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10 Practical Tips To Kick Start Your Research In The Netherlands

Dutch archives are vast and can therefore be a real goldmine. Large parts of the basic birth, marriage and death records since 1811 have been digitized and can be easily searched online. The rest of it however (records prior to 1811, deeds, military archives, photo archives and much, much more...), still exists only on paper or microfilm and is not accessible online (yet). In this article I will give you ten practical tips to get your search for digital and non-digital records started...

1. Know What You Want
It is tempting to set a goal like "Finding out everything I can about Grandpa". But if you are to find anything useful in Dutch archives, you have to come up with a question far more specific than that. It is wise to first set out to find the three basic archival records about this grandfather: his birth, marriage, and death records. So a better question to start with would be "I want a copy of grandpa's birth record".

The Kuyper Atlas

Jacob Kuyper (1821-1908) was a Dutch geographer and cartographer that did pioneering work on Dutch cartography. He co-founded the Royal Dutch Geographical Society in 1873. This society's primary mission was to explore and map uncharted colonial territories. Kuyper's biggest achievement, however, does not lie in the mapping of Dutch colonies but in the maps he drew for all 1200 municipalities of the Netherlands between 1865 and 1870.

The maps were published in 1871 by the Frisian publisher Hugo Suringar under the title "Gemeente-atlas van Nederland (Municipality Atlas of the Netherlands) and has become known as the Kuyper Atlas.

Forgotten Crafts: Broombinder

The other day I was absorbed in writing in my office when all of a sudden I was disturbed by a horrible noise. I got up to have a look out of the window to see what that awful noise could be. It turned out to be the street sweeper with his latest gadget: a leaf blower.

With a sigh I sat down and my thoughts wandered off to the days when street sweepers would do just that: sweep the street, with a broom: tsssjk-tjssk-tsssjk. And if the good man was in a jolly mood he would whistle or sing a song. I would like that far better that this deafening noise. But, in our age, there are no old-fashioned street sweepers anymore. Moreover, there are no real brooms anymore. I mean the good ones made of birch twigs. And there are no broom binders anymore either.

Forgotten Crafts: Lantern Lighter

Several years ago, I had the privilege to travel to Australia's Outback. I remember gazing at the stars on a pitch black night. It is virtually impossible today to find a spot in the Netherlands that gets that dark at night. Here, civilization is never far away and with it street lighting is neither.

That makes it even harder to imagine that there was indeed a time that the Dutch night sky was as dark as that of the Australian Outback today. The reason for this was the absence of street lanterns. In the Middle Ages, street lighting was an unheard of commodity.

Proposing with Windmill Cookies

Last Saturday, Saint Nicholas came to our town. The kids were all excited because this means three weeks of eager anticipation counting down to December 5. The highlights during these weeks are the nights that they are allowed to put their shoe, so Saint Nicholas' magical helpers —known as "Zwarte Pieten"— can fill them with candy and a small toys.

The candy that goes into the shoe is not just any candy, but special Saint Nicholas candy that can usually only be bought in November and early December. There are "schuimpjes" –a sort of meringues– in the shape of carrots, horses and Saint Nicholas, chocolate coins, "pepernoten" – a sort of spicy mini cookies–, and of course "speculaas" which is also known as windmill cookies.

A Farm Name As Surname

Inspired by a family tree I recently completed for a client, I'd like to share with you a special kind of surname you may come across and that is both a blessing and a curse: surnames based on farm names. If you have been researching your roots for some time, then you may be familiar with the shift from "fixed surnames" to "patronymics", usually as you step back from the 1800s into the 1700s. All of a sudden —it seems— your ancestors shift surnames with each generation.

In the Netherlands, after 1811, all Dutch adopted a fixed surname, as imposed by Napoleon in that year. Before that, many people were named after their father. And so Pieter, son of Willem was called Pieter Willems and Jan, son of Pieter Jan Pieters, etcetera. A bit confusing when first researching such patronymics, but once you get the hang of it they are pretty straightforward and often a great tool when doing research in a time when records are less informative.

Historical Images That Make Your Family History Come To Life

The National Dutch Archives probably host the largest collection historical documents of the Netherlands. It preserves the archives of the Dutch Government and those of social institutions or people that have been of any significance to Dutch history.

Among a lot of other things they have an image bank that contains almost half a million pictures of historical places, people and documents.

Forgotten Crafts: Clog maker

The Dutch are famous for their yellow clogs. Centuries ago, it was indeed the most popular footwear in The Netherlands. This was mainly because it was the most sensible footwear imaginable in a land that mainly consists of swampy, muddy soil. Only people in the cities with paved roads would venture out on leather shoes. Anywhere else wearing leather shoes was the best way to either get your feet soaked in minutes or break your neck on the slippery mud puddles.

Clogs had many advantages over shoes. They kept your feet cool in summer and, with a little straw in them, warm in winter. They gave you grip on slippery surfaces and above all kept your feet dry. No wonder people wore them all the time. There were many different types according to the region and their function. There were working clogs, wedding clogs, church clogs, everyday clogs, mourning clogs, etcetera.

How far is far away?

The other day I hopped in the car with my kids to pay a visit to grandpa and grandma in Holland's southernmost province of Limburg. The trip took us two hours on a smooth, well-lit highway. During the drive, my thoughts wandered off to my ancestors, as they regularly do. I wondered how they would have experienced this trip?

My ancestors from the 1700s probably never made such a trip. They lived, married, and died in Amsterdam, possibly without ever setting a foot outside the city. Traveling to the south of Limburg at that time would have been a huge undertaking, especially if you lacked the money to get yourself a carriage, a horse, or a ticket on a "trekschuit" (horse-drawn barge). If you had to walk the 215 km (135 miles) from Amsterdam to Heerlen, it would take you at least a week. On horseback or by barge you could do it in two or three days.

What's Cooking: Tulip bulbs

That the Dutch are fond of their tulips is known worldwide. Thousands of tourists come over each spring to see the immense tulip fields in the western part of the country. However, what is far less known is that the Dutch even used to eat them. Yes, you got that right; there was a time when the Dutch actually ate their tulip bulbs. Not because they tasted so great, but simply because there was nothing else to eat.

The period in which this happened was the winter of 1944/1945 known to the Dutch as "Hongerwinter" (winter of hunger). While the southern part of the Netherlands had been freed by allied troops, the North remained occupied by the Germans. In September 1944, Queen Wilhelmina, living in exile at the time, urged the Dutch Railway personnel to go on strike, so as to sabotage the Germans in supplying their troops. The railway personnel obeyed her with disastrous results.