Trace your Dutch roots

Your quarterly Dutch genealogy guide

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Quarterly newsletter on Dutch genealogy. Issue #11. Publication date 2 February 2009.

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Welcome to the (slightly delayed) January issue of this newsletter, the first issue of 2009.

In this issue:

  • Traditions
  • What should you do if your ancestors are not in Genlias?
  • 400 years Dutch roots in New York

The next issue is planned for April. As always, topic suggestions may be sent to


2009 is proclaimed Jaar van de Tradities (Year of the Traditions) in The Netherlands. In preparation, the organization of the Jaar van de Tradities compiled a top 100 of the most the important and popular Dutch traditions, which they published last November.

Not all of the top 100 traditions are typical Dutch traditions. Some are international (decorating the Christmas tree at number 2, for example), some are recently imported by immigrants (like Ramadan at number 14), but many others I've never seen outside The Netherlands.

I plan to discuss several traditions on the Trace your Dutch roots blog later this year. For now, let's just look at the five most popular Dutch traditions.

The number five tradition is decorating eggs at easter. I think this is done in most western countries, it is certainly not a Dutch tradition.

Number four is a real Dutch tradition: Eating oliebollen on new year's eve. Oliebollen, also known as Dutch donuts, are basically deep-fried balls of dough, sometimes with raisins. They are eaten with powdered sugar. Many people make their own (and if they did you can often still smell the oliebollen days later in their kitchen), but in the last few days of the year they are also widely available from bakeries, supermarkets and market stalls.

At number three is the Vrijmarkt (free market) on Koninginnedag (Queen's Day). Koninginnedag is the celebration of the queen's birthday, traditionally a holiday in The Netherlands. In many towns, anyone is allowed to sell things on the streets, turning town centres into giant flea markets. On this day, you do not need a license to operate a market stall, or pay taxes over your sales. People just lay down a blanket on the sidewalk or on the street, and spread out their cast-offs. Many of the vendors are children. The largest and most famous Vrijmarkt is the one in the Vondelpark in Amsterdam.

The second-most popular tradition is placing and decorating a Christmas tree before Christmas. An international tradition, obviously: You probably do that as well every year.

Our number one tradition is Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas, the Dutch version (and predecessor) of Santa Claus, is a nickname for St. Nicholas, and we celebrate his feast every year on St. Nicholas eve (5 December). It's an ancient tradition - just look at Jan Steen's 1665 painting The feast of St. Nicholas. I wrote a blog article about Sinterklaas last November.

What should you do if your ancestors are not in Genlias?

I have said many times that you should start your search for Dutch ancestors on Genlias. But what do you do if you can't find them there?

There are many reasons why people can't find their ancestors' birth, marriage or death (BMD) records in Genlias. The most common problems are:

  • The records are too new.
  • The records are too old.
  • The name in Genlias is different from the name you search.
  • The BMD records are not yet added to Genlias.
  • The BMD records are in a city that does not participate in Genlias.

The records are too new

For privacy reasons, recent BMD records are not available to the public. "Recent" means less than 100 years old for birth records, 75 years for marriage records, and 50 years for death records. After this period has passed, it may take a few years before the records are actually available. A birth record from 1953 won't be added to Genlias before 2054, and very likely will be added a few years later (assuming Genlias still exists and still operates the same way, of course).

If you can't wait that long, you will have to use other sources than BMD records, such as the population register. Have a look at the Digital Resources website to find out what is available online for the area you are researching.

The records are too old

BMD records were introduced in 1811. The main source for the 17th and 18th century are the church books. There are currently very few church books in Genlias. The Digital Resources website can tell you which church books (and other source) are available online, and where you can find them if they are online.

Many church books have been microfilmed by the LDS. Copies of these films can usually be consulted in their family history centers worldwide. Contact your local FHC for details.

The name in Genlias is different from the name you search

Names may have changed after immigration. Changes can be anything from slight spelling changes to a complete new name. You need to search for the name your ancestors used in The Netherlands. Usually that is the same name that was used on passengers lists and immigration records.

Names could also have changed over time in The Netherlands. In theory, names should be fixed since 1811, but changes did occur sometimes. Before 1811, spelling of names was inconsistent, and in rural areas many people did not even have a surname.

There are two other things to watch out for. The letters y and ij were often used interchangeably. If you find the letter y in a name on a passenger list, you may have to replace it by ij when you search Genlias. The other issue is infixes (also called prefixes). If a name starts with de, van, van der, ter, or one of the many other name prefixes we have in the Netherlands, you should leave that prefix off the name when searching. You can put it into the separate prefix field. So if you are searching for DeVries (that would be spelled de Vries in Dutch), you should fill in Vries in the surname field, and de in the prefix field.

The BMD records are not yet added to Genlias

Genlias is a work in progress. Most (but not all) participating places have added their marriage records by now, but birth and death records are still far from complete. You can check the Digital Resources website to see if the records you need are available online elsewhere. Most BMD records can also be consulted in family history centers. Or you can just check Genlias often, the records will be added eventually.

The Genlias Monitor is a free service that will send you an e-mail if new records are added with your search criteria.

The BMD records are in a city that does not participate in Genlias

There are a few places in the province Zuid-Holland that don't participate in Genlias, and have no plans to do so. These places have their own websites with BMD records. You can find these websites on the Digital Resources website.


First of all, check if you did spell the name correctly, and check if the name contains a prefix. Your ancestor might be in Genlias, but you won't find him if you don't spell the name the Dutch way.

If your ancestor is not in Genlias, it is essential that you know where he came from - all offline resources and almost all online resources are ordered by town or region. Check passenger lists, immigration records, obituaries - anything that may list the place of origin.

Once you know where your ancestor came from, you can try to find him online. Use the Digital Resources website to find out what online resources are available for your ancestor's town or region. If you can't find him online, you have to search offline - either in a Dutch archive in your ancestor's region, or (more likely) in your local FHC.

Further reading

In the article Trace your Ellis Island ancestors into The Netherlands (that also appeared in an earlier edition of this newsletter) I showed you how I traced several Ellis Island emigrants into The Netherlands, using only online resources.

The April 2008 issue of this newsletter contains an article on offline Dutch genealogy research.

The Trace your Dutch roots blog published a series about online records last year, discussing many websites with genealogy records.

400 years Dutch roots in New York

In 1609 the Dutch ship Halve Maen (Half Moon), with captain Henry Hudson, entered what is now New York harbour. His journey started the Dutch involvement in the region, which eventually lead to the New Netherland colony.

This year we celebrate the 400 year anniversary of this event. A year of celebrations was kicked off on 28 January. For more information on the celebrations, please visit the website NY400 (a website created by the Dutch embassy in Washington).

Trace your Dutch roots plans to join the celebrations with a few blog articles later this year.

©2009 Henk van Kampen. All rights reserved.