Tippin' the Scales


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From The Archives #04

Register of purchased Citizenship from 1584 till 1605. Click for a broader view

Starting around 1531, residents of Amsterdam could become citizens. Citizens had more rights than mere inhabitants. Citizenship, which could be acquired through birth or marriage, could also be purchased by those born outside Amsterdam. All citizens were listed in the register of citizens and given a certificate of citizenship which could be shown as proof of their status.

Only citizens could hold public office or become members of a guild – a prerequisite to practising most trades and professions. Orphaned children whose parents had been citizens were eligible for admission to the Municipal Orphanage [Burgerweeshuis*], the institution reserved for such children. Other orphans went to less well-endowed orphanages run by churches and charitable institutions.

The registers of citizens contained thousands of names of Amsterdammers. The reading room of the Municipal Archives has files arranged according to name, occupation and place of birth. The registers of citizens cover the years 1531-1811. Unfortunately, the series is incomplete.

Few certificates of citizenship have survived. The Treasury has the certificate belonging to a miller from Loosdrecht, who became a citizen by marrying the daughter of an Amsterdam citizen, and the certificate of a certain Carl Sommers, whose position – lieutenant in a regiment of hussars – meant that he was exempt from paying the usual fee.

The register of citizens kept in the Treasury is open at the page for 1586, the year following the fall of Antwerp to the Spanish. These two pages contain the names of 15 new citizens; four of them came from Antwerp and seven came from other parts of Flanders. Of the new citizens registered in Amsterdam between 1585 and 1589, 54 percent came from the Southern Netherlands.

The registers of citizens record the place of birth of citizens who were not natives of Amsterdam. The reading room has a system enabling you to search for place names. Here you will find the modern spellings (of places that still exist) and where the places were or are situated.

* The Municipal Orphanage [Burgerweeshuis] is now the Amsterdam Historical Museum.

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