Trace your Dutch roots

Your quarterly Dutch genealogy guide

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Quarterly newsletter on Dutch genealogy. Issue #17. Publication date August 2010.

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Welcome to the August issue of this newsletter, the third issue of 2010.

In this issue:

  • The civil register
  • A recipe: Poffertjes
  • The first and last name databases of the Meertens Institute

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

Poll: When did your ancestors leave The Netherlands?

When did your ancestors leave The Netherlands? Please click the link and answer the question - the results will be published in the next edition of this newsletter.

The civil register

From time to time I get requests through to have another look at the birth, marriage, and death (BMD) records of the civil register. Frequently asked questions are:

  • Where do I find them?
  • How do I get a copy?
  • What information will I find in them?
  • How far back do they go?

In 1810, The Netherlands (or the Kingdom Holland, as it was called at the time) were annexed by the French empire of Napoleon (a few southern regions were annexed earlier). As a consequence, French law was introduced here. According to this law, towns had to maintain registers of birth, marriage and death (and a few other registers). Collectively, these registers are known as the Registers van de Burgerlijke Stand, usually translated as the Civil Register.

The registers started in 1811 (earlier in a few areas in the south). Though The Netherlands regained its independence two years later, the registers were continued and are still maintained today.

The most important registers - those of birth, marriage and death - were (and are) maintained in duplicate. One copy was kept at the town hall, the other went to the district court. Eventually, the district court copies ended up at provincial archives, while the town hall copies went to local and regional archives (in a few towns they are still kept at the town hall). Most registers have been microfilmed, and microfilms can be consulted at the archives where the originals are kept. Many registers have also been microfilmed by the LDS; copies of these films can be consulted in their family history centres worldwide (contact your local FHC for details).

Since a few years there are indexing projects on their way, where volunteers index the BMD registers, and the results are published on sites like Genlias and Digitale Stamboom, and on the websites of archives. On most of these sites you can order copies of records. For most towns, indexing of marriage records is complete (notable exceptions are Amsterdam and Den Haag), and indexing of birth and death records is on its way.

Recently, some archives also started scanning their records and make them available on the internet - in some cases even for free. Over the coming years I expect many more registers will be scanned, with scans available (either for free or for a small fee) on the internet.

So what can you find in these registers? And what will you not find in them?

Birth records usually list the name, age, occupation and sometimes address of the declarant (often the father), the names of the father and mother (if they were married, otherwise only the mother is listed), the name, gender and birth date and time of the child, and the names, ages and occupations of the witnesses. It will rarely have details about the mother (and about the father only if he is the declarant). The declarant - the person who came to the town hall to register the birth - was usually the father, sometimes the midwife, and occasionally someone else who was (or claimed to be) present at birth.

Death records generally have the names, ages and occupations of the declarants, the name, age, occupation and death date of the deceased, the names of the parents (if known), whether the parents were still alive and if so, their place of residence, the names of former spouses (if any) and whether the marriages ended by death of the spouse or divorce, and the name of the current spouse (if any). Death records rarely list the cause of death (the only cause of death that I ever encountered in a death act was drowning). In the early and mid 19th century, declarants were often relatives. In the late 19th and early 20th century the declarants were often undertakers.

Marriage records are the most reliable records (as spouses had to supply proof), and also contain the most information. They will generally have the names, ages, occupations and residences of both spouses, their parents and the witnesses. Sometimes there is even more information, e.g. about pre-marital children that were legitimated at the marriage.

Names of women in BMD records are always maiden names, never married names!

Birth, marriage and death records are archived after 100, 75, and 50 years, respectively. Newer records are not public, and therefore not accessible to us.

A recipe: Poffertjes

Poffertjes are a traditional Dutch treat. They are made of batter baked in a special poffertjes pan.

The easiest way to make the batter is with Koopmans poffertjes mix, available in some supermarkets - just add milk and eggs, and mix well. There are other brands of pofferjes mix, but Koopmans is more widely available.

If you can't find (or don't want to use) the mix, you will need flour (100g / 3.75oz), buckwheat flour (100g / 3.75oz), milk (400ml / 13.5fl.oz., at room temperature), yeast (1g / 1 tsp instant yeast, or 4 g / 0.15oz fresh yeast), an egg, some salt (0.5 tsp), melted butter (50g / 1.75oz).

If you use fresh yeast, mix it with some milk in a cup or small bowl. Mix the flour, buckwheat flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the yeast. Stir while you slowly add the milk first, then the egg, then the butter. Stir until you have a smooth mixture. Cover the bowl and let it rest for 45 minutes, at room temperature.

For frying, I (and anyone I know) always use a poffertjes pan, but if you don't have one (or want to buy one) you can probably also use an aebleskiver pan or a normal frying pan. Heat the pan, and grease it with butter or oil. It should be sizzling hot. Fill the holes of the poffertjes pan for 75% with batter, or add spoonfuls of batter in circular movements to create mini pancakes. Turn the poffertjes around as soon as the top has set (and the bottom is golden brown), using two forks, and fry until golden brown.

Serve hot, with butter and powdered sugar. Enjoy!

The first and last name databases of the Meertens Institute

The Meertens Institute, part of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, researches, among others, the meaning and origin of Dutch names. They have recently expanded their databases of Dutch surnames and first names.

If you want to know more about your Dutch first or last name, you should search these databases. Unfortunately, while the search interface is available in English, most data is in Dutch. What you will find depends on your name, but usually there is background information on (the meaning of) the name, the distribution of a name over The Netherlands, graphs showing changes in popularity over time (for first names), and (for surnames) early references to the name.

Of course I also searched for my own name. I wrote about my first name on my blog in the post First name: Henk.

What happened on Trace your Dutch roots?

There are two new articles on the website: A look at Dutch catholic immigration to Wisconsin (an informative article by guest author Bruce W. Van Roy) and Dutch archives on social networks (a list of Dutch archives active on social media like Facebook, Flickr and Twitter).

On the blog you can read new informative articles about e.g. parental marriage consent, or look at my collection of vintage postcards from The Netherlands (I usually add a card every other Wednesday).

You can also follow the blog on facebook. On facebook I also share useful links and interesting film fragments, like these 1932 images from Scheveningen beach.

©2010 Henk van Kampen. All rights reserved.

Trace your Dutch roots is also present on facebook - genealogy wise - twitter - flickr.