Tag Archives: archives

Useful Document for Researching Belgian Immigrants to US

Antwerp Baggage Disinfection Room
“Everything for passengers is done free of charge in this building.”

I recently discovered a document on the web site of the Felix Archives (the Antwerp city archives) called Emigration to America (this is a PDF). It seems to date back to 1999, but is still useful, especially considering no documents newer than 75 years ago are available anyways, and this document lists what documents exist in archives related to people living in Antwerp that may have emigrated to the US. The document was put together by the Archivist of the City of Antwerp. The availability dates mentioned are certainly out of date – for example it refers to certain collections available up to 1915, but those collections are now available to at least 1930 if not later. This is because as time goes on, more records are made publicly available.

Some of the interesting records mentioned in the document include registers from hotels and boarding houses, and emigration lists of third-class passengers from 1892 forward (second-class and first-class passengers were not recorded in these registers because American immigration restriction did not apply to them).

Some of the archives mentioned in the document include:

  • Antwerp City Archives (Stadsarchief Antwerpen)
  • Provincial Archives Antwerp (Provinciaal Archief Antwerpen)
  • National Archives Antwerp (Rijksarchief Antwerpen)
  • National Archives Beveren (Rijksarchief Beveren)
  • National Archives of Belgium, Brussels (Algemeen Rijksarchief Brussel)
  • Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Brussels (Archief van het Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken, Brussel)
  • National Archives, The Hague (Algemeen Rijksarchief Den Haag)
  • Rotterdam Municipal Archives (Gemeentearchief Rotterdam)

as well as these in the US:

  • National Archives and Records Administration
  • Ellis Island
  • National Archives Regional Center in New York
  • New York Municipal Archives

and these genealogy societies:

  • Flemish Association for Family Research
  • (Vlaamse Vereniging voor Familiekunde)
  • Netherlands Genealogical Association

Keep in mind that some of the documents mentioned as being in specific archives (in 1999) are now in different archives. In particular the central immigrant police files are now in the National Archives in Brussels.

Did your family live in or pass through Antwerp, Belgium?

I’m looking for people whose relatives lived in Antwerp by the 1920s. Antwerp, as one of the largest port cities in Europe, was host to many people who left their homes in other parts of Europe and made their way to Belgium, sometimes permanently and sometimes just briefly on their way elsewhere, such as to the US.

I wrote an article back in November on researching Jewish relatives that passed through Belgium, but it is now woefully out of date due to changes at the web site of the Felix Archives in Antwerp. As part of updating that article (which is the basis of a lecture I’ll be giving in August – more on that later) I’d like to find a few people with families who lived in Belgium so I can help them find records, and at the same time update my knowledge of the archives.

If your family lived in Antwerp in the 19th century up through the 1920s, please send me an e-mail with the following information:

- Name of family member(s) that lived in Antwerp
- Where they lived before Antwerp (and where they were born if different)
- When they arrived in Antwerp
- When they left Antwerp

Also, let me know if you’ve ever researched your family members in the Felix Archives in Antwerp or the State Archives in Brussels, and if there are other archival resources in Belgium you’ve used to find out about your family there.

Thank you.

British Mandate Publications

This posting is a bit tangential to genealogy, so for those not interested, I apologize. However, researching history goes hand-in-hand with researching your family. It’s hard to understand what is going on in your family tree without understanding what was going on around your family at the time.

In the period between WWI and shortly after WWII, the British government ruled the area which now constitutes Israel and Jordan. That area was called the British Mandate of Palestine (the ‘mandate’ given to the British by the League of Nations). What is now Jordan was split off in 1922 as Transjordan, and eventually became the modern state of Jordan (technically the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan). The remaining area is now the State of Israel and the territories (Gaza, which was captured by Egypt, and the West Bank, captured by Jordan, during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948-49 and later captured by Israel in the Six Day War of 1967).

