Delft in Leeuwenhoek's time did not have civil and criminal courts that dealt with the range of behaviors that they do today. The magistrate's court considered only the most serious offenses, such as murder, and the most intractable social problems. In many difficult or sensitive cases, the magistrates joined the sherrif, mayors, and secretaries, meeting under the leadership of the pensionary, as the Heren van de Wet (Gentlemen of the Law).

Everything else was the purview of the notaries. Often from regent families, these men were admitted to the profession at the national, not local level. At various times during his life, Leeuwenhoek used notaries from Delfshaven, Rotterdam, Gouda, and den Haag. In their turn, the notaries could practice in any city.

The oil on the right was painted by Job Adriaensz. Berckheyde in 1672. When people wanted to settle disputes or make agreements, they turned to a notary. The notaries had clerks, who often did the actual writing. Some transactions required witnesses, such as two magistrates (schepenen). Thus, Delft's notary archives are among the best places to learn what life in Leeuwenhoek's time was like.

About a quarter of all the notary acts (akten) are wills and pre-nuptial agreements (testamenten and huwelijksvoorwaarden). The rest concern a variety of people's daily affairs: sales, rental agreement, neighborhood arguments, commerce, paternity, guardian appointments, etc. Together, they give a detailed picture of society during the Dutch Golden Age. These pictures can be sad, graphic, and even comical, but certainly also illustrative and memorable.

The notaries' digitized archives are becoming available, slowly, at the Digital Arena. Its search function has a drop-down list of over a hundred and twenty types of notary acts, including:

  • estate account
  • property settlement
  • docket
  • security
  • bail
  • construction specifications
  • codicil
  • compromise
  • contract
  • trustee appointment
  • divorce
  • oath (of office) swearing
  • rentmarriage license
  • marriage conditions (pre-nuptial agreement)
  • indemnity
  • summons, warrant, writ
  • interrogation
  • inventory
  • buy and sell
  • apprenticeship contract
  • annuity
  • liquidation
  • partnership
  • employment contract
  • arbitration
  • judgment
  • insurance
  • attestation
  • lending
  • appointment
  • confirmation
  • charter
  • household effects
  • majority (age)
  • nationalization
  • bond
  • interrogation
  • public rental
  • public sale (auction)
  • ordinance
  • transfer of property
  • agreement
  • privilege
  • account
  • petition
  • marital separation
  • donation
  • confession of guilt
  • sentence (punishment)
  • valuation
  • testament (will)
  • transport
  • vows
  • judgment
  • guardianship
  • bill of exchange

Behind what is available at Digital Arena, the notary archives are available on microfiche. See the Inventaris van het oud notarieel archief, 1574-1842 (ONA - Old Notary Archive). The photograph on the right shows a 17th century Dutch notary's cabinet.