Visiting The Netherlands

Visit a Dutch archive

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Visit a Dutch archive

When you are looking for your Dutch ancestors, there is a wealth of information available online, and most people will never fly to The Netherlands to do research. But if you want to dig deeper, you may come to a point that you want to continue your genealogy research in a Dutch archive.

Dutch archives

Public archives

The Dutch National Archive is located in The Hague. They keep documents from the Dutch government and its predecessors, the former county Holland, the current province Zuid-Holland, and the former colonies. The main archive of the V.O.C. (Dutch East Indies Company) is also kept here.

There is a provincial archive in each provincial capital (except in Zuid-Holland, where the National Archive doubles as provincial archive). These archives keep documents from the provincial government and from the courts in their province. As the courts maintained birth, marriage and death (BMD) records, these can be found in the provincial archives. The church books that were confiscated in 1811 are often kept there, as are court and notarial archives.

Major cities often have a local archive, smaller towns sometimes participate in a regional archives. Some of the local archives merged with a provincial archive: The archive of the province Noord-Holland, for instance, is also the archive of the city Haarlem and the region Kennemerland, while in the province Drenthe the provincial archive is the only public archive. Local and regional archives maintain documents from the local government, including the population registers and duplicates of the BMD records. In many cases, church books were transferred from the provincial to the local or regional archives.

A few towns do not participate in a local or regional archive; there records are kept in the town hall and can be consulted by appointment.

Some of the smaller local and regional archives can only be visited by appointment, but for most archives, no appointment is necessary. There is no admission fee.

Private archives

The owner of a private archive (e.g. a church) can of course set its own rules for admission and accessibility. If you want to visit a private archive you will have to make your own inquiries.

The best-known private archive is the Central Bureau for Genealogy (CBG). The procedure for visiting is similar to the procedure in public archives, except you have to pay an admission fee. The CBG has a large collection of microfilmed sources from other archives, a genealogy library, newspaper cuttings with BMD announcements, and folders with notes and cuttings on almost any Dutch surname. Enter a family name or place name in the search box on their homepage to see what they have available on your family or town of origin.


To get the most out of your visit, you should prepare it well. You should take the following steps well before you fly to The Netherlands:

About two weeks before you fly to The Netherlands, double-check the opening times and availability of the sources you need.

Just before you go to the archive, check that you have the list of records you want to consult, a pen, plenty of paper, and (if you need it) your laptop and photo camera.

The visit

When you arrive at an archive you report to the reception desk. You will need to register your visit, and probably show your passport or ID card. For some archives you will need a special pass to enter, this will be created on the spot. Bags, coats, food and drinks are not allowed inside the archive (and some archives have strict rules about what you are or are not allowed to take inside). Most archives provide lockers for your personal belongings.

You should tell a staff member that this is your first visit to their archive, and what the goal of your visit is. They will explain the procedures you need to follow, and show you what resources you can find yourself and where they are. In a smaller archive the person who registered you at the reception desk will be the only staff member on duty, while a larger archive may have several study rooms with a help desk in each room.

When you are registered, you enter the study room. Commonly used sources, like church books, BMD acts or the population register are available on microfiche or (occasionally) microfilm, via a self-service system: You get the microfiche you need, put it in the reader, and when you are finished you put it back yourself. Please ask a staff member for the correct procedure before you start taking out microfiches.

When a source you need is not available on microfiche, microfilm, or computer scan, you may order the original documents. The procedure is different for each archive, so ask a member of staff how to proceed. In most archives you will have to wait about half an hour before you get the documents. When you are finished with them, you return them to the designated place, where a staff member will collect them and return them to the deposits.

If you need paper copies, you can order copies from the original documents (you are usually not allowed to take them to a photocopier yourself), or make reader prints from acts on microfiche or microfilm. There will be charges. Photography of documents is allowed in most (but not all) archives, but there will often be special conditions. You should consult a staff member before taking photographs.

Staff members are available to help you if needed. They will:

  1. explain the procedures of the archive;
  2. explain where and how to find the microfiche you need;
  3. help you use the microfiche reader and the microfiche printer;
  4. help you read a hard to decipher word;
  5. help you understand an obsolete phrase in a document.

Usually they will not:

  1. do your research for you;
  2. find the microfiches for you;
  3. print the microfiches for you;
  4. read an act for you;
  5. translate an act for you.

If possible, visit the archive together with a Dutch friend or relative, so that they can help you with reading and translating the Dutch acts.

Did you visit a Dutch archive? Are you planning a visit to a Dutch archive? Please share your experiences in the guestbook.