Belgium Emigration and Immigration

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Online Records[edit | edit source]

These sources cover multiple countries.

Additional online sources unique to each country of destination are listed below.

Finding the Town of Origin in Belgium[edit | edit source]

If you are using emigration/immigration records to find the name of your ancestors' town in Belgium, see Belgium Finding Town of Origin for additional research strategies.

Belgium Emigration and Immigration[edit | edit source]

"Emigration" means moving out of a country. "Immigration" means moving into a country. (See Immigration into Belgium.)
Emigration and immigration sources list the names of people leaving (emigrating) or arriving (immigrating) in the country. These sources may be passenger lists, permissions to emigrate, or records of passports issued. The information in these records may include the emigrants’ names, ages, occupations, destinations, and places of origin or birthplaces. Sometimes they also show family groups.

Emigration[edit | edit source]

Dark thin font green pin Version 4.png One option is to look for records about the ancestor in the country of destination, the country they immigrated into. See links to immigration records for major destination countries below.

Records of Belgian Emigrants in Their Destination Nations[edit | edit source]

Canada[edit | edit source]

Canada Online Sources[edit | edit source]

Canada Background[edit | edit source]

  • Belgian Canadians are Canadian citizens of Belgian ancestry or Belgium-born people who reside in Canada. According to the 2011 census there were 176,615 Canadians who claimed full or partial Belgian ancestry. It encompasses immigrants from both French and Dutch-speaking parts of Belgium.
  • People from the Southern Netherlands (present-day Belgium) first arrived in the 1660s. A trickle of artisans came to New France before the 1750s.
  • In the mid-19th century there were enough arrivals to open part-time consulates in Montreal, Quebec City and Halifax.
  • After 1859 the main attraction was free farm land. After 1867 the national government gave immigrants from Belgium preferred status, and encouraged emigration to the Francophone Catholic communities of Quebec and Manitoba.
  • Édouard Simaeys became a part-time paid Canadian agent in Belgium to publicize opportunities in Canada and facilitate immigration. The steamship companies prepared their own brochures and offered package deals to farm families. By 1898 there was a full-time Canadian office in Antwerp which provided pamphlets, lectures and specific travel advice.
  • By 1906 some 2,000 Belgians a year were arriving, most with skills in agriculture.
  • A third wave of immigration took place after 1945, with urban areas the destination. The 1961 census counted 61,000 Canadians of Belgian ancestry.
  • During the Second World War, Belgian émigrés from Canada and elsewhere in the Americas were formed into the 2nd Fusilier Battalion of the Free Belgian Forces, which was based in Canada.[1]

England[edit | edit source]

England Online Records[edit | edit source]

England Background[edit | edit source]

  • The first wave of many thousands of French-speaking Protestants were Walloon refugees who arrived in England from the Spanish Netherlands (now Belgium and the Netherlands) in 1567, having been forced to flee the suppression of Protestantism by King Philip of Spain’s forces lead by the Duke of Alva.
  • Protestant immigrants from Flanders and Brabant spoke Flemish, a Dutch dialect, and can thus easily be confused with Dutch settlers. Edward III (1327-1377) encouraged the Flemish to settle in England, as he valued their silk and other textile skills. Other waves came in 1551 and 1567 fleeing the occupying Catholic Spaniards, as did the Walloons. They settled primarily in south eastern England, particularly in London, Norwich and Canterbury and were employed especially in silk weaving, the New Draperies and market gardening. In the 17th century more Flemish immigrants arrived with the Dutch to drain the fens of East Anglia (Beharrell).[2]
  • Both before and after the 1708 passage of the Foreign Protestants Naturalization Act, an estimated 50,000 Protestant Walloons and French Huguenots fled to England, with many moving on to Ireland and elsewhere. In relative terms, this was one of the largest waves of immigration ever of a single ethnic community to Britain.
  • Of the refugees who arrived on the Kent coast, many gravitated towards Canterbury, then the county's Calvinist hub. Many Walloon and Huguenot families were granted asylum there. Some of these immigrants moved to Norwich, which had accommodated an earlier settlement of Walloon weavers. [3]

