Dutch Genealogy

Dutch genealogy

You are in luck if you are researching Dutch genealogy, because the Dutch are very interested in genealogy, too. They have national archives, provincial archives and some local archives. The Dutch people have scanned records, created online indexes and uploaded their own family trees, ahnentafels and lineages to the Internet. They are proud of their ability to trace their ancestry.

The Netherlands is made up of 12 provinces - Drenthe, Flevoland, Friesland, Gelderland, Groningen, Limburg, Noord-Brabant, Noord-Holland, Overijssel, Zuid-Holland, Utrecht and Zeeland. Each province is unique in its language and cultural differences, but all share a sense of national pride in being part of the Netherlands. Most immigrants to the United States came from the central provinces with a few coming from the outer provinces as well.

From about 1812 through 1826, the Dutch were first required to choose surnames. This event is called the "naamsaanneming". It was ordered by Napoleon who occupied the country at that time and was trying to take a census. These surnames would later come in handy for legal purposes such as inheritance. Prior to the introduction of surnames, the Dutch used a system of patronymics - the surname of the child reflected the first name of the father - similar to the system used in the Scandinavian countries. Jan's son Willem would be known as Willem Jans/Jansz/Janszoon or something similar. Jan's daughter Grietje would use the surname Jans or Jansdr.

Unfortunately some Dutch citizens did not take this name choosing seriously, thinking it was just a passing fancy, and selected names such as De Keyser (The Emperor), Lanckpoop (long poop) and Zondervan (without a surname). To this day these names are still in use.

Dutch family history

Other Dutch naming customs took a physical attribute of the person or surroundings, a trade, a title or even an animal as the surname. Examples are de Jong (the young), van Dyke (of or living near a dyke), Meijer/Meyer, meaning bailiff or steward and Vos, meaning fox. Towns and physical features were also source of names. The words "van der", "aan het" and "de" that are part of many Dutch names are called tussenvoegsels. Although they are officially part of the name they are not included in searches. If the surname is van den Berg, then Berg is the important part of the surname that should be entered in the search criteria on Dutch websites. In the United States, the same name might be entered as one, two or three separate words. It should also be noted that the letter combination "ij" is changed to "y" in many Dutch names. One other useful tidbit about the Dutch is that the women retain their maiden names on most records. This makes it much easier to find their families as well.

Except for the colonial period of exploration and trade that lasted from the early 1600s through 1664 when New Netherland (New York) was sold to England, Dutch families did not appear to move around very much until the mid -1800s. That first early migration during the 1600s resulted in a large Dutch population living on the east coast of the United States, especially along the Hudson River, New York City, northern New Jersey and Lewes, Delaware. Dutch immigration to the United States prior to 1845 averaged about 200 people per year. After 1845 that number increased rapidly due to a potato famine, high unemployment and division in the Reformed Church. The major destinations for the Dutch were the New York/New Jersey area; Green Bay, Wisconsin; Holland, Michigan; and Pella, Iowa. Peak immigration years during the period between 1845 and 1930 were the mid-1870s, the early 1880s and 1890s and 1904 to 1914. A large number of these immigrants came from the rural provinces and were farmers.

There was one more large wave of immigration - approximately 80,000 people -- from the Netherlands to the United States during the years immediately following World War II. The Dutch economy was in shambles and there was a major housing shortage causing them to immigrate for economic reasons.

Tracing Dutch Ancestry

Dutch family history

Dutch records are very thorough. Many images from the 1700s and 1800s are available freely online. Even an index such as Genlias is quite detailed. The name of the archive, the record number and page are given which can be used to request an actual record if it has not been scanned. Genlias index information can be used to browse and locate the images on FamilySearch.

A marriage record has the date of the marriage, the birth names of the bride and groom and the full names of both sets of parents. Marriage records may also provide the dates and places of birth for the couple and if this is a second (or more) marriage for either person, the name of the earlier spouse(s) will be given. The number of children born to the couple prior to marriage will be mentioned. These records are the most useful because they include information on up to six people.

Birth records include any stillborn children. On Genlias, the majority of birth records available are actually the death records of children. If the couple is not married at the time of a child's birth, the child took the surname of the mother. Once this name was recorded officially, it did not change even if the parents were later married.

Death records include the birth name of the "partner", but beware -- this person is not necessarily the spouse of the deceased. The names of previously deceased partners, the age, place of birth and place of death of the deceased are listed as well. These records usually list the names of the deceased person's parents, making them very useful for tracing a genealogical line.

Dutch names are notoriously spelled incorrectly on United States census records. The combination of the unfamiliar pronunciation and the fact that many census-takers were poorly educated according to today's standards, created some very strange phonetic spellings of Dutch names. Even headstones were not exempt. In addition, passenger lists are difficult for Americans to read because the European style of writing is unfamiliar. To find these names, you may have to think phonetically. Try writing the name several times the way it might be pronounced. This technique will provide clues as to how the name might have been spelled.

Dutch naming conventions were fairly standard in earlier generations. The first four children's names provide clues as to the names of their grandparents. There might be a slight variation in the spelling of the name and they may appear out of order due to a child's death, but the following naming convention was followed almost universally:

  • First son was named after his father's father
  • First daughter was named for her mother's mother
  • Second son was named for his mother's father
  • Second daughter was named for her father's mother

Dutch Family History Resources

Yvette's Dutch Genealogy Homepage

Cyndi's List - Netherlands/Nederland

Genlias in English

Streekarchivariaat/Noordwest-Veluwe (Gelderland)


Cor Koene Genealogie - Goeree/Overflakkee

Central Bureau for Genealogy - CBG (English)

New Netherlands (New York) Vital Records

Online Begraafplaatsen (Cemeteries)

Dutch Phrases and Words

Pronunciation of Dutch Words, Names and Phrases at Forvo

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