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I’m looking for an ancestor who was a slave in Suriname

Slavery was abolished in all Dutch West Indies colonies in 1863. The freed slaves were then officially given both a first name and a surname. The lack of surnames before 1863 makes it very difficult to search for ancestors. And in fact it is almost impossible to track down ancestors before 1830.

How do I proceed?

When carrying out genealogical research, it is important to start from the present and work backwards into the past. First gather together as many relevant documents as you can. Try to find out people’s names, dates and place names.


Before 1863 slaves were occasionally freed by their owners – as a reward for faithful service, for example. Freed slaves often attempted to buy the freedom of their relatives. The freeing of an individual slave is known as manumission. Manumissions were registered and can be found in the index Suriname: Manumissions (in Dutch). In this index you can search for the slave name, as well as the first name and surname they were given after being freed.


A register was also kept when slaves were emancipated in 1863. The slave owners were given 300 guilders for each freed slave by the Dutch government. These payments were reported in the Netherlands Court of Audit archives. You can search for freed slaves in the index Suriname: town slaves (stadslaven) (in Dutch). In this index you can search by their slave name as well as by the first name and surname they were given later on.

Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages (Burgerlijke Stand)

A census was held in Suriname in 1921. This lists everybody who lived in Suriname in 1921, including people who were born as slaves before 1863. This information is not available digitally. You can view the census records on microfilm in the Nationaal Archief reading room. The catalogue reference is

The birth registers of Paramaribo for the period 1828-1907 are available on microfiche. You can request these in the Nationaal Archief reading room. They also list the children of freed female slaves for the period 1828-1863. All births were recorded after 1863.

Note: The Nationaal Archief does not hold birth, death or marriage registers from the rest of Suriname. To search these you can contact the Nationaal Archief in Suriname at

Searching for information from before 1830

As we have said, it is very difficult to find information about the period before 1830. But there are some sources you can try.


A book has been published on manumissions in the period 1816-1827. This book is based on theRegister der Vrijgemaakte slaven en slavinnen Zedert de Weder Inbezitneming dezer Kolonie door het Hollandsch Gouvernement(the Register of Freed Slaves Since the Repossession of this Colony by the Dutch Government). This register is located at theCentraal Bureau voor Burgerzaken(Central Bureau of Civil Affairs) in Paramaribo. Sixty of the more than 1,100 manumitted slaves were given new surnames.

  • Lamur, H.E. and H.E. Helstone, Namen van vrijgemaakte slaven 1816-1827 (Amsterdam,Instituut Nederland, Antillen, Aruba, Suriname voor Onderzoek en Onderwijs,2002). Reference library, reading room of the Nationaal Archief S 12 C 20.

In this book you will find a date, publication in theGeprivilegieerde Surinaamsche Courant, new surname or baptismal name, slave name, age, colour, mother’s name (occasionally), name of owner, name of applicant and, sometimes, the date on which freedom was granted.

You will find information on manumissions before 1816 spread over the following two archives (and therefore difficult to find):

  • Archief Gouvernementssecretarie der kolonie Suriname(Archive of the Government Secretary of the Colony of Suriname) 1722-1828 (catalogue reference
  • Archief Hof van Politie en Criminele Justitie(Archive of the Court of Police and Criminal Justice) 1669-1828 (

There are also some sources besides manumissions for the period before 1830. If your ancestor lived in Paramaribo under a surname, you can find him or her in the district registers in Paramaribo. In the period 1828-1832, the districts in Paramaribo were listed with the letters A-D. There is no alphabetical index. Within the districts, the registers are organised by house number, street by street.

  • District registers from the period 1828-1832: Archive of the municipal authorities of Suriname 1833-1845 (catalogue reference, inventory numbers 58-68.
  • District registers from the period 1833-1845: Archive of the Dutch West Indies Possessions, Governor-General 1828-1845 (catalogue reference, inventory numbers 635-698.

You can also search in theStaat van lidmaten der Evangelische Broedergemeente(Membership list of the Congregation of Evangelical Brethren) drawn up in 1944. This church set itself up as the only faith community ministering to the slaves in Suriname. This list is available online as the index Suriname: Membership of the Congregation of Evangelical Brethren (in Dutch).

And finally, Suriname also has the so-called slave registers. You can search these registers if you know the name of the owner or the name of the plantation. The Nationaal Archief does not hold copies of these registers.

More information

There is a genealogy foundation in Suriname calledStichting voor Surinaamse GenealogieYou will find its website at

  • Ten Hove, Okke et al, Surinaamse emancipatie 1863. Familienamen en plantages(Amsterdam,Bronnen voor de studie van Suriname,volume 24, 2003), Nationaal Archief reference library reading room S 12 C 22.
  • Lamur, H.E. Familienaam & verwantschap van geëmancipeerde slaven in Suriname (Amsterdam, 2004) Nationaal Archief reference library reading room S 12 C 21 A en B. is een samenwerking van Het Genootschap voor het Nationaal Archief, het Nationaal Archief en Spaarnestad Photo
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