Examination of life courses of 284 East Flemish deaf people, 1750-1950

People with a disability form an integral part of every society. Nevertheless, we know very little about the experiences and life courses of people with a disability in the past. The DEAF database offers a unique perspective on how 284 congenitally deaf men and women lived their lives in 18th-, 19th- and early 20th-century East Flanders.

Information sheet

Title: Examination of life courses of 284 East Flemish deaf people

Author: Dr. Sofie De Veirman

Population/Subject: deaf people

Region: East Flanders, Belgium

Period: 1750-1950

Number of units: 7 600 persons, 300 localities, 630 professions

Number of variables: 250

Formaat: CSV, XLS, XML, PDF

Accessibility: No restrictions on top of the general terms and conditions of use of the Quetelet Center.

Context of the database

This database was created by Sofie De Veirman (supervisor Professor Dr. Isabelle Devos) as part of her doctoral project “Breaking the Silence. The experiences of deaf people in East Flanders (1750-1950)”. The database forms part of so-called disability history, the history of people with a disability, which for a long time was neglected in Belgium and the Netherlands. Recently, however, the research field has been enriched with a number of important studies. Nevertheless, many historical studies are limited to institutional histories, pedagogical initiatives or more general works. The notable absence in many of these studies is quantitative data that enable the lives of people with a disability to be analysed statistically on a larger scale and over a longer period.

This database with life-course data on deaf persons, born in East Flanders between 1748 and 1860, is based on unique source material. The Belgian province of East Flanders has some sources that make it possible to identify deaf men and women as far back as the mid-18th century:

  • Military conscription lists
  • Individual bulletins
  • Registration list of the deaf school in Ghent
  • List entitled “Staat van alle de stomme-dooven welke zig bevinden in de provintie Oost-Vlaanderen” (“The state of all deaf-mutes living in the province of East Flanders”)
  • Parish registers
  • Civil registers of births, marriages and deaths
  • Population registers

These sources were used to reconstruct the entire life courses of 284 men and women who had been born deaf in 18th- and 19th-century East Flanders (from birth to death or a move to outside the province).

In order to be able to determine the individual character of the life courses of deaf people, it was necessary to compare the life courses of deaf people with those of people without a disability. This database therefore also contains statistical data on one of the brothers and/or sisters of each deaf person. The life courses of these 284 non-disabled control subjects were also reconstructed from birth to death (or a move to outside the province).

What data can you find in this database?

The following information was collected for each deaf research subject (and non-disabled control subject):

Information regarding the parental family to which they belonged (a total of 252 parental households):

  • Number of children
  • Residence
  • Whether or not the family received poor relief
  • Whether there was more than one deaf person in the family 
  • Name of father and mother
  • Occupation of father and mother
  • Literacy of father and mother
  • Date and place of birth of father and mother
  • Date and place of death of father and mother

Information regarding each deaf and non-disabled research subject:

  • Name
  • Gender
  • Date and place of birth
  • Birth cohort (1: 1748-1810 and 2:1830-1860)
  • Birth order (1: 1748-1810 and 2:1830-1860)
  • Date and place of death
  • Age at death
  • Literacy and education

The names of the two witnesses on the death certificate are also recorded, as are their occupations, residences, ages and relationship to the research subject. The source in which the research subject was identified is also stated.

Information regarding the residences throughout their life course:

Each unique residence is recorded together with the source in which and date on which this residence is mentioned. For each residence, there is a note of the dates on (or between) which the research subject lived at this address (municipality, street name). It is stated whether this residence involves an institution (school or care institution) and whether the subject is resident there at the time. If a subject is a minor when living at this address, this is also indicated.

Information regarding the occupations they engaged in throughout their life course:

Each unique occupational title (including ‘no occupation’ and ‘retired’) was recorded with a reference to the source and date on which this occupation was mentioned. Each occupational title is accompanied by the original description, a contemporary translation and classification into an occupational category (based on Jaspers & Stevens 1985).

Information regarding their own family:

Data recorded for each research subject:

  • Whether and how many times they were married

  • How many children they had, if any
  • Whether they received poor relief

If a subject was married, information is given about the date and place of the marriage.

      Data recorded for the spouse:

      • Name
      • Occupation
      • Literacy
      • Date and place of birth
      • Whether he/she also had a disability

      If the research subject survived his/her partner, the date and place of death of the spouse is also recorded.

      For the four marriage witnesses, information is given regarding their:

      • Name
      • Occupation
      • Age
      • Literacy
      • Relationship to the research subject

      Information regarding the biological children of the research subject:

      The database provides information on:

      • Name
      • Date and place of birth
      • Place of death
      • Date of death (if in the same municipality)
      • Occupation
      • Literacy

      How can you consult data from the database?

      The DEAF database is managed by the Quetelet Center. Those who are interested in using the data from this database should submit a reasoned request to the Quetelet Center (

      Publications based on DEAF

      • De Veirman, Sofie, en Isabelle Devos. “Alle wegen leiden naar een instelling? Institutionaliseringstrajecten van Oost-Vlaamse doven, 1750-1950.” Tijdschrift voor Geschiedenis 132, no. 2 (2019): 203-230.
      • De Veirman Sofie, and Isabelle Devos. “Tussen familie en instelling? Een analyse van de huishoudtrajecten van doven in Oost-Vlaanderen, 1750-1950.” Belgisch Tijdschrift voor Filologie en Geschiedenis/Revue Belge de Philologie et Histoire 95 (2017): 799-832.
      • De Veirman, Sofie, and Isabelle Devos. “Tussen familie en instelling? Een analyse van de huishoudtrajecten van doven in Oost-Vlaanderen, 1750-1950”. Revue Belge de Philologie et d’Histoire, 2017.
      • De Veirman, Sofie, Helena Haage, and Lotta Vikström. “Deaf and unwanted? Marriage characteristics of deaf people in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Belgium: A comparative and cross-regional approach”. Continuity and Change 31, no.2 (2016): 241–73.
      • De Veirman, Sofie. “Deaf and disabled? (Un)Employment of deaf people in Belgium: a comparison of eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century cohorts”. Disability and Society 30, no. 3 (2015): 460–74. 
      • De Veirman, Sofie. “Breaking the silence. Family ties and social networks of the deaf. A case study of East-Flanders, Belgium, 1750-1950”. History of the Family 20, no. 3 (2015): 446–68.
      • De Veirman, Sofie. “Breaking the silence. The experiences of deaf people in East-Flanders, 1750-1950. A life course approach”. PhD diss., Universiteit Gent, 2015.