The Secret Message of Baptism Witnesses

When looking at a baptism record we tend to look for the primary data like date and place of baptism and birth, names of the parents and name of the child. Witnesses are often ignored, which is a shame because they can provide a beautiful insight into the kinship and friendships. Witnesses aren't just people that happened to be there when the child was baptized; they are usually very close relatives or dear friends. I most cases, the witnesses are the grandparents. This can be vital information to push your tree back in time.

You can even hypothesize about the relationship of the witness to the child using naming patterns. Usually, the first boy is named after the paternal grandfather, and the second boy after the maternal grandfather. All subsequent boys are named after the father's brothers.

The first girl is usually named after the maternal grandmother, the second girl after the paternal grandmother, and all following daughters after the mother's sisters.

Let's have a look at some examples to see this in action:

Gerrit and Marie de Vries have their first son Klaas baptized. The witnesses are Klaas de Vries and Jelke Oldeman. Following the naming patterns, these are probably the paternal grandparents.
Two years later the same couple have their first daughter Antje baptized. The witnesses are Henk van Buuren and Antje Hendriks. These are probably the maternal grandparents.
Several years later, a third girl is baptized Petronella. The witnesses are Arie Olthof and Petronella van Buuren. These are probably a maternal aunt and her husband.

So, the next time you have a look at a baptism record, have a close look at the witnesses as well. They can tell you a lot about older generations.