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Dutch Treat

Hopefully, you won't get in Dutch and have trouble find your Holland ancestors if you look in some of these sources for research in the Netherlands.


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The title for this overview is an obvious one that I just could not resist. For a small country, it has had a very large effect on world history. While one can read up on the history part elsewhere, our concern here is doing research in the Netherlands, Holland, Low Countries, or by whatever name you choose to call the nation.

The language itself is very close to German: not surprising since it borders on Germany. It is not German though, and while most genealogical records can be deciphered fairly easily, it is always good to have a dictionary close by. Dutch is a West Germanic language and the native language of most of the population of the Netherlands, of about sixty percent of the populations of Belgium and Suriname, and also has official status in Aruba, Sint Maarten, Curacao, and even Indonesia. About 28 million speak it as a first or second language, with another 20 million (estimates vary widely) speaking Afrikaans, which is mutually intelligible with standard Dutch and is spoken in South Africa and Namibia. It is even estimated that half a million native Dutch speakers may be living in the United States, Canada, and Australia.

And just to clarify matters, the Pennsylvania Dutch are not Dutch. Pennsylvania Dutch refers to immigrants and their descendants from southwestern Germany and Switzerland who settled in Pennsylvania in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The reader can see that far from being just a small country, the Dutch influence is felt all over the globe. It is low lying with about 70 per cent of its territory being at or below sea level, hence the famous dikes to keep out the sea.

The Dutch land area has had settlers for thousands of years, like most of Europe. We are most concerned with the last 500 years. It is divided into a number of administrative regions (think like U.S. states or Canadian provinces). The Dutch began settling what is now Manhattan Island in New York City in 1624, although in 1609 Henry Hudson sailed the Dutch Ship the Half Moon up the river that now bears his name. (It was not a way to Asia, but became part of the Erie Canal 200 years later, which was a major factor in the development of the USA). Actually, if the Pilgrims had had more food, they had intended to go to the Hudson River, but instead settled in Massachusetts. In South Africa, the Dutch settled the Cape Colony in 1652. As far as Canada, the Dutch came there in three main time frames, 1890-1914 (stopped by WW I); 1923-1930 (stopped by the Great Depression); and post WW II. The settlers mainly went to Ontario and to the western provinces.

So, how do you try to do further Dutch research? On the North American side of the Atlantic, you can look in a number of sources - namely, the usual suspects. Talk to your living relatives (since some of the migrations were comparably close in time to now); see if you can find correspondence or other old letters, photo albums that have identified times and places, postcards that may have been sent between families on different sides of the ocean, and also newspaper obituaries. There might be towns of origin mentioned in journals if any family members kept them. Perhaps the town of origin was put on a gravestone, or papers in the burial records of a church, or even a civil vital record such as a marriage or death certificate. Probate records might be a clue as well, since relatives who are in the old country might be mentioned.

This last comes from personal experience. One woman was born in 1830 overseas. And when she was married here in 1855 the town of origin was not given. But when she died in 1908, the minister did write it in. Also, three brothers came to town, and one went back after just a few years. As it turns out, all three purchased a property. The third brother went back home, where he died 40 years later. When it was sold, his relatives had to be cited in a probate record in the local county surrogate's court. Not only were his children named, but the grandchildren (the kids of some of his own deceased children), making it even more useful. When fifty years later an "aunt" came to visit, she remembered those grandchildren from 100 years ago from when she was a little girl, since their lifetimes overlapped. Information was thus verified.

Bible records might help as well. I had a situation where I did find out where to look overseas from another source, but after a 100-year-old aunt (longevity apparently runs in the family!) died, I got to see her family Bible. And sure enough, there was family info and places mentioned in a very old Bible. Do not forget immigrant societies and clubs, which often have nice photos and biographies of their members. If a person was of some note, there could be a history of, say, brewers that mention your ancestor. That happened to me and that was the only place I found his actual town of origin. That and a contemporary picture were in the brewing history book. Archives and colleges could have helpful materials. There are guides to those - one that comes to mind is the one put together by the New York State Archives, the HDI - Historical Documents Inventory. (There were a lot of Dutch settlers in New York going back to the 1600s, so the state is well served because of this. (See:

Check land and property records as well as well. Sometimes there are mentions of where the person has come from, or who has an interest in the property.

