Finding archives in Belgium is perhaps the most difficult task for an historian, because, for historical reasons, documents are scattered in various localities!
The most important divisions in the classification of archives are:
(l) State archives, (2) Provincial archives, (3) City archives, (4) Communal archives, (5) Diocesal archives, (6) Parish archives.
But there are other important “dépôts” not included above, such as the “Archives Générales du Royaume”, (Rue de Ruysbroeck, 2, 1000 Brussels).
Even so, all state archives are not deposited in this central depot (which itself consists of many divisions at different addresses), and state archives are tenaciously held in such places as:
Antwerpen: Door Vertraeteplaats, 5
Arlon: Rue de la Gare, 20
Brugge: Academiestraat 14
Gent: Geraard de Duivelstraat 1
Hasselt: Bampslaan 4
Kortrijk: Guido Gezellestraat
Liège: Rue Pouplin 8
Mons: Place du Parc, 23
Namur: Rue d’Arquet, 45
The National Archives concerning Belgian nobility are in the Ministère des Affaires Etrangères.
Provincial archives are found in the provincial capitals of the ten Provinces: Antwerp, Walloon Brabant, Flemish Brabant, East-Flanders, Hainaut, Liège, Limburg, Luxembourg, Namur, West-Flanders.
Political party archives may be found at Party headquarters.
Important collections of church-related archives are in Antwerp, Brugge, Brussels, Ghent, Liège, Tournai, and in all important “cathedral” towns in Belgium.
To find a legal document, enlist the aid of a lawyer, or someone familiar with local legal customs. For example, marriage contracts are kept in communal archives; patents are at the Ministère des Affaires Economiques; births are registered with the commune but also in many cases with the parish. There are document catalogs which help immensely. It is assumed that a scholar who plans to consult documents will be familiar with such catalogs. If he is not, he should ask his Belgian host or sponsor about them.
Belgian libraries, archives, and museums are very rich in original documents, books, and collections of paintings, etc. In addition, they have all of the modern aids to research, such as photocopying, moulage, inter-library loans, etc. They make provision for serious scholars, having “Salles de Travail” in the public libraries and other centers, as well as the “seminar” rooms in the university libraries. The “dilettante”, or amateur, may be rebuffed. There isn’t staff or space to take care of “popular” demands, as is done in the United States. But, if able to tell the director or conservator at first meeting exactly what his project is and what he hopes to find, the scholar will be introduced to the person who really knows what is available in his field.