Trace your Dutch roots

Your bi-monthly guide to finding your Dutch ancestors

About this newsletter

Bi-monthly newsletter on Dutch genealogy research. Issue #4. Publication date 28 February 2007.

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Welcome to the February issue of this newsletter.

In this issue:

The next issue is planned for April. Topic suggestions may be sent to

Amsterdam City Archive collection will be available online

The removal and temporary closure of the Amsterdam City Archive, announced in the previous issue of this newsletter, has been delayed by over two months. The archive will remain open until 30 March, and reopen on the new location on 7 August.

To compensate for the closure, the long-expected Archiefbank will be available before 30 March. The Archiefbank (litt. Archive bank) project aims to make scans of sources from the City Archive available online. 300,000 pages were scanned last year, and scanning continues at a speed of 10,000 pages per week until 30 March.

The City Archive cannot digitize all their sources - there are far too many (an estimated 140 million pages, or 280 years of scanning at the current rate). Priority is given to sources requested by patrons of the City Archive and their website.

Scanned sources will be available for download soon. There will be charges, but the fee structure has not been announced yet.

The Archiefbank will probably not be the place to look for birth, marriage and death records of your ancestors. These records will be available for free from Genlias in the not-too-distant future.

When the Archiefbank becomes available, there will be more information on the Trace your Dutch roots blog, and of course on the website of the Amsterdam City Archive.

Website of the month

Every newsletter we will discuss a resource for Dutch genealogy that is available online. This month: Meertens Institute surname database

The Meertens Institute is an institute that researches Dutch language and culture. They are also doing research into the origins and development of surnames in the Netherlands, and have published a database of surnames and their meanings and origins. The database currently contains over 75000 Dutch surnames.

If you want to know the meaning of your Dutch surname, have a look in their surname database. Click the British flag to get the search interface in English. The search result will still contain some data in Dutch, though.

The search results may contain an explication of the origin of the name, bibliographical references, specific name characteristics and components, lists of name variations and names with similar meaning, and the distribution of the name over The Netherlands in 1947.

I did some research on their website on the five most common Dutch surnames: De Jong, De Vries, Jansen, Van den Berg, and Bakker.

With 55256 people in the 1947 census, De Jong is by far the most common name in The Netherlands. De Jong is Dutch for the young, or the younger, and was often tagged to someone's name to differentiate from an older person with the same name.

De Vries (49298 people in the 1947 census) means the Frisian - someone from Friesland (Frisia). Friesland - now a province in the north-west of The Netherlands - was once the name of almost the entire Dutch coastal area, and it stretched well into what is now Germany.

Jansen (49213 people in the 1947 census) is a patronymic name, from the first name Jan. Jan (short for Johannes, Dutch for John) is the most common first name in The Netherlands. In many areas of The Netherlands it was (and occasionally still is) common to use a patronymic in addition to (or instead of) a surname. Pieter, son of Jan, will become Pieter Jansz (short for Pieter, Jans zoon, or Peter, John's son), or Pieter Jans, or Pieter Jansen (both forms are possessive, meaning Peter John's, or Peter of John).

Van den Berg (37678 people in the 1947 census, including Van der Berg and Van de Berg) means from the mountain. It is a toponymic name, probably used for people living on a relatively elevated part of their region.

Bakker (37483 people in the 1947 census) means baker, usually a baker of bread. A village baker called Jan Jansen may, even today, be known as Jan de bakker (John the baker), while his son Pieter may be known as Piet van de bakker (Pete of the baker).

Post-war emigration from The Netherlands

Emigration from The Netherlands peaked in the fifteen years after the second world war, triggered mostly by the rampant housing shortage. Emigration was actively encouraged by the Dutch government. The most popular destinations were Canada and Australia, and to a lesser extend the U.S., South Africa and New Zealand.

Tracing your roots into The Netherlands is relatively easy if you descend from these emigrants. Many of the emigrants are still alive, and even when they're not it is usually easy to find someone who has known them. You have probably some addresses of relatives in The Netherlands. On the other hand, most post-war archives are not accessible due to privacy regulations, so it may be harder to set the next step.

The population register is the most important source for the 20th century, in particular the persoonskaarten (person cards). These cards have been created for every person that lived in The Netherlands since 1939. The cards are not public, but for people deceased in The Netherlands you can obtain extracts (for a fee) from the Central Bureau for Genealogy - contact them (or look on their website) for details.

The persoonskaarten replaced the gezinskaarten (family cards) that were in use until 1939. Unfortunately, gezinskaarten are rarely available online, and can usually only be consulted in the local (or regional) archive in or near the town your ancestors lived. The archive that keeps these records can provide information (or scans or photocopies). Fees vary greatly from archive to archive (and are quite hefty at some places).

Don't forget to ask around for information, if you descend from Dutch post-war immigrants. Talk to relatives in your country (maybe someone has documents or letters from Holland?), write or e-mail your relatives in The Netherlands, or ask at the appropriate forum or mailing list if someone can help you.

Once you have traced your ancestry to the 1930s or earlier, you can continue your quest online, or use traditional sources.

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©2007 Henk van Kampen. All rights reserved.