But the genealogical waters have converged, so to speak. Databases such as Genlias <www.genlias.nl/en/page0.jsp> now allow you to search millions of vital records from the Netherlands and even from Dutch colonies. Previously obscure sources have floated to the surface: provincial and local records, historical images and documents, maps, oral histories and more have been digitized for easy netting online.
Lay of the land
Tides of history
A golden age followed in the 1600s. The Netherlands dominated on the sea, in financial markets and even in the art world. Amsterdam quadrupled in population and became a major port. The Dutch East and West India Companies expanded Dutch influence globally—including to the New Netherlands in North America.
New Netherland grew slowly, by modern standards. Its settlers were merchants drawn by commercial opportunities, and the “tired and poor”: religious refugees, the rural poor, orphans and the unemployed.
For these latecomers, you can check the National Archives’ US passenger-arrival lists atAncestry.com <ancestry.com> and on microfilm at libraries. Digital Resources Netherlands and Belgium has passenger records back to 1620 (search under “Passenger Lists”). The Family History Library has microfilmed some of them; search by province of departure. Published lists for incoming Dutchmen include Ship Passenger
Lists, New York and New Jersey, 1600–1825 by Carl Boyer (self-published) and the two-volume set Dutch Immigrants in US Ship Passenger Manifests, 1820–1880 by Robert P. Swierenga (Scholarly Resources).
Flood of records
The civil register is a great place to start, but you can round out your research in many other Dutch records. Generally, original records are at municipal, provincial or church archives. You can access electronic versions of many through Digital Resources Netherlands and Belgium <www.geneaknowhow.net/digi/resources.html>. Some records are available in FamilySearch’s databases, andAncestry.com claims more than a million entries from the Netherlands. You’ll also find strong collections of microfilmed and published resources of most of the types mentioned below in the FHL catalog (search by town or province plus relevant keyword) and the Central Bureau for Genealogy in the Netherlands <www.cbg.nl>.
- Civil records before 1811 of marriages, births and deaths exist in many Dutch municipalities. Civil marriages were also called court marriages, and were especially common for people who weren’t Dutch Reformed. The records can contain bride’s and groom’s names, widow(er) status, birthplace and residence, earlier spouses, marriage dates, and sometimes parents’ and witnesses’ names. Contact municipal archives directly with research requests (find contact information at <www.archiefnet.nl>). The FHL has many of these as well.
- Church records are most important for pre-civil register days. Catholic record-keeping picked up around 1563, then the Dutch Reformed Church did most of the vital record-keeping from the 1570s until around 1800, even for “nonconformists” (non-church members). These include births, baptisms, confirmations, marriages, membership records, deaths and burials. Parish boundaries weren’t the same as civil boundaries, so check neighboring parishes for stray ancestors. The FHL has an excellent microfilm collection of church records before 1811, but fewer after 1811.
- Notarial records include marriage contracts, probate records, wills, taxes, property registration and powers of attorney. These records are particularly useful for pre-1811 searches, sorting out family relationships and recurring names, finding mothers and other close relatives, and learning property values and occupations. More than 30,000 volumes of pre-1811 notarial records exist. They can be laborious to search, but some are indexed and searchable online through Digital Resources Netherlands and Belgium. The FHL has many of these on microfilm; search on Netherlands notarial records.
- Death duties files declared the heirs of an estate and were created to collect inheritance taxes. Use these records to trace generations and confirm family relationships. They’re kept in local archives, but you’ll find a few in Genlias and Digital Resources Netherlands and Belgium.
- Cemetery records most often consist of the transcriptions of gravestone and monument inscriptions. Many are available online through Digital Resources Netherlands and Belgium, Online Begraafplaatsen <www.zerken.nl> and subscription sites World Vital Records <www.worldvitalrecords.com> and Ancestry.com.
- Dutch census data is not widely consulted for genealogical purposes because the civil register is more useful. The first national census occurred with the inception of the civil register in 1811. National censuses happened every 10 years from 1829 to 1929 and again in 1947, 1960 and 1971; a few provincial and special-population censuses (citizens and “able-bodied men”) may also be useful. The most complete entries provide family relationships, ages and birth years, birthplaces, marital status and religion. Find copies of the census in the FHL catalog by searching on census and the locality’s name.
- Address-based registrations began after the 1849 census to record changes in a household, such as births, marriages, deaths and moves. Data could include a person’s birthplace and date, death date, marriage information, relationship to head of household, religion, tax class, previous address, move-in date, move-out date and new address. You can confirm emigration with these records: an emigrant’s last entry should list the new address as another country. In 1920, the address-based system changed to a family record that moved with the family, which in turn converted to personal record cards (below). Find address-based registrations through municipal and regional archives; some are posted on Digital Resources Netherlands and Belgium.
- Personal record cards were kept on every Dutch inhabitant from 1938 to 1994 (a more abbreviated, automated Personal Record List has been kept since then). You can request genealogical information (including parents’ and children’s names, and sometimes their birthplaces and birth dates) from cards of deceased persons by mail through the Centraal Bureau voor Genealogie (Central Bureau for Genealogy) <www.cbg.nl>.
Beyond the data deluge
To fully understand your low-country forebears, you’ll want to do more than just find their names in databases and registers. Flesh out your Dutch family history with these helpful resources:
- Images: A picture is worth a thousand words, so page through het Geheugen van Nederland (Memory of the Netherlands) <www.geheugenvannederland.nl>, a large collection of cultural and historical images. Though the collection is strongest from the photography age forward, you’ll also find old drawings, paintings and historical maps to help you visualize your ancestor’s world.
- Historical documents: Check subscription site Footnote <footnote.com> for city directories, historical newspapers and archival documents from areas Dutch immigrants settled. Try searching on your family’s hometown (the search Dutch Holland Michigan brings up more than 16,000 results). If you have roots in the US Northeast, explore the websites of The Holland Society of New York <www.hollandsociety.com> and the New Netherland Institute <www.nnp.org>; both preserve and share historical documents of New Netherland.
- Personal histories: Even if you can’t find your own ancestors’ personal stories, the stories of neighbors, co-workers and fellow immigrants can shed light on their experiences. The Joint Archives of Holland <hope.edu/jointarchives> at Hope College in Holland, Mich., maintains an archive that includes dozens of oral histories from Dutch women, furnace company workers, retired Reformed Church officers, post-WWII immigrants and others. Dutch Touches by Carol Van Klompenburg and Dorothy Crum (Pennfield Press) contains stories and recipes from Dutch-Americans in traditionally Dutch communities such as Pella, Iowa, and South Holland, Ill.
After all your attempts to find your forebears without going to the Netherlands, you may still find yourself booking a flight on KLM. There’s nothing like going straight to the sources—provincial archives, the Central Bureau for Genealogy or the doorstep of your great-grandfather’s apartment building in Rotterdam. But do all the research you can from home first. That way, you can spend your dream vacation in the Netherlands finding unique genealogical treasures, connecting with distant relatives and exploring the land your ancestors loved and left behind.
Genlias added vital records for early Dutch settlers of New York to its free searchable database at <www.genlias.nl/en/page0.jsp> in late 2009. Included are more than 20,000 baptisms and 6,600 marriages from the Collegiate Church of Manhattan from 1639 to 1801. The records have been “redutched” (for example, VandenBerg is now van den Berg), and obvious errors corrected. Genlias hopes to add more New Netherland records and others from former Dutch colonies around the world.