Back to the British. It’s important to realize that the period of the British Mandate was the apex of the British imperial empire. After WWI, the British ruled over the largest land mass in its history (1.8 million square miles) and yet it really was the beginning of the end of the empire. During the interwar years, and following WWII, the British Empire began to unravel.

During this transitional period, the British government published quite a bit about what was going on in their empire. Many of their publications, even though they dealt with far-flung parts of the empire, were either published or at least made available by the British Mandate government. When the British left in 1948, they left behind many of their government documents which found their way into what became the Israel State Archives.

While many of the documents from this period deal specifically with the British Mandate of Palestine, the variety of documents is actually quite interesting. Many documents deal with the British during WWI and WWII. War Office. Colonial Office. Parliamentary debates. Naval law. Education. Police. Prisons. Railway. Agricultural and Veterinarian studies. Archaeology. Water. Documents related to France, Egypt, Iraq, India, Yemen, Transjordan, Sudan, Turkey, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), West Indies, Kenya, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Gambia and more.

Some documents of interest to genealogists (besides for general history) include a phone book from Iraq in 1945 and phone books of the Palestine Mandate from 1946 and 1947. A guide to transliterating geographical and personal names from Arabic and Hebrew into English that was published in 1931. Several reports deal with the Arab riots in 1920, 1929, etc. which presumably list the names of the victims.

Of course, as the government was British, the great majority of documents published were in English. For those people interested in general British history, there are probably better ways to search for these documents, although browsing the Israel State Archives catalog might give you some idea of what documents you want to look for elsewhere.

The Palestine Gazette, the official publication of the government for all legal notices and publications of new laws, etc. also included name changes during the period, although these are already indexed and searchable on the Israel Genealogical Society web site.

Other British Mandate documents made searchable on the Israel Genealogical Society web site include part of the 1922 census (from Petah Tikva and Tel Aviv) and a collection of lists of medical practitioners. The 1922 census is available to anyone online, but the medical practitioners list is only available to IGS members. Thanks to Rosie Feldman for pointing out these additional resources.

By now you might be wondering where on the Israel State Archive’s web site you can search their catalog of British Mandate government publications. The fact is, you can’t search for it there. The Israel State Archives does not have this index online. In fact, while it was put onto a computer roughly twenty years ago, they no longer even know where that computer file exists anymore, if it does at all. Like many government archives, they have their budget issues and I don’t blame them for these problems. So how do you search this catalog? The archive has a printout from 1993 on fading paper from when it was computerized back then. You can go to the archive and look at it if you’d like of course, but the purpose of this posting, besides making people aware of this archival resource, is to make available a digital version of this catalog.

I didn’t re-type the catalog. It’s 111 pages. What I’ve done is scanned the catalog, applied optical character recognition to the pages so it is semi-searchable, and put the whole thing online. I say semi-searchable because the document was in such poor shape that I wouldn’t rely on the search exclusively to find entries in the catalog. Also, there are about 9 pages of Hebrew documents at the end of the catalog which are not searchable at all (for those who can read Hebrew).

In order to access these documents in the archives, you need to go to the archive building in Jerusalem. It’s in a nondescript building in the Talpiyot neighborhood. See their web site for details on hours, etc. The code given in the catalog needs to be ‘translated’ into a location code using a second document they have there, which maps the codes. I can put this online too if there’s interest, but if you’re already going down to the archive to look at documents, this will only take a few minutes there anyways. For those documents not specific to the Palestine Mandate, and many of those that are, you can probably also find these same documents in British archives and other archives of former British territories.

I’ve posted the document using Google Docs, which allows anyone to browse the document as well as search it. Keywords used in the search are highlighted yellow in the document (orange when the current selection). Considering the original shape of the document, the OCR was surprisingly good and the searching works fairly well.

Example of highlighted search terms in the catalog

So check out my online catalog of the British Mandate of Palestine government publication index from the Israel State Archives.

I’m not sure where to put a link to this for future reference, but for the time being I’ve added it to the my list of links in the right column of the blog (scroll down to bottom right of this page). You can always search for this posting too.