Monday, September 30, 2013

Six Things To Know About Dutch Genealogy

So you've got ancestors from the Netherlands. Congratulations! There are great resources available to you to make your genealogy research easier. But there are a number of things you need to know about before you jump in and research your Dutch ancestors.

First, In the past, we did our research by reading microfilms at the local LDS Family History Center. Now, a lot of source documents can be viewed on-line. So much so that you can literally spend all your time doing just on-line research. You can find those source records in the Netherlands section of It doesn't contain everything, though. But if, for example, you need to see church records from Overijssel, you can try Von Papier Naar Digital. After downloading the records you need, you can crop and resize the images, and then insert them into your database. You can't get better citations than that! (You do cite your sources, right?)

Second, While access to the source records is great, you can't just scan them one by one to find what you want. There are just too many records, so you need an index. WieWasWie allows you to search the civil registration records using a number of different criteria, such as surname, given name, patronymic, and role in the event. If you're searching for a marriage record, you can search on the surnames of both the bride and groom. Unfortunately, not all records have been indexed. One big deficiency in the index that affects my own research is birth records in Gelderland. Fortunately, you can often find an index in the source records.

Third, understanding the Dutch language. At least a basic knowledge of Dutch is needed since most public records are written fully in Dutch. That is, even ages and dates are written using Dutch words rather than decimal digits. provides a useful document entitled Netherlands Language and Languages. In particular, here are a few basic things you need to know: The letters "ij" together are considered equivalent to the letter "y". That is, the names "van Dijk" and "van Dyk" are considered the same, and will sort as "Dyk". Oh yeah, for the purposes of sorting, prefixes like "van" and "de" are ignored. So look for your "van Dijk" ancestors under "D", not "V".

There are, of course, exceptions. To read Catholic church records, you'll need to know some Latin. Some churches used German. And some civil records during the French occupation were written in French.

One more thing about sorting: In some alphabetical indexes, names within a particular letter group may not be ordered alphabetically, but rather by date. In such indexes, you'll have to read through all the names in that letter group.

Fourth, Dutch script. Dutch handwriting in the civil registration is generally relatively easy to read, following a style that should be familiar to most English-speaking people. But as you go further and further back, especially in the church records prior to 1811, the hand-writing can become harder to decipher. Here's an example from the Arnhem marriage book:

Again, has some good resources to help you learn how to read Dutch records. Check out these on-line lessons.

Fifth, patronymics. A pivotal point in Dutch history of special importance to genealogists is the French occupation of 1810 to 1813. A number of reforms were established by the French. The first was civil registration. The second was the abolition of patronymic naming in 1811. That is, the system where your surname was based on your father's first name, not surname. Surnames were formed by adding a suffix to the father's first name, such as "sen", "sz", or "s".

Not all regions of the Netherlands used patronymics. For example, while northern Gelderland used patronymics, the southeast corner of the province generally did not. But even in areas where patronymics were common, if someone had a conventional family name, it would be recorded in the church records. Needless to say, it can get a bit confusing.

Theoretically, then, you shouldn't see patronymics in the civil registration. However, many families held on to their patronymics well after 1811. I even found one ancestor in the 1830 census still using their patronym.

Sixth, infant mortality. Like most other regions, infant mortality was high in the Netherlands prior to the 20th Century. In my own data, where age at death can be computed, roughly 18% of all deaths occurred before the age of five. So be prepared emotionally to view lots of infant deaths in the burial records. To make things for difficult for genealogists, names of children are often not written down. Here's an example of one month of deaths in Nijkerk:

Of the 22 deaths reported in that month, 14 were unnamed children. Linking the burial record to a particular person is not impossible, though. In one family with eight children, through a process of elimination, I was able to identify a date of death for all but two children. For each of those two, I just listed both possible dates in my Gramps database.

For those starting out with Dutch genealogy, this may be a lot of information already. And you'll discover more things with experience. If you have any more tips for beginners, please add them in the comments.

Cheers! Hans