Monday, November 22, 2010

The Belgian Archives Online

In February 2009, FamilySearch began uploading digital images of Belgian civil records onto its Record Search Pilot site, enabling genealogists researching their Belgian ancestry to access original records right from their homes.

It was however short lived as the Belgian Archives quickly requested access to the public be restricted. I won't lie when I say that it was a terrible blow to researchers, especially since the creation of the index for these Belgian records had just begun.

What a treat it was to have been one of the first countries online!!!
Even if it was short lived.

On November 18, FamilySearch made an announcement about having added another 15 million names to its site. Many of them are linked to digital images of original records.
Dick Eastman composed an article on the subject, to which I would like to refer you: A Lot to Be Thankful For

I have had the opportunity of using this wonderful new tool and can't wait till more is uploaded.

While researching on microfilms at our local Family History Center, I have learned to appreciate paging through the reels and finding information in documents that apparently did not fit in my direct lines. Actually that has helped me more than once in stumbling onto great-grandparents I had not found on my direct-line ancestors' records. So when I saw the "Browse the images" option, I jumped on it with both feet.

It didn't take me long to realize that - and that is by no means a criticism, but rather motivation for me to help more - however incredibly wonderful it is, using the browse feature is slow and tedious.

Belgian registers usually have one index at the end of each year.
Some group all the records into one annual book with three indexes at the end of the year, in other words, the records are divided into three parts (sometimes 4):
1. Births,
2. (Marriage Publications - which have no index),
3. Marriages,
4. Deaths.

On a microfilm reader, you just crank up the wheel, find the index, locate the name you are looking for, then if you find something that is relevant to your search, you backtrack (or go forward if the index is at the beginning of the year) to the right page.
It is tedious but I have found this method very efficient.

On the computer, the process is more or less the same, except it is more or less slow depending on your computer's ability to handle the image but also on your internet connection.
And the big question comes up: "Where is the right image?"

You soon learn that you do not need to thumb through each page if you don't want to. You can skip a few forwards and backwards, pretty much in the same way that you would crank up the microfilm reader's wheel forwards and back.

So what has this taught me?
It has taught me the reason why it is so vital to work on the indexing of all these images.
We are incredibly blessed to be able to use this 'browsing' system in the first place but how much easier it would be if all we needed to do is type in a name and narrow down the search.

HOW can this be done?
Through FamilySearch Indexing

Some people have been unhappy with me for getting on my soapbox and encouraging others to get involved with the Indexing program.
This site is for my voice, so I will shout it from the roof tops and as loud as I can.


There are so many records to index out there!
The goal of FamilySearch is to digitize all the microfilms that are in the granite vault and to create an index that will enable people to better use these images to research their roots.

There are many English records to work on, but there are records from everywhere to work on too. I have worked on census records and vital records of several countries and what i find is that it is easier for me to read those whose languages I am most familiar with.

My first experience with this came when we were working on the 1880 US Census.
I had come across a name that, no matter how I looked at it, I was unable to make sense of.
The handwriting was not even the problem. It was actually beautiful.
So, I turned to another indexer who was working on something else and asked her what she thought it was. Without hesitation she said "Felicity" and sure enough once she had said it I could see it too.

There is a need for multilingual people to help.
Not only because you understand the text you are looking at but because you will be more familiar with the names and more likely to recognize them, especially when the handwriting is difficult to decipher. What is hard for you becomes impossible for another and this can affect the accuracy of the end product.

Now, this sounds like the proverbial carrot, I know, but FamilySearch has made good on their promises and will on this too, I have no doubt. "Qualified Indexers" will be given access to databases that are otherwise closed to the public per request of the Archive owner.
A point system has been set up for this purpose.
Some things still have to be worked out at this point (for the Belgian project anyway) but I truly believe it will happen.

Come and help with the Belgian project. You will find greater satisfaction working on this project
- if you are Belgian
- if you read/speak Dutch, French or German fluently

Contact Jean Huysmans and tell him you want to help.

