Expert answers on researching Belgian roots.
What advice can you offer on genealogy in Belgium? My husband’s family
came from there, and I would like to know where I can find
information—no one even knows when or how the family got from Belgium to
the United States. All I’ve found so far is it was in the late 1800s.
on the problem you’ve described, it sounds as though you really should
be focusing on researching the family in the United States rather than
Belgium. In order to cross the pond, you first have to pinpoint the
So first, you’ll have to learn who the
immigrant was, when he came to America, and the specific town he came
from. That's because the Belgian genealogical records you'll use will be organized by town. To learn the town name, you’ll need to thoroughly trace each generation of the
family in America, starting with your husband.
You might try
asking your husband’s relatives if they know any family stories that
might provide additional clues, or if they have any family papers that
could contain leads—a naturalization record or a family Bible, for
A good next step would be searching federal census
records for each generation of your husband’s family: Beginning in 1850,
censuses list each person’s place of birth. So if a family member did
in fact immigrate during the late 1800s, census records should indicate
that. Later censuses even tell you parents’ birthplaces.
Searching a passenger list index (such as the Ellis Island database
, which covers 1892 to 1924, or Ancestry.com's immigration collection
) for your husband's ancestors who arrived during the late 1800s also can help you find the immigrant. If that person became a citizen in the late 19th or early 20th
century, his naturalization documents will likely tell you the town
where he last lived in Belgium. Obituaries often provide clues to place of origin, too.
best bet is to check every source you can about each previous
generation, as you never know where a lead is going to turn up. That
includes records about the siblings of your husband’s ancestors: Maybe
your husband’s forebear didn’t apply for citizenship, for example, but
his brother did. (See our article on naturalization records in the May 2008 Family Tree Magazine
Also look to Belgian genealogy organizations and networks, such as the Belgian Roots Project
for help. Since immigrants tended to settle in the same places as their
countrymen and leave their homeland for the same reasons, these groups
could provide historical and social context to help guide your search.
You may also be able to connect with cousins through the groups’ queries and databases.
When you know the immigrant's hometown and you're ready to research in Belgian records, browse our online Belgian Toolkit
to find more resources and websites. Also see the FamilySearch Research Wiki article on Belgium
, which will help you find the Family History Library's microfilmed records from Belgium.
following all these leads, you should be able to find clues to your
husband’s Belgian ancestry—just don’t try to cross the pond prematurely.