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.

Then, the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (Royal Dutch Library) came to the rescue. They have scanned and indexed over a million newspaper pages starting in 1640, and put it all online! When I searched for "Grivel" literally dozens of hits turned up for an Indonesian newspaper from the mid 1800s. Intrigued, I clicked on the hits and to my amazement, they were newspaper ads, placed by my ancestor Henri to promote his shop in Semarang.

He sold furniture, books, baby clothing, rain boots, photo cameras, tools, candles and a myriad of other things a Dutch colonist would need to deal with life in the tropics. Suddenly Henri had come to life...

Ever since, I have frequently used the site of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek to put real-life flesh on the bones of my clients' family trees. Sometimes it doesn't yields anything, but other times it provides fascinating clues to people's daily life.

Go ahead and have a go at it yourself. You can feed any Dutch texts you find to Google Translate to get a grasp of what it says.