If you want to help with other projects, visit FamilySearch Indexing and click on
"Get started"

There are tutorials to help you learn how to index.
The program is a free download (it is a big program, best downloaded with a high speed connection)

You don't have to go it alone.
There is a feature in the program that enables you to share your work with someone to have them take a look at what you're doing - if you want them to.

Otherwise, the system is simple, with line-by-line instructions right into the form lay-out.

You work as much or as little as you want.
There is no expected quota you must meet.
The batches are small enough that you can index them within 30 minutes but you don't have to do a whole batch in one sitting if you don't have time.
Just close the program and pick up where you left off later
You have a whole week to submit your work.
If you run into a time problem and can not finish, the batch is automatically returned and someone else can pick up where you left off. No questions asked. No bad feelings.

If you are looking to make a difference... consider taking a bite out this elephant...
The task is HUGE and requires many hands.
Many people are already involved but more means faster access but it also means "lighter load" for those who are indexing already.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Try FamilySearch "record Search Pilot"

There is great news on the horizon, even though there is still room for improvement (like making the images for the Belgian records available!!!)

If you have family from Luxemburg (the Grand Duchy), you will be delighted to learn that the Civil Registers have been uploaded online and you can 'scroll' , more like page through, the records as if you were sitting at a microfilm reader in a Family history Center or in another library.
Yes, and it's not just for Luxemburg. There are other countries available too.
We who have BELGIAN only lines, will have to be content (for now) to have access to the index and continue to hope the Archives will let up and realize this would open their archives to the world not make them lose patrons... quite the opposite I think..
Anyway... here is what you do...

Go to

Under the heading "Search Records", choose "Record Search Pilot"
You will be redirected to a page where all the product of FamilySearch Indexing is uploaded.
There is quite a bit of information on Belgium already and hopefully images sometime in the future... )=
Click on "Search or Browse our record collections"
You will see a map come up. Click on Europe or choose from the pull down menu "All regions (48)"

Three choices for Belgium: Births, deaths, marriages - indexes, no images ... yet...

This should be exciting to those who have ancestors who lived on the Luxemburg border as there was often a lot of movement between countries... You might find family members already...
Have fun!

PS: Allow me another pitch from on top of my soap box to invite you to index with FS Indexing... It will never cost you a penny to access the records online, and that's really how it should be.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Are you Looking in Hoogstraten?

I can't remember when I discovered this site but I rediscovered it this morning

I still don't speak Dutch and so I struggle with the contents of this site, therefore, the only way for me to learn what is behind each tab, is to just click...

Under Beeldbank, I discovered pictures: postcards of streets, church, nuns, people of all sorts.
You can even do a search if you prefer to not browse through the different pages.
Just type in a word in the box above the list of selections then press "zoeken".

Under Filmbank, I found old video clips. The quality of the video isn't great but we have all gotten spoiled with HD, let's face it.

Under Erfgoedbibliotheek you can do a search through a series of publications.

The Geluidsbank contains interviews relating to events listed chronologically.

The next tab tells you about the Stedelijk Museum Hoogstraten - of course in Dutch, so if you don't know the language and really want to know what is being said, you might want to do a quick "Free Text" translation at
There is a tab for the museum collections under Collectie.
and the Educatief tab tells about programs offered by the museum.

The Forum is not very active but you can always leave a call for help.

The most valuable tab for the researcher is the one I have kept for last: Genealogie

There you will find 28 links to pdf files containing images of actual birth, marriage and death records from 1797 to 1812.
You can search through them as you see the search menu above:
- by name
- by birth place
- by birth year
- by year of death
- by place of death
or you can save these files to your pc and read through them one page at a time.

Remember that this information is made available to you free of charge and should remain such.
These records may be hard to read so be ready to refer back to the blog article on tackling old records or take this paleography course online to help you extract the information from these original records. This course is for English records but it will help you build confidence in your ability to decipher the old handwriting.

Remember too that the Hoogstraten site is a growing site, so go back periodically to see what has been added.

