Life-course data on female domestic servants in East Flanders, 1830-1930

In this database you will find data on individual female domestic servants who migrated from the countryside to the city of Ghent in the course of the 19th and early 20th century.

Information sheet

Title: Life-course data on female domestic servants in East Flanders

Author: Dr. Christa Matthys

Population/Subject: domestic servants

Region: East Flanders, Belgium

Period: 1830-1930

Number of units: 11 500 persons, 2000 certificates

Number of variables: 48

Format: CSV, XLS, XML, PDF

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

Context of the database

The MAID database was compiled by Christa Matthys as part of her doctoral research “Sex and the City. Female domestic servants and diffusion of fertility in Flanders, 1830-1930” (supervisor Professor Dr. Isabelle Devos). This research was funded by the Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO).

Life-course analysis has been the dominant approach in historical demography since the late 1980s. The socio-demographic life courses of large groups of individuals are reconstructed and studied in order to discover and explain behavioural patterns. The most appropriate sources for this type of research are population registers.

Belgium is one of the few countries in the world that has kept population registers, starting as early as 1847 (or even earlier in some municipalities). They provide the core data for this database. Population registers were drawn up per municipality following a census. They contain all the individual data from the census and were continuously supplemented with new information until the next census. They recorded births, marriages, migrations, divorces and more.

Thanks to this detailed information, it is possible to reconstruct the lives of people when they left their original municipality. The data from the population registers were supplemented with information from civil registers and other nominal data.

What data can you find in this database?

The database (created in MS Access) contains the life-course data of women born in the East Flemish municipalities of Assenede (polder region) and Eine, Heurne and Mullem (sandy region) between 1830 and 1900.

The base population is composed of four generations of women with the birth years:

  • 1830-1835
  • 1846-1851
  • 1860-1865 
  • 1885

The data about these women were supplemented with those of their sisters. Life-course data were collected in their native village and in Ghent, when they moved to this city. For practical reasons, it was not possible to also collect data from other municipalities. The main source of this database are population registers and these are usually still kept in the municipality itself.

The data were also supplemented with birth, marriage and death certificates and any other available individual information. Central to this database are the life courses between the ages of 15 and 50. Women who died before their 15th birthday or moved to an area outside the scope of the study are therefore not included.

How can you consult data from the database?

The MAID database is managed by the Quetelet Center. Those who are interested in using the database should submit a reasoned request to the staff at the center (

Publications based on MAID

  • Matthys, Christa. “Discourses versus life courses: servants’ extramarital sexual activities in Flanders during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries”. Journal of Urban History 42, no. 1 (2016): 81–100.
  • Matthys, Christa, and Marianne Caron. “La fécondité légitime dans différents agrosystèmes sociaux en Flandre, 1830-1930”. Espace Populations Sociétés. Space Populations Societies, no. 2014/1 (2014). 
  • Matthys, Christa. “Domestic servants and diffusion of fertility control in Flanders, 1830–1930”. The History of the Family 18, no. 4 (2013): 456–80. 
  • Matthys, Christa. “Sex and the city: female domestic servants and the diffusion of fertility control in Flanders, 1830-1930”. Phd diss., Universiteit Gent, 2012. 
  • Matthys, Christa. “‘Laet u niet verleiden door de glans der rykdommen’: het huwelijksgedrag van dienstboden in Vlaanderen tijdens de negentiende eeuw”. In Leven in de Lage Landen: historisch-demografisch onderzoek in Vlaanderen en Nederland, 101–19. Jaarboek 2010. Acco, 2010.