Learn more about Dutch culture and genealogy!

If you like reading about Dutch culture, history and genealogy keep an eye on this page. We regularly post blog articles here about these topics. Want to make sure you don't miss out on new posts? Follow Dutch Ancestry Coach on Facebook were we post an announcement whenever a new blog article comes out. You can also find other Dutch genealogy enthousiasts there from all over the world to chat and share information with.

We have been writing articles for several years now, this means that some articles may contain outdated information. We are currently going through all our articles to make necessary updates. Keep this in mind when browsing through them.

Witte Wieven: Ghostly Ladies Of The Marshes

Probably as long as people have roamed the earth and have been able to tell stories, they have enjoyed scaring each other with spooky stories about the creatures of the night. In Twente, in the eastern part of the Netherlands near the German border, one of the favorite spooky creatures is the "Witte Wief" which literally translates as "White Lady". Some, however, argue that the word "wit" is derived from the old word "wid" which means "wise" and therefore "Witte Wieven" are not white ladies but wise ladies.

According to local folklore, these white ladies roam the marshes at night and lure people into the swamps to drown them there. They are also regarded as omens of death. On the other hand, there are sagas in which they appear as wise women that help and cure. Whether evil or good, they are always described as long-haired women with long white gowns. I once hiked in the moors here at dusk on a cold, misty autumn afternoon and I can assure you that it was very easy to mistake the wisps of fog for ghostly creatures in long white dresses. They are misleading also, making the trail hard to see. Ending up in the swamp was a real danger. A spooky experience indeed. However, scholars believe there is more to the story than creepy surroundings and a vivid imagination.

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.

Yankee Dutch

When people emigrate, the most valuable possessions they take along are their culture and their language. Much of that erodes over time and usually the third and fourth generations know little about their foreign cultural baggage. However, sometimes something special happens and culture and language do not fade but are still passed on from one generation to the next albeit with alterations and influences of the surrounding new culture.

Nice examples of this are Jersey Dutch from Bergen and Passaic counties, New Jersey and Yankee Dutch from Michigan. Especially in Michigan some communities have fourth generation Dutch that still speak (some) Dutch. It is assumed that these communities were able to stick to their Dutch language because of their faith. These reformed Dutch still use a Dutch translation of the Bible and continue to hold their services (partially) in Dutch. Although this will have played a role, it is more likely that the original Dutch settlers of Michigan just kept pretty much to themselves, which made the adoption of English a much slower process.

What's Cooking: Dutch Meat Balls

"Woensdag, gehaktdag!" ("Wednesday, minced meat day!") That is how it used to be up until the 1960s: on Wednesdays, virtually every Dutch housewife would serve minced meat for dinner. Even today, more traditional families and elderly people eat minced meat on Wednesday. Now why would a whole country eat the same food on the same day?

That has to do with the fact that butchers used to slaughter the animals themselves. They usually did so on Monday. On Tuesday, they would process the meat into high quality steaks, chops and the like. Finally, on Wednesday, the butcher would take the leftovers and turn them into minced meat that he would sell at a special low price.

National Dutch Railroad Company Archives

The very first Dutch railway opened in 1839 and ran between Amsterdam and nearby Haarlem. It was built by the Hollandsche IJzeren Spoorweg Maatschappij (HIJSM or HSM), which was founded in 1837 by private investors.

These investors had primarily commercial interests. They wanted to establish a "high speed" connection between the ports of Rotterdam and Amsterdam, and Germany. But because of endless disputes over land it took the company until 1847 to complete the railroad between Amsterdam and Rotterdam alone.

Forgotten Crafts: Water And Fire Seller

Until WW II, Dutch houses did not have hot running water or central heating. Coal stoves provided most families with heating and a cooking place. Heating up large amounts of water on a coal stove is a time-consuming task. Especially on washing day — typically Monday— that posed a problem, since washing was already time-consuming in itself.

Therefore, Dutch housewives preferred to buy ready-made hot water at a local water and fire store called a "water-en-vuurnering" in Dutch. The water seller was called a "waterstoker", "water-en-vuurbaas" (male) or "water-en-vuurvrouwtje" (female). The first round of hot water was used on Sunday evening. All the dirty laundry was set to soak in hot water: white laundry in one tub and the rest in another. Then, on Monday morning, the real washing could begin.

Give Birth Dates Context With Historic Dutch Newspapers

Although finding a date of birth can be exiting in itself for the genealogist, it is in the end just that: a date. Wouldn't be great to know what was happening on the day your great grandmother was born? What was the weather like, what historic events took place, what did famous people do that day... The great thing is that you actually can!

The Leeuwarder Courant has the biggest database of historical newspapers of the Netherlands. Although it is a Frisian newspaper, it also covers the national news, of course. It dates back as far as 1752 and it is all available for free online. You can simply choose a date and flip through the newspaper of that day or you can search for specific strings.

Tracing Dutch WW2 victims

When researching more recent generations, it is not unlikely to get confronted with ancestors that did not survive WW2. Some may have died on duty as a soldier, others may have found a sad ending in one of the concentration camps. Sometimes ancestors seem to simply "disappear". To trace these ancestors can be hard, but the Dutch War Grave Foundation can sometimes shed some light on the case.

The Dutch War Grave Foundation
The organization was founded on September 13, 1946 by Dr. Van Anrooy. He was a physician and Lieutenant Colonel. He was the head of the Identification And Salvage Department of the Dutch Army. After a visit to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, he decided that the Netherlands had a need for a similar organization. He set about creating the Dutch War Grave Foundation with the help of the Dutch Royal Prince Bernard. Unfortunately he died in a car crash on December 24, 1946. However, his wife took over soon and made the organization to what it is today.

How much did you say? Converting Dutch Historic Currencies

Whenever you venture into the research of your ancestor's possessions, you typically hit this question pretty soon: How much was that in current-day money? What does it mean that your great-great-grandfather bought a house for 300 guilders? Keep on reading to find out what's a guilder, how it evolved over the centuries and how you can calculate the conversion.

Ever since the Middle Ages the Netherlands used a coin named "guilder". The name refers to a golden (gilded) Florentine coin. The Florentine origin of the guilder remained visible in the symbol for the guilder, which is an "f" or "fl", and the old word "florijn". That the coin had the same name for centuries can lead to the false impression that its value and the way it used to be split up in smaller coins was the same for centuries as well. This, however, is not the case.

Forgotten Crafts: Wet Nurses

A min, minnemoeder or zoogster is a wet nurse, a woman who breastfeeds somebody else's child. Today nobody in the western world would consider hiring someone to breastfeed their baby: either they do the breastfeeding themselves or they give the baby a bottle. So why did our ancestors use wet nurses?

The first group of people that outsourced the feeding of their children (and their whole education for that matter) was the nobility. Noble women considered feeding and raising children as way below their position