Happy Hunting!!!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Belgian Archives Update

Don't get your hopes up, access is still limited to the Archives buildings in Belgium BUT
the article they posted to announce the latest released registers is well worth becoming acquainted with. You should be able to apply the same concept to other villages and make use of your local Family History Centers, even if the staff is not up to par with Belgian research.

These latest records are the 1784 census of the Saint Catherine Parish in Bonlez (Brabant). Census records served to figure how much tax each individual should pay. (view example)
It symbolizes Austrian emperor Joseph II's political outlook (enlightened despotism). An earlier local census was taken in Brussels in 1783, but the 1784 census was held in all the Austrian Netherlands.

Contrary to other census, this one did not have any fiscal purpose. The government simply wanted to get a basic idea of the population: an exact count was not necessary. They asked parish priests, through the bishops, to make lists of all those who resided within their parishes, thus given the priests an increased administrative role and holding them responsible for the correctness of the statistical data sent back to Brussels and Vienna. It is important to note that not all priests took this task seriously. The 1784 census must be considered more carefully than previous ones as there was no constraint to give correct answers (no penalty in case of errors).
The Bonlez census is a good example.
When comparing the Bonlez Parish register with the one Private Counsel's official record (Kept at the Archives de l’État in Bruxelles, Conseil Privé, Période autrichienne, c.1340 (19 June 1784)), we notice a difference in the final count of parishers. In the second part, there were 13 people too many. Where is the error? in the numbers sent to Brussels or in the infomration recorded byt the Private Counsel?
For more information on the 1784 census, you can check the works of BRUNEEL (C.), DELPORTE (L.) et PETITJEAN (B.), "Le dénombrement général de la population des Pays-Bas autrichiens en 1784", Centre de services et réseau de recherche. Statistiques historiques en Belgique. Heuristique, inventoriage rédaction et interprétation, Archives de l’Etat, Brussels, 1996.
For the Duchy of Brabant Demography, check COSEMANS (A.)'s work: "De bevolking van Brabant in de 17de en 18de eeuw", Commission Royale d’Histoire, Brussels, 1939.

As I was checking further into this, I also discovered some really nice online literature that can add to your research, unfortunately not in English.

I also discovered a couple of historical sites you may enjoy if you read French:
One on the history of the Ban de Meefe,
and another on the Ban d'Olne

Hope this stirs up your interest as much as it did mine.
For access to the links, visit the Blog's home page at

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A New Decree shortens Cemetery Leases in the Walloon Region

A few years ago, we presented an article in Belgian Laces (BL102) that dealt with the preservation of funeral patrimony. At the time (2005), Xavier Deflorennes, Mr. Cemetery was documenting these Walloon Region cemeteries.

To the horror of many American researchers, used to visiting cemeteries to find information about their departed loved ones, in Belgium, graveyards are not enduring as they are here.
Granted there are many graves here that can no longer be deciphered due the weather but the sexton usually has a record of everyone buried in the cemetery, even where there are no stones.

That is the case for our family's Adeline Cattin who is said to have taught French to Cole Porter, a Peru (IN) native. After taking photographs of every tombstone in the cemetery where she is buried I still never found her and so I contacted the cemetery's office and sure enough, they knew exactly where she was. This gives our family the option to either repair or replace the stone over the grave.

In Belgium, due to lack of space - not lack of heart - graves are leased not purchased.
If, or rather when, the lease expires, the graves are reused.
This can be very disheartening, even disturbing, to the descendants of emigrants who may travel to Belgium hoping to find their ancestors' grave.
Leases can be renewed but when the family leaves the area, they may not have any idea that the lease is due for renewal... And thus, without wanting to sound calloused, new 'occupants' soon fill these graves.

Up until yesterday the lease was up to 50 years. The new rule sets a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of 30. However, should the grave fall into disrepair or show signs of being abandoned, the local administration has the right to advise the families that their loved ones have a year before being 'evicted'. These warnings would go out on All Saints Day, providing a whole year before taking any action. As Xavier Deflorennes remarked when interviewed on the matter, before WWII, people visited cemeteries daily and maintained their loved ones' graves. But times have changed and most graves are only visited once a year on November 1st, All Saints Day. Posting the notices at that time will ensure that the occasional grave site visitor will find the notice and take action. Notices would only go out however if a site has not be maintained for a period of 10 years and is declared 'abandoned'.