Germany[edit | edit source]

Germany Online Records[edit | edit source]

Germany Background[edit | edit source]

Sweden[edit | edit source]

Sweden Online Records[edit | edit source]

Sweden Background[edit | edit source]

  • A large group of emigrants left Wallonia to work in promoting mining and industry in Sweden. Walloons are a Romance ethnic group native to Belgium, principally its southern region of Wallonia. For more, see: Vallons in Sweden.
  • The history of Walloon immigration to Sweden begins with industrialists Guillaume de Bèche (Willem de Besche; 1573-1629) and Louis De Geer (1587–1652), known as "the father of the Swedish steel industry". Five to ten thousand Walloons emigrated to Sweden, mainly working in the steel industry. During the 1920s, trade unions presented them to Swedish workers as mythical models.
  • On 28 January 1613, the King of Sweden put an end to the Kalmar War and was forced to make an expensive peace with the King of Denmark. He had to borrow money to pay his debts. In 1616, he approached the Dutch, offering the abundant iron mines of Sweden as collateral. Louis de Geer, from Liège, contacted the Besche brothers, one of whom, Guillaume de Bèche, had been established in Sweden since 1595 and was exploiting the iron works of Nyköping and Finspång with Walloons exiled from the Low Countries for religious reasons.
  • From 1620, between 5,000 and 10,000 Walloons emigrated to Sweden for economic and religious reasons. The Swedes were amazed by their technical knowhow, which helped them to make great progress in the steel industry. Between 1620 and 1650, Swedish steel exports trebled, reaching 17,500 tons a year, in particular for the English navy.[4]

United States[edit | edit source]

United States Online Sources[edit | edit source]

United States Background[edit | edit source]

  • According to the 2019 US census, there are 339,512 Americans who identify themselves as partially or fully of Belgian ancestry.
  • During the 17th century, colonists from the Southern Netherlands (the area of modern-day Belgium) lived in several of the Thirteen Colonies of North America. Settlements already existed in New York — in Wallabout (Brooklyn), on Long Island and Staten Island—and New Jersey (Hoboken, Jersey City, Pavonia, Communipaw, and Wallkill).
  • Later, other settlers moved into the Middle States.
  • There were also Southern Netherlands colonies in Connecticut, Delaware, and Pennsylvania established primarily by Walloons, many of whom arrived with the Dutch West India Company (founded by Willem Usselincx, a Fleming).
  • The first major wave of people from Belgium arrived to the United States during the 19th century, looking better economic and social conditions for their families. Belgian immigrants were first registered in 1820; from then to 1910, 104,000 Belgians entered the U.S. and from 1910 to 1950, the number dropped to 62,000.
  • Between 1847 and 1849 (when Belgium was plagued with disease and economic hardship), 6,000–7,000 Belgians a year arrived in the United States.
  • During this era, most Belgians coming to the U.S. were farmers, farm workers or miners; craftsmen (such as masons, cabinetmakers or carpenters) or other persons engaged in commerce (such as lace-makers or glass blowers).
  • During the 20th century many Belgians arrived in the United States to work in spaces such as universities, laboratories and industry. This is especially true after the world wars ended.
  • From 1820 to 1970, about 200,000 Belgians emigrated to the United States. Since 1950, about 1,350 Belgians migrate to the United States each year.[5]
Wisconsin[edit | edit source]

“America fever” hit a number of Brabant and Namur towns in the 1850s. Two areas, one Flemish, located south of Leuven, and one Walloon, near Wavre, saw a significant portion of their population leave for Wisconsin. They settled mainly in and around Green Bay, in the Door, Brown, and Kewaunee counties. The state of Wisconsin encouraged this migration through an advertising campaign, which was also buttressed later by the so-called spekbrieven or “bacon-letters” of emigrants and the promotion of shipping agents. This explains the high number of Belgians in Wisconsin in the census of 1860, 4,674, a number which according to some is much too low. Everaert estimates the number of Belgians in Wisconsin to be 7,000 in 1862.[6]




Immigration into Belgium[edit | edit source]

As of 2007, nearly 92% of the population had Belgian citizenship, and other European Union member citizens account for around 6%. The prevalent foreign nationals were Italian (171,918), French (125,061), Dutch (116,970), Moroccan (80,579), Portuguese (43,509), Spanish (42,765), Turkish (39,419) and German (37,621). In 2007, there were 1.38 million foreign-born residents in Belgium, corresponding to 12.9% of the total population.

At the beginning of 2012, people of foreign background and their descendants were estimated to have formed around 25% of the total population i.e. 2.8 million new Belgians. Of these new Belgians, 1,200,000 are of European ancestry and 1,350,000 are from non-Western countries (most of them from Morocco, Turkey, and the DR Congo). Since the modification of the Belgian nationality law in 1984 more than 1.3 million migrants have acquired Belgian citizenship. The largest group of immigrants and their descendants in Belgium are Moroccans.[7]

Belgo-Congolese, Belgo-Rwandans and Belgo-Burundians[edit | edit source]

  • On 18 October 1908, the Belgian Parliament voted in favour of annexing the Congo as a Belgian colony. On 15 November 1908 the Belgian Congo became a colony of the Belgian Kingdom.
  • Opening up the Congo and its natural and mineral riches for the Belgian economy remained an important motive for colonial expansion, but other priorities, such as healthcare and basic education, gradually gained in importance.
  • After World War I, Germany was forced to cede "control" of the Western section of the former German East Africa to Belgium. On 20 October 1924, Ruanda-Urundi (1924–1945), which consisted of modern-day Rwanda and Burundi, became a Belgian League of Nations mandate territory, with Usumbura as its capital.
  • On 13 January 1959, King Baudouin of Belgium addressed the nation by radio and declared that Belgium would work towards the full independence of the Congo.[8]


  • Over the past 60 years, more than 280,000 people emigrated from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Belgium, with those arriving in Brussels establishing the Congolese community in the Matonge neighbourhood. The area was named after a district of the DRC’s capital Kinshasa by the first wave of Congolese arrivals – students looking to live close to the Free University of Brussels. The first waves of Congolese arrivals did not make long-term plans in Belgium, hoping to return to their home country after the situation improved there.[9]


  • Belgo-Congolese, Belgo-Rwandans and Belgo-Burundians, with some 110,000 people now living in Belgium, are the third largest population group stemming from immigration from outside the European Union. Migrations from Congo, Rwanda and Burundi to Belgium are recent and are the result of initiatives by individuals or families: to study, rejoin their families or escape from conflicts.
  • Belgo-Congolese, Belgo-Rwandan and Belgo-Burundian people have come to live permanently in Belgium. The fact that they are becoming more anchored in society is evidenced by the improved social inclusion of second generation Afro-descendants who were born and socialized in Belgium. [10]

Moroccans in Belgium[edit | edit source]

  • Moroccans and people of Moroccan descent, who come from various ethnic groups, form a distinct community in Belgium and part of the wider Moroccan diaspora. They represent the largest non-European immigrant population in Belgium and are widely referred to as Belgo-Marocains in French and Belgische Marokkanen in Dutch.
  • There has been a Moroccan presence in Belgium since 1912 when France began recruiting workers from its North African colonies as immigrant workers, allowing some to cross into Belgium. At the time, Morocco possessed a largely agrarian economy and labour migration was attractive to many young men. There were thought to be 6,000 Moroccans living in Belgium by 1930, predominantly in industrial towns in Wallonia.
  • Belgium's economic recovery in the aftermath of World War II was based the rapid revival of coal mining and heavy industry which experienced an acute shortage of labour. The Belgian government created various guest worker programs aimed at encouraging workers to travel to Belgium on work contracts. A guest worker agreement was signed with Morocco on 17 August 1964. This made Morocco the first North African state to make such an agreement with Belgium. In following years significant numbers of Moroccan workers, mainly single men, were recruited for work in Belgium. The program was cancelled in August 1974 amid the fall in demand created by the 1973–1975 recession. However, the spread of family reunification and high birth rates led to the rapid expansion of the community after the scheme's abolition.
  • In following years, there was also immigration into Belgium from students and political dissidents opposed to the regime of King Hassan II.
  • In Belgium, the number of people of Moroccan origin (at least one parent born with Moroccan nationality) was 430,000 as of 1 January 2012, or about 4% of the country's population. This proportion is 6.7% for those under 15 years of age. This figure has more than doubled in 20 years. With a percentage of 4%, the Moroccan population (counting the Belgians of Moroccan origin) has the highest percentage in Europe among Moroccans residing abroad.[11]

Turks in Belgium[edit | edit source]

  • Turks in Belgium, also referred to as Turkish Belgians or Belgian Turks, are people of Turkish ethnicity living in Belgium. The majority of Belgian Turks descend from the Republic of Turkey; however there has also been significant Turkish migration from other post-Ottoman countries including ethnic Turkish communities which have come to Belgium from the Balkans (especially from Bulgaria, Greece, Kosovo, North Macedonia and Romania), the island of Cyprus, and more recently Iraq and Syria.
  • Turkish migration to Belgium began in the 1960s when Belgium was actively encouraging immigration to meet its employment needs in an era of rapid economic expansion.These immigrants were welcomed as "guest workers" when Turkey signed a bilateral agreement with Belgium in July 1964. As mainly unskilled labourers, Turkish immigrants hoped to make a fortune in a short time and then return to Turkey. The majority of Turkish migrants arrived from the rural regions of central Anatolian provinces, particularly from Afyon, Eskisehir, and Kayseri.Many settled in the industrialised areas and later brought families when Belgium attempted to resolve the growing problem of low population by encouraging family reunions.
  • Since the entry of Bulgaria into the European Union, thousands of Bulgarian Turks, among whom many were already working in Belgium as undocumented foreigners, have established themselves under the status of independent workers, i.e. officially minor associates in small firms, mostly in the building and cleaning sector.
  • The majority of Turks living in Belgium originate from the region of Emirdağ although there are also many Turks from Sivas and Piribeyli who found their way to Belgium. Some 49.8% live in the Flemish region, 25.2% in Wallonia, and 25% in Brussels. Turks from the same region in Turkey also tend to congregate not only in the same cities but also in the same quarters. The majority of Turks live in the Schaarbeek commune.
  • The census of 1970 counted 21,000 Turks; in the part-census of 1977 this figure had risen to 60,000. In 1993, some 88,269 people with Turkish nationality were registered in Belgium. [12]

For Further Reading[edit | edit source]

Many additional sources are listed in the FamilySearch catalog:

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Belgian Canadians", in Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belgian_Canadians, accessed 3 May 2021.
  2. "England Church History", in Wikipedia, https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/index.php?title=England_Church_History&action=edit&section=10, accessed 5 May 2021.
  3. "Huguenots", in Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huguenots, accessed 5 May 2021.
  4. "Walloon immigration to Sweden", in Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walloon_immigration_to_Sweden, accessed 3 May 2021.
  5. "Belgian Americans", in Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belgian_Americans, accessed 4 May 2021.
  6. "BELGIAN IMMIGRATION TO AMERICA UNTIL 1880", The Belgian American blog, https://thebelgianamerican.com/2019/03/06/belgian-immigration-to-america-until-1880/, accessed 4 May 2021.
  7. "Belgium", in Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belgium, accessed 3 May 2021.
  8. "Belgian Congo", in Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belgian_Congo, accessed 5 May 2021.
  9. "Belgium’s Congolese mark 60 years since DRC’s independence", In Aljazeera, https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2020/6/30/belgiums-congolese-mark-60-years-since-drcs-independence, accessed 5 May 2021.
  10. "Belgo-Congolese, Belgo-Rwandans and Belgo-Burundians: facing discrimination despite a long shared history", at the King Baudouin Foundation, https://www.kbs-frb.be/en/Newsroom/Press-releases/2017/20171122AJ, accessed 5 May 2021.
  11. "Moroccans in Belgium", in Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moroccans_in_Belgium, accessed 5 May 2021.
  12. "Turks in Belgium", in Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turks_in_Belgium, accessed 5 May 2021.