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!


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...

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...

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)...

Peace And Exploration

At the beginning of the 1600s the battle for independence had shifted to the Eastern provinces of the Republic and by 1609 a truce with Spain was signed that would last for 12 years. This relative peace gave the Western provinces the opportunity for economic repairs. During the war many Protestant merchants had fled the Southern Netherlands and settled in the Northwestern provinces of Zeeland and Holland. They brought with them an enormous amount of knowledge about trading with and sea travel towards the Orient as well as considerable funds. At the time, the spice trade was dominated by the Italians over land and the Portuguese and Spaniards over sea...

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...

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...

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...

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...

Forgotten Crafts: Dienstmeid

There was a time when virtually every unmarried girl from the lower classes was a maid. And there was a time when every middle or upper class housewife employed one or several maids. In 18th century Holland, maids were almost considered part of the family. They lived in with their employers and were treated almost as an equal. Almost, because even though she would sit at the table with the family for supper and her masters would speak to her kindly (so much that it surprised foreign travelers), she did not have much rights, let alone a salary. Most maids did not have a room of their own but would sleep in the kitchen or the attic. She was supposed to work seven days a week and would only get time off to go to church every Sunday and to visit her family once a month. She would be paid with food and clothing and an "education" in keeping house. The fact that she could live in, get fed and learn how to run a household that would serve her well once she got married, made the job very popular in spite of the disadvantages...

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