The purpose of this decree is to enable towns to better manage their cemeteries, whether it be past (Preservation of funeral patrimony), present (space management) or future (expanding cemetery and crematory sites), while taking into account the needs of the living.

Preservation work will continue: graves dating to before 1945 will be better protected by putting in place a procedure to determine the historic value of a particular monument (former mayors, architectural features, local artists...)

In an effort to help parents grieve the loss of a child during pregnancy (between the 106th and 180th day), the decree gives them the option to bury the foetus.
A special section is also to be dedicated for the burial of infants.
Part of this decree will also address the need for the indigent to have a decent burial (no cost) and for all recognized religious beliefs to be honored, regardless of origins or status.

3,500 cemeteries in the Walloon Region are affected by this decree, of which 5% of these are in bad shape. The decree also fosters the development of ossuaries.

Many people have dedicated their time to helping preserve the special grave sites in Belgium:
My favorite one is (not limited to Belgium)

After you click on "Entrez" you will see the option to -
look at the "Les Photos"
That section gives you access to different types of pictures, including two tours, one of which is the Simenon Tour (Parcours Simenon) that takes you to the grave sites of people who were part of famous author Georges Simenon's life

At the top in the middle however, you will see "Paris", "Nice" and "Ailleurs", which means "Other places", where you will have 4 choices:
- France
- Belgium
- Europe
- the rest of the world

Obviously this site is far from complete but it really contains some beautiful pictures of beautiful graves.

You can also read the History of different cemeteries. The Belgian ones are in:
Robermont, Laeken, Sainte-Walburge, Aubel, Neuville-en-Condroz and Bruxelles

My grandmother's ashes were scattered in a lawn at the Robermont Cemetery.
I am grateful that Joseph Beaujean took the time to take a picture of that lawn.
I had not known until I saw the picture how powerful an effect it would have on me, but it did.

It is interesting to note that between 1979 and 2008, the number of cremation in Belgium has risen from 5,287 to 48,418 according to a statistics study
I guess I won't have to worry about my grandmother's remains being moved.

Another site with funeral monuments is on a Blog "Images de Belgique"

Food for thought anyway...

Monday, February 1, 2010

More Funeral Cards

Try this link for new funeral cards.

Saturday, January 30, 2010


This morning I opened a promising email from the Archives in Belgium.
It seemed to promise the reader access to online parish record images, and since I have been working with FamilySearch Indexing's Belgian project, and have been aware that the Archives had not wanted to release the images online, I was really anxious to see exactly what was happening.

Registres paroissiaux numérisés
Province de Flandre orientale
> Arrondissement d’Audenarde.
Province du Brabant wallon
> Province du Brabant wallon.
Province de Luxembourg
> Arrondissement de Marche-en-Famenne et canton de Saint-Hubert.
Province de Namur
> Province de Namur A-L.
> Province de Namur M-Z.
> Ville de Namur.
NOUVEAU: Province d'Anvers
> Province d'Anvers.
> Première partie: 493 registres issus de 47 paroisses.
> Un aperçu général des registres est consultable sur notre site. Pour la consultation des images, rendez-vous dans une des salles de lecture des Archives de l'État.

I followed the link to the Brabant Province with high expectations.
There was a LOT of villages that would be of great interest to the descendants of Belgian emigrants:
Archennes (Grez-Doiceau), Autre-Eglise (Ramillies), Baisy-Thy (Genappe), Baulers, Beauvechain, Bomal, Bossut, Dongelberg, Folx-les-Caves, Jodoigne, Marilles, Melin, Neerheylissem, to name but a few...
Now, that was impressive.

