Chasing A Hare

Maybe it was a nice sunny spring morning or a stormy autumn afternoon when, sometime in the late 1800s, Cornelis de Haas set sail for the biggest voyage of his life. He left everything he knew behind to seek a new and better life in Australia.When the ship finally arrived, Cornelis reported to an immigration officer and told him his name, in the best English he could. The officer gave him a puzzled look.

Could you repeat that, sir? And Cornelis said it again. The officer gave him another puzzled look. "Haas", said Cornelis. "H-A-A-S, like a hare." He put his fingers on top of his head to mimic a hare's ears. The officer finally smiled and said "Oh, a hare!" and then scribbled down: "Cornelius de Hayr from Sassenheim, Holland." About a 150 years later, one of his descendents started tracing his family tree and got stuck on Cornelis. Understandably, he couldn't find any "de Hayr" in The Netherlands, and nobody knew the name had originally been "de Haas".

Of course, we don't know for sure whether the above is what actually happened. But incidents like it have been very common with Dutch emigrants in English speaking territories. The Dutch language has sounds very unfamiliar to the English ear and names that seem impossible to pronounce. In an era where written identification was non-existent and names were passed on orally to government officials, many Dutch names underwent "creative" transformations.

Some examples:
– "Stoffel" became "Stephen".
– "Pieterke" (short for "Petronella") became "Nellie".
– "den Coonink" became "King".
– "Jeichje" became "Jennie".
– "Nieuwenhuizen" became "Newhouse".

Obviously, you are not going to find any of these people in the Dutch records by their anglicized name. Hence, the first task for anyone with Dutch roots is to reverse-engineer their ancestor's name back to the original Dutch writing. Read our in-depth article on how to go about this....