Trace your Dutch roots

Your bi-monthly guide to finding your Dutch ancestors

About this newsletter

Bi-monthly newsletter on Dutch genealogy research. Issue #2. Publication date 14 October 2006.

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Welcome to the October issue of this newsletter.

In this issue:

  • Dutch masterpieces tour U.S.
  • Website of the month: Rotterdam Municipal Archives
  • Reading and understanding Dutch birth records
  • Books on Dutch genealogy
The next issue is planned for the second week of December. Topic suggestions may be sent to

Dutch masterpieces tour U.S.

The Rijksmuseum is undergoing a major refurbishment. Several masterpieces that currently can't be displayed are now touring the U.S. This includes works by Rembrandt, Jan Steen, Frans Hals, Jacob van Ruisdael, and Jan van Goyen. Many of these masterpieces have never left The Netherlands before. The exhibit, called Rembrandt and the Golden Age of Dutch Art: Treasures from the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, is currently in the Dayton Art Institute (Dayton, Ohio), and will travel next year to the Phoenix Art Museum (Phoenix, Arizona) and the Portland Art Museum (Portland, Oregon). A rare chance to see some of the greatest works of the Dutch Golden Age.

Website of the month

Every newsletter we will discuss a resource for Dutch genealogy that is available online. This month: Rotterdam Municipal Archives.

The Rotterdam Municipal Archives have recently revamped their website, and a large part of their site is now available in English. Some of the information on the website is only relevant if you can visit the archives - How to get there by car is not very useful if you're in Texas, Pretoria or Queensland. Other sections, like information on their collection, or the forum, can be very useful if you have Rotterdam ancestors. You will hit on many untranslated pages while browsing their website, so understanding some Dutch is still useful.

The most important section is undoubtedly their digital family tree, an index to baptisms, marriages and burials from the church books, and births, marriages and deaths from the civil register. Rotterdam has probably more genealogy records online than any other Dutch city. Unfortunately, the search interface is only available in Dutch.

For those of you that do want to search this index a quick explanation of the search interface. If the page opens in Dutch, click english, in the top right corner. Click genealogy on the top of the page. Read the instructions on this page, then click the search button.

The next page is partly in Dutch. On the top of the page you check the indexes you want to search: Dopen (Baptisms), Trouwen (Marriages), and Begraven (Burials) in the Doop-, Trouw- en Begraafboeken (DTB) tot en met 1811 (church books before 1811), or Geboorten (Births), Huwelijk (Marriages), Scheiding (Divorce), and Overlijden (Deaths) from Burgerlijke Stand vanaf 1812 (Civil register from 1812). If you leave all the boxes unchecked, you will not find anything, so do make a choice!

Enter the Periode (year range), choose a town from the Plaatsen (Places) dropdown (Alle plaatsen, All places, is usually the best choice), fill in Familienaam / patroniem (surname), and maybe Tussenvoegsel (infix) and Voornaam (first name).

Click the Zoeken (search) button, and enjoy the results.

If you don't find anything, and are certain that you have Rotterdam ancestors, you may want to read my Pitfalls article.

Reading and understanding Dutch birth records

Dutch birth acts from the 19th century have a relatively constant form. Reading and understanding these acts is a skill that you can learn, even if you don't speak Dutch. With practice, patience, perseverance, and a good dictionary, you can understand most birth acts, even though you won't be able to understand every word.

I have compiled and translated a list of Dutch words and phrases, all found in Dutch genealogy records. Many of these words and phrases are not in your Dutch dictionary, but you may still encounter them in Dutch acts.

Let's have a look at the text of an actual Dutch birth act (The Hague 1855, act no. 1017):

Heden den zestienden Mei achttienhonderd vijf en vijftig, compareerde voor ons Joannes Antonius de Sonneville Wethouder Ambtenaar van den Burgerlijken Stand der gemeente 's Gravenhage: Theodorus Pardoen, oud zeven en twintig jaren, verwer, wonende alhier.

This is a standard opening for Dutch acts for this period. With a good dictionary, or the list of Dutch words and phrases mentioned above, we can understand this paragraph. It starts with the date: Heden, today, den Zestienden Mei, the 16th of May (zestien means sixteen, den zestienden is the sixteenth), Achttienhonderd vijf en vijftig, eightteen hundred five and fifty, or 1855.

The registrar goes on to introduce himself: compareerden voor ons, appeared before us, Joannes Antonius de Sonneville (that's his name), wethouder (alderman) and ambtenaar van den burgerlijken stand (registrar) der gemeente 's Gravenhage (of the municipality 's Gravenhage, or The Hague).

The person appearing for the registrar is Theodorus Pardoen, oud zeven en twintig jaren (litt. old seven and twenty years), verwer (dyer), wonende alhier (resident).

Dewelke ons heeft verklaard, dat van hem Comparant, en zijne huisvrouw Sara Catharina Springveld, op den vijftienden dezer, des namiddags ten vijf uur is geboren alhier een kind van het mannelijke geslacht, aan hetwelk hij verklaarde de naamen te geven van Johannes Adrianus, deze verklaring is geschied in tegenwoordigheid van Willem Meyzelaar, oud acht en twintig jaren en Isaac Johannes Bal, oud vijf en twintig jaren, verwers, beiden wonende alhier.

This is the main section of the birth act. It starts with the standard phrase dewelke ons heeft verklaard, who has declared. He declared that van hem comparant, from him the comparant, en zijne huisvrouw, and (from) his wife, Sara Catharina Springveld, op den vijftienden dezer, on the 15th of this month, des namiddags ten vijf uur, in the afternoon at 5 o'clock, is geboren, was born, alhier, here (in The Hague), een kind van het mannelijke geslacht, a child of the male gender, aan hetwelk hij verklaarde de naamen te geven van Johannes Adrianus, to whom he declared to give the names (litt. the names to give of) Johannes Adrianus.

The act then mentions the witnesses, Willem Meyzelaar and Isaac Johannes Bal.

Wij hebben hiervan deze akte opgemaakt en na voorlezing onderteekend met de comparanten.

The closing paragraph just states that after the declaration this act was created and signed.

Read the longer, illustrated version of this article.

Further reading:

Books on Dutch genealogy

There are very few books in English on finding ancestors in The Netherlands, and those that do exist are out of print. Searching for your ancestors in the Netherlands, by Willem Wijnaendts van Resandt, is probably the book to look out for (maybe your local library has a copy?), but it's over 30 years old (1972).

There are many books about Dutch immigrants and settlers in th U.S. (and a few about Dutch in other countries) available at Amazon. Have a look at our new Dutch roots book section for more books on Dutch history, Dutch emigration, or Dutch settlers.

©2006 Henk van Kampen. All rights reserved.