I have ancestors in Jauche, so I clicked on the link to check out those registers.
A new page opened showing me that they had digitized the St Martin Parish registers and these were listed under sub folders links:

Jauche (Orp-Jauche), paroisse Saint Martin
+ Registres Paroissiaux. Actes
+ Registres Paroissiaux. Actes de baptêmes
+ Registres Paroissiaux. Actes de décès / sépultures
+ Registres Paroissiaux. Actes de mariages
+ Registres Paroissiaux. Extra

Since I was just exploring and not really researching, I just picked one of the sub-links to see where it would lead me and a folder opened with yet another link, so I clicked too and this time was given a new series of sub-folders obviously grouping several series of records.
I hurried up further and I waited and waited and waited... nothing...
The link just opened but nothing came up...

I was using Firefox, so I thought maybe I needed Internet Explorer for it to work so I opened explorer and followed the same steps and...
Now that was a huge let down!

But anyone who knows me knows I can be quite tenacious and so I started clicking on different sub folders. Maybe it was just a fluke... Maybe the folder I was looking at had a bad link...
The same thing happened with all the folders, for all the areas, except for one: Archennes (Brabant), the very first one...
So... forgive me for teasing you by showing you what apparently none of us out here in cyberspace will be able to use since these will only be accessible in the Belgian Archives buildings... What a shame... This sure could have been a tremendous help for many people who do not have a way to go to Belgium or hire someone to go to the Archives for us.

So... back to me teasing you,
The Archennes Parish records contain 4 sub folders:
- Christenings
- Deaths/Burials
- Marriages
- Miscellaneous (communions, etc)

When I clicked on the first link, the folder opened and I clicked it again and had a choice between 4 more folders:
- n° 3/1_C-0001-r - 19/02/1597 - 20/10/1745
- n° 3/2_A-0001-r - 11/10/1745 - 28/09/1796
- n° 3/3_A-0001-r - 15/01/1794 - 02/11/1795
- n° 3/3_A-0005-r - 24/01/1795 - 02/11/1795
I clicked on the first one and was redirected to the actual register... Very nice...

Unfortunately, even though they let you turn the pages, to some extent, and it looked for a minute like they may have disabled the features that would enable you to read the record better, but on the retry the features worked and you can enlarge the image so as to be able to read it.

This really bummed me out so I wrote them an email to ask them how to use the site and tell them how disappointed I was going to be if it turned out to be just a preview of what is available in their buildings, in Belgium... as I had looked forward to preparing an article for the blog to help English-speaking researchers learn to use their site.

They are asking for volunteers too, to help create an index of all these images, through the Demogen project. I for one will stick with FamilySearch Indexing. At least those of us who are indexing will be able at some point to access even the records held by archives who do not want to release them to the public at large. And you know... that's only fair...
Not that people, especially volunteers, ever help in the hope to get something in return but where is the incentive for those of us who can not go to Belgium to the Archives buildings?

I will continue to hope the Belgian Archives will see the need to open their records to the world.
This would defuse the networks of people and societies who are generating outrageous profits from hogging their resources or selling them to the highest bidder.
Records should not be held hostage in that manner!
They should be accessible to all those who are seeking out their ancestors.

So... Here it is... The proverbial carrot that should bring people to the Archives buildings...
Won't be me any time soon... Traveling to Belgium is enticing but not within my budget...
Too bad... This would have been a wonderful tool to work with.

I look forward to the results of the work done for FamilySearch Indexing on the Belgian records. To think they had the records already online and were asked to remove them... So many hopes were dashed that day!
If you have not used the Record Search option on FamilySearch, let me encourage you to check it out. The database is growing and contains amazingly diverse records from a variety of countries and ALL FREE.

If you want to help with the Belgian projects, you will have to contact Jean Huysmans, the project manager, directly as it has not yet been released to the bigger pool of indexers.
Each project has its own set of directions available online with tutorials, as well as direct access to the director who can help you understand what to do.
Be aware that a fluent knowledge of Dutch and/or French is required to help with these projects.
If this does not make a good fit for you, consider the many other projects available through the main program. For that all you need to do is to sign up at and download the software right from the site.

Anyone going to Belgium... let us know what you think of this new tool they have in their Archives building, would you?

For access to all links, please visit our Blog page at