Netherlands Church History
General Historical Background
The practice of keeping parish registers evolved slowly. The first surviving register is from 1542 at Deventer. Catholic churches in general began requiring baptism, marriage, and death records in 1563; Dutch Reformed churches after 1572. There are Dutch Reformed records for most places after 1650. Dutch church records are usually written in Dutch or Latin.
Note the following points about Dutch church records:
- Large cities have many churches, each serving part of the city. Rural churches often serve several villages and hamlets. Parish boundaries often changed, thus affecting where church records were kept.
- Military churches in garrison towns and cities often kept their own records separate from those of other parishes.
- In many parts of the Netherlands the death registers began later than the baptism and marriage registers.
- The registers of baptisms, marriages, and deaths from different geographic areas vary considerably in the amount of information they provide. Each jurisdiction had its own recordkeeping rules, and each recorder had his own style.
- In some areas the records of people of other faiths were kept by the predominant church. The principal church in the Netherlands was the Dutch Reformed Church.
For more information, see the "Church History" and "History" sections.
Feast Dates. Each day of the year had several patron saints and was a feast day to honor those saints. Some vital events are recorded in church records only by the holy day (feast day) on the church calendar. For example, the feast day called All Saints Day [Allerheiligendag] is 1 November. To convert feast dates to days of the month for either the Julian (old style) or Gregorian (new style) calendar, use the following book:
- Bukke, Inger M., et al. The Comprehensive Genealogical Feast Day Calendar. Bountiful, Utah: Thomson’s Genealogical Center, 1983. (FHL book 529.44 C738; fiche 6054630.)
There is an online source to convert the various calendars at:
Duplicate Church Records
Unfortunately, some of the church records of the Netherlands were destroyed in wars or when parish houses burned. Because of concerns about such destruction, authorities in some areas began requiring copies of church books in the 1700s. Copies were either stored separately or sent to a central archive. These copies are called transcripts or duplicates [afschriften or contra-boeken], and most are housed in state archives or central church archives.
Use duplicates, where available, to supplement parish registers that are missing or illegible. Keep in mind that duplicates often differ slightly from the originals.
Information Recorded in Church Registers
The information recorded in church records varied over time. Later records usually give more complete information than earlier ones. The most important church records for genealogical research are baptism, marriage, and burial registers. Other helpful church records may include confirmation lists, lists of members, church council minutes, and account books. The membership records (lidmaten) are especially helpful in locating people that were moving in or out of a parish, as the place where those people came from or are moving to.
Most Catholic records were written in Latin. Protestant records were generally written in Dutch. Local dialects may have affected the spelling of some names and other words in the church records.
There was no specific record-keeping style for church records. Early records were usually written in paragraph form. As record keeping improved, columns were often used in the entries. However, some places (especially Catholic parishes) used the paragraph format for a long time.
The Roman Catholic faith was accepted in the Netherlands from the fifth century after Christ onward. It became the predominant faith until the 1500s, when the Reformation movements of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Menno Simons began to take hold.
There was much conflict between Catholics and Protestants. In the 1550s the Catholic Church began a counter reformation movement. The Protestants united and fought the Eighty Years’ War against the Spanish, who were Roman Catholics. The Dutch Reformed Church became the state church of the Dutch Republic.
Roman Catholics have remained more predominant in the southern provinces of Limburg and Noord-Brabant.
Based on the doctrine of John Calvin, the Reformed Church was the state church from 1588 to 1795. In 1814 it became known as the Dutch Reformed Church. In 1834, dissenters left the Dutch Reformed Church and established a new church, called the Christian Reformed Church.
Those of the Dutch Reformed religion have remained predominant in all provinces except for Limburg and Noord-Brabant.
Huguenots (French Protestants or Walloons)
Natives of northern France and southern Belgium (known at that time as the Southern Netherlands) who accepted Calvinism were persecuted by Catholics, many of them fleeing to the Northern Netherlands. The oldest Walloon congregation, dating from 1571, is in Middelburg.
Because of their residence in the Netherlands, French immigrants began to adopt the language and customs of their new homeland, and through intermarriage they became integrated into Dutch society. Since the doctrines and teachings of the French Reformed Church and the Dutch Reformed Church were so similar, it was not uncommon for French Protestants to have their children christened in either of these two churches.
Information about Huguenots has been extracted from the parish registers of the French Protestant and Dutch Reformed Churches and entered, in abbreviated form, on cards that now comprise the Collection des Fiches, a section of the Walloon Library now housed in the Central Office for Genealogy. Because it was formerly at Leiden, it is also referred to as the Leiden Collection.
You can also find the French churches under the heading "Walloon Church", the services were mostly spoken and recorded in French.
Effective research in church records requires some understanding of your ancestor’s religion and of the events that led to the creation of church records.
Doopsgezinden or Mennonites (Anabaptists)
Anabaptist doctrines were first preached in Zurich, Switzerland. They spread to southern Germany and then to the Netherlands, where, by 1543, the movement had gained a large following. They were called Mennonites after one of their most influential leaders, Menno Simons. Mennonites believed that only adults should be baptized, so baptism records of infants do not exist. They did keep birth records of those in their congregations.
Originally, many Mennonites belonged to the social classes of small craftsmen, storekeepers, and farmers, but due to their industriousness and frugality they became people of means. Their religious doctrines did not allow them to hold government positions or bear arms. In time, however, the majority of the Mennonites became politically active and joined the Dutch Reformed Church.
As of 31 December 2006 there are still 8632 members of the Mennonite faith in the Netherlands.
The first Lutheran congregations were founded in the late 1500s. They were, in large part, the result of substantial numbers of German and Scandinavian immigrants. While few people in the Netherlands accepted Luther’s teachings, the doctrine of the Lutheran Church had considerable influence on the doctrines of the other Protestant churches.
The Remonstrant religion grew out of intense ideological debates within the Dutch Reformed Church. The Remonstrant Church, or Brotherhood, was founded in 1619 in Belgium. The religion was slowly tolerated by the state church in the 13 Netherlands, and nearly 50 congregations were established by 1700.
Other Christian Groups
Episcopalians, Greek Catholics, Presbyterians, Puritans, and other groups have existed in the Netherlands since the 1600s.
For more information about the history of the Presbyterians and Puritans, see the following source:
Sprunger, Keith L. Dutch Puritanism: A History of English and Scottish Churches of the Netherlands in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth 'Centuries.'''
Many books about church history of the Netherlands are available. Look in the Place search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
NETHERLANDS – CHURCH HISTORY
NETHERLANDS, [PROVINCE] – CHURCHHISTORY
NETHERLANDS, [PROVINCE], [TOWN] –