Passion for your ancestry

Dutch Ancestry Coach was founded by me, Kirsten Schimmel. I'm a university trained cultural historian with over 15 years of experience in family history. Reconstructing the stories of ordinary historical people has my special interest. With the ongoing digitization of family history sources, it is now possible to do so in great detail.

Reconnecting people with the colorful stories of their family history is deeply fulfilling. Knowing our ancestors helps us understand our own identity. After all, who we are and how we see the world is very much the sum of decisions made by those that came before us.

Over the last two decades hundreds of people have entrusted me with their family mysteries: "Did my grandfather indeed collaborate with the Germans?" "I heard my great-grandparents met in an orphanage, is that true?" "We came to Australia in the 1950s and my parents refused to ever speak of Holland. I know nothing about my roots, can you help me?" These are not just some random questions inspired by fleeting curiosity. These are questions driven by our human need to fill in the blank spots in our identity so we can feel whole.

Below I will share a selection of the wonderful stories that Dutch Ancestry Coach helped reconstruct. If you have a family mystery you would like to see solved, I'd be happy to help. A first scan of the possibilities is free, so do not hesitate to send in your request.

A taste of the beautiful stories hidden in the Dutch archives...

The Ferry Accident

How Granduncle's Stubbornness Got His Little Sister Killed
Adrian, Mary, Violet and Rose (USA)

The picture we hold was our favourite as kids because it held a chilly family mystery. It is a picture of our grandmother, her brother and her little sister Sophia. It was taken when they still lived in the Netherlands. Our grandmother emigrated to the United States to marry our grandfather but her siblings stayed. Sophia, however, never got any older then her early twenties. Rumours went in the family that this had something to do with her brother. We never were able to find out, however, what had happened exactly. We hired Dutch Ancestry Coach to search for us and the story they found was a big surprise...

They found Sophia's death certificate and surprisingly it stated the cause of death which is highly unusual for Dutch death records. It said she drowned in a ferry accident on the Zwarte Water river. This, along with the date of death, was enough to find the newspaper article that made a full account of what had happened. On a stormy winter evening Sophia, her brother and five other people –among which the mayor and his wife of a nearby town– arrived at the ferry crossing eager to get across the river and go home.

The ferry man strongly advised against it stating the storm was getting heavy, making the crossing too dangerous. The mayor and Sophie's brother, however, ignored the man's sensible advice and demanded a crossing. Reluctantly the ferry man agreed and let the party board on the already very unstable tow-ferry.

Halfway the crossing it all went horribly wrong. Heavy winds pulled the ferry over, making the towing cables snap and leaving the ferry adrift. The passengers were tossed into the raging waters of the river. The mayor and Sophie's brother managed to climb back onto the half sunken ferry as did the ferry man. The women, however, quickly were swallowed up by the river along with two other men and the ferry man's mate. The survivors rode out the storm that went on all night. Only at dawn, with the waters calmer, could they be rescued. It took a search party several days to find the bodies of those who drowned.

The whole tragic story could have been avoided had the mayor and Sophie's brother not been so stubborn as to ignore the ferry man's advice.

Cleansing Grandpa's Name

How A Family Man Ended Up Fighting For The Enemy
Ben (AUS)

My father came to Australia shortly after WWII as a ten year old boy with his mother, stepfather and siblings. They were determined to leave behind all the horrors lived and start a new life. Especially the shame grandpa had brought upon his family by fighting for the Germans. As he grew older my father started wondering why his father, whom he remembered as a kind and loving dad, had suddenly left his family during the war and ended up siding with the enemy. His mother passed away without clearing anything up for him. She simply refused to talk about it. Last Christmas I decided to go find the whole story myself to set my father's mind at ease. Dutch Ancestry Coach dived into the WWII records for us and what they found was amazing...

The first scan they run through the archives revealed that grandpa had been arrested after the war for treason. A trial was held and he was stripped of his citizenship. This seemed to confirm what little we knew. The interesting thing was that all the papers concerning the trial had been preserved. Due to privacy laws permission to study the records had to be requested at the Dutch National Archives. Luckily permission was granted and our genealogist spent a couple of days studying the papers. This research revealed quite another story.

Until the winter of 1944 grandpa had worked as a labourer at a local factory in Rotterdam to provide a meager income for his wife and four children. The papers revealed that the marriage was not a happy one. Then, all of a sudden he was laid off. With no income, and the winter drawing near he was desperate to find something to feed and cloth his family. But at the time jobs had become a scarce commodity in the big cities as had everything else: food, clothing and fuel. After searching for weeks he heard that the German army was hiring people to repair the army's bikes. He applied reluctantly and got the job. He was not proud to work for the Germans but at least it put some food on the table.

Then, in the Spring of 1945, everything changed suddenly. Every man working at the bike shop was required to go on a "training camp" in Groningen. He who refused would be fired. And so grandpa went. At Groningen he was fitted with a uniform and trained in basic military skills for a week. Expecting to return to the bike shop after this week grandpa complied. But he never returned there. After the training ended he was put on a train and sent off to the front at Arnhem. And before he knew what happened he lay in the mud at the wrong side of the river shooting at the men he had so desperately wanted to welcome to free his country.

Once he realised his awful position, he deserted and walked home. He was hidden by his family but eventually captured by the Germans and sent to the prisoner camp of Vught. He managed to escape on transport and went home again. In the mean time the allied forces had won and the Netherlands were free. Within a week grandpa was arrested by the Dutch for treason and imprisoned. He spent a year and a half in a prisoner camp waiting for his trial. In the mean time his wife filed for divorce, remarried and went to Australia with the children.

Grandpa was trialed, and punished with removal of his citizenship. He kept on pleading his case, however, and eventually his rights were fully restored. He remarried a Jewish woman with whom he had a daughter. He led a peaceful life until his death.

My father was so happy to finally hear the whole story. To finally know that his father was not a bad man of twisted ideology who had sided with the Germans, but simply a desperate father trying to feed his family and make the best of trying times.

The Orphan Soldier

How The Search For A Baptism Record Led To An Unexpected Surprise
Diane (USA)

I had started tracing my family tree with great enthusiasm until I hit a brick wall with the baptism record of my ancestor Lambert. I knew from his death record that he was born in IJzendijke but could find no record of him there, nor of the marriage of his parents. I hired Dutch Ancestry Coach to get me a copy of the baptism record and to find out more about his parents' marriage. This simple question lead us on an unexpected research adventure that ended with the accidental discovery of a very special document that had laid hidden in an archive for almost 250 years...

My genealogist found the baptism record for me, but could not find anything about the marriage of Lambert's parents. She suggested that they probably did not marry at IJzendijke but somewhere else. The only question was where? As IJzendijke was a garrison town she suggested that Lambert's father may have been a soldier who traveled from garrison town to garrison town. Taking Lambert's date of birth as a starting point she checked which regiments would be possible candidates. After some time the right regiment was found and with it a flood of data on my once so elusive ancestor.

We managed to reconstruct his travels, found his place of marriage and the places of birth of his six children. Almost every one of them was born in a different garrison town. But the origins of Lambert's father remained unclear. His military records said he was born in Amersfoort. But there no records of him could be found. As a last resort our genealogist suggested we could check the Amersfoort orphanage records. Not only did we find out that he was indeed brought up in the orphanage, we also learned that he was left there by his father who was a soldier from Namur, Belgium.

But among some "varied correspondence" also found in the orphanage files a beautiful treasure was found. A letter from Lambert's father addressed to the orphanage director making inquiries after his origins. It was amazing to see a hand written letter by my ancestor. Though the letter was short it made three things very clear. He had fond memories of his childhood at the orphanage given the tender way in which he addresses the director, which went clearly beyond normal politeness. He was desperate to find out about his origins, since he makes an inquiry about a somewhat far fetched possible family connection. And his deep love for his wife of whom he speaks with great concern as she has fallen ill after recent childbirth.

It is so strange to have a peak inside the personal thoughts and feelings of an ancestor after 250 years. I truly treasure this letter!

* Names and some details have been altered to protect our clients' privacy