)An exception was made for members of the Walloon church, who could perform their own marriages.


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