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.

Children Of The German Empire
In the 17th century when the first Dutch set out to the Americas, the Netherlands as such did not exist; it was a Republic of seven independent provinces (Holland being one of them and the most powerful). Up until the 16th century, these provinces had been part of the German Empire.

Not surprisingly, the people of the Republic used a dialect that was derived from a Germanic language known as Low Saxon or Low German. Many German dialects are derived from it as well. The speakers of this language (and all the dialectical variants of it) referred to it as Thuidisk or Duidisk, meaning language of the people.

From Duidisk To Dutch
Duidisk was pronounced Diets in the Holland area and Deutsch in what is now Germany. When people from the Netherlands and Germany emigrated to America between 1600 and 1800, they both referred to their language as something that sounded to the English as Dutch. That is why in this period both people from Germany and the Netherlands were referred to as Dutch. Probably to the English Dutch and Germans were all the same, after all the Dutch Republic was still very young and it's German roots were obvious.

It is only later that a specific distinction between Germans and Dutch was made. Nowadays do not dare to call a Dutch person German, for the Dutch have developed a very specific culture of their own and do not at all feel related to Germany anymore.