Dutch Ancestry Blog

Ever wondered how and why we ended up with all those windmills?
Did you know that Santa came from the Netherlands and was quite a different guy?
Want to give baking typical Dutch treats a try? Or wondered why we go mad for pea soup?
You'll find the answers in our blog articles on the Dutch and their somewhat quirky habits. Enjoy!


Forgotten Crafts: Lantern Lighter

Several years ago, I had the privilege to travel to Australia's Outback. I remember gazing at the stars on a pitch black night. It is virtually impossible today to find a spot in the Netherlands that gets that dark at night. Here, civilization is never far away and with it street lighting is neither. That makes it even harder to imagine that there indeed was a time that the Dutch night sky was as dark as that of the Australian Outback today. The reason for this was that there were no street lanterns. In the Middle Ages street lighting was an unheard of commodity. As a result, the nights were dangerous.In the dark it was easy to assault a traveler unseen, and rob him of his valuables. The dark also made it hard to distinguish between the road and the many swamps just beside it, hence getting lost or drowning were real dangers too. Thus the night was a scary time to be outside and people loved to frighten each other with awful stories by the fire about werewolves, vampires, evil elves and spirits that would lure you into the swaps and the like...

Proposing with Windmill Cookies


Last Saturday, Saint Nicholas came to our town. The kids were all excited because this means three weeks of eager anticipation counting down to December 5. The highlights during these weeks are the nights that they are allowed to put their shoe, so Saint Nicholas' magical helpers —known as "Zwarte Pieten"— can fill them with candy and a small toys. The candy that goes into the shoe is not just any candy, but special Saint Nicholas candy that can usually only be bought in November and early December...

Streets of Death

On a chilly morning on October 31, 1860, Johannes Nathan had a last look at the watery sun that just peeped through the clouds. Then the rope pushed his last breath out of his throat and everything went black. Was his last thought with his mother-in-law that he had beaten to death on the road to Sittard? We will never know. We do know, however, that he was the last person in the Netherlands to be sentenced to death (periods of war not included). The death penalty was abolished in 1870. However, up until 1860, death by hanging was a common penalty for capital offenses and for small offenses if you were of low class. The possibility of being hanged was even more frightening because of torture practices. If someone refused to confess, torture was applied. We now know that torture easily leads to false confessions to stop the pain, but in those days, that wisdom was not so common...

A Farm Name As Surname

Inspired by a family tree I recently completed for a client, I'd like to share with you a special kind of surname you may come across and that is both a blessing and a curse: surnames based on farm names. If you have been researching your roots for some time, then you may be familiar with the shift from "fixed surnames" to "patronymics", usually as you step back from the 1800s into the 1700s. All of a sudden —it seems— your ancestors shift surnames with each generation. In the Netherlands, after 1811, all Dutch adopted a fixed surname, as imposed by Napoleon in that year...

Historical Images That Make Your Family History Come To Life

The National Dutch Archives probably host the largest collection historical documents of the Netherlands. It preserves the archives of the Dutch Government and those of social institutions or people that have been of any significance to Dutch history. Among a lot of other things they have an image bank that contain almost half a million pictures of historical places, people and documents. This is great material to illustrate a certain period or place related to your ancestors. And if one of your ancestors did anything significant to Dutch history you might even find pictures concerning them as well...

Forgotten Crafts: Clog maker

The Dutch are famous for their yellow clogs. Centuries ago, it was indeed the most popular footwear in The Netherlands. This was mainly because it was the most sensible footwear imaginable in a land that mainly consists of swampy, muddy soil. Only people in the cities with paved roads would venture out on leather shoes. Anywhere else wearing leather shoes was the best way to either get your feet soaked in minutes or break your neck on the slippery mud puddles.

How far is far away?

The other day I hopped in the car with my kids to pay a visit to grandpa and grandma in Holland's southernmost province of Limburg. The trip took us two hours on a smooth, well-lit highway. During the drive, my thoughts wandered off to my ancestors, as they regularly do. I wondered how they would have experienced this trip? My ancestors from the 1700s probably never made such a trip. They lived, married, and died in Amsterdam, possibly without ever setting a foot outside the city. Traveling to the south of Limburg at that time would have been a huge undertaking, especially if you lacked the money to get yourself a carriage, a horse, or a ticket on a "trekschuit" (horse-drawn barge)...

What's Cooking: Tulip bulbs

That the Dutch are fond of their tulips is known worldwide. Thousands of tourists come over each spring to see the immense tulip fields in the western part of the country. However, what is far less known is that the Dutch even used to eat them. Yes, you got that right; there was a time when the Dutch actually ate their tulip bulbs. Not because they tasted so great, but simply because there was nothing else to eat. The period in which this happened was the winter of 1944/1945 known to the Dutch as "Hongerwinter" (winter of hunger). While the southern part of the Netherlands had been freed by allied troops, the North remained occupied by the Germans. In September 1944, Queen Wilhelmina, living in exile at the time, urged the Dutch Railway personnel to go on strike, so as to sabotage the Germans in supplying their troops. The railway personnel obeyed her with disastrous results...

Why the Pennsylvania Dutch are actually German

If you research your Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors, you may well find very little about them in the Dutch archives. This is because most of them are actually German. Then why on earth, you may wonder, are they called Dutch? Today Germany and the Netherlands are two separate countries lying next to each other. We call the people from the Netherlands and their language Dutch, and their neighbors and their language German. However, it wasn't always like that...

The Toko In Semarang

When researching my own tree I stumbled upon an ancestor named Henri Francois Grivel that seemed to have disappeared into thin air after his birth. I could not find any records on him except for his birth certificate. I had the rest of his family complete. I knew the fate of his parents and his siblings. But nothing on him, and that was nagging me...

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