With the advent of the Internet, many sites became available that did not exist 20 years ago. One used to have to determine if there was a magazine concerned with a specific nationality (in this case, Dutch). Then one had to write to it and get a query translated (although most Dutch people can read English.)

One of my friends from the genealogy society had a wife whose family in Holland wrote to my library in the early 1980s, asking whatever had happened to Hans XYZ. I answered the letter (there was no email back then), and gave them what I taught were descendants since the name was so unusual. My friend and his wife traveled to Holland looking for family info, and lo and behold, they met up with the same people who had written here to find out family information. So, correspondence is one way to find out. I have advertised in genealogical magazines, written to the mayors of towns asking that my letters be given to the local historian of genealogical society, and even to a newspaper in a town if I can find out its' name. All this is much more easily done via the Internet and email.

You can also look on various web sites for further information. The commercial sites as have much information, including passenger lists. Free sites such as have contributed family trees. (Disclaimer: there can be egregiously wrong information!). Rootsweb also has message boards that are widely read. You can also Google for names and locations of specific societies, or see what references are given below to such organizations.

Online sources.

An example of the Gelling family: - several hundred links. p>Top Ten Dutch Genealogy Websites. They are either available in English or are self-explanatory

Genlias - - a jumping off point for Dutch research. - helpful hints - The 'Centraal Bureau voor Genealogie' (Central Bureau for Genealogy - CBG) is the Dutch information and documentation centre for genealogy, family history, and related sciences.

Books: (an extremely selective mini-list) Be sure to use the free to find location near you, and to find other possible useful titles. Also, remember that many times items are published overseas, and even with all the great computer access we have nowadays, items exist that simply have to be found by serendipity.

Kelly, Arthur C. M.: "Names, names, and more names : locating your Dutch ancestors in Colonial America."

Bogardus, William Brower. Staten Island church records.

Directory of genealogical and historical articles published in "De halve maen" from 1923 to 1991 - a New York publication.

Worden, Jean D.: Marbletown Reformed Dutch Church, Ulster County, New York, 1737-1944, baptisms 1746-1944, marriages - when she died, her papers and research were given to the Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County NY

Dobson, David: Dutch colonists in the Americas, 1615-1815

Swierenga, Robert P. : Dutch immigrants in U.S. ship passenger manifests, 1820-1880 : an alphabetical listing by household

An unusual item:

Vosburgh, Royden Woodward.: (The Vosburgh collection) New York State Protestant Church records / 101 reels of microfilm. New York : New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, 1913-1920. Described at length at: - The collection has been microfilmed and is available in the NEHGS library, the library of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society (NYG&BS), the New York State library, and in some public libraries. Films are available at the Family History Library (and local Family History Centers).

Things to keep in mind when researching overseas:

Think about major turning points of its history, and what might have spurred folks to emigrate. If they were your grandparents, you probably have an idea. If they came a very long time ago, such as the 1600s or 1700s, that's a different story and will affect what you look in and where you look.

The New York State Archives has a very large collection of Dutch related materials, as the city of New York was originally New Amsterdam, and the Hudson River Valley are had many Dutch settlers all the way back to the 1600s.

Some helpful things:

New Netherland Project

Website of the New Netherland Project sponsored by the New York State Library and the Holland Society. The project works to transcribe, translate, and publish all Dutch documents in New York repositories relating to New Netherland., is an online site offering an interactive series of maps and other information relating to early Dutch in America. - the online guide. - Take a walk down Manhattan's Stone Street in 1660, look inside homes, gardens taverns, and meet people on the street in the video above! The video is a preview of NAHC's Virtual New Amsterdam Project (VNAP), a 3D recreation of New Amsterdam in Google Earth.

Check for whatever you can find in commercial sites, and free ones such as What were the immigration laws (there and here)? Are there any reasons why people would have gone one place versus another.

What this all means is that there is plenty of information available to help you find your Dutch roots on both sides of the Atlantic.

Alstublieft, veel plezier. Gelukkig genealogie zoeken!

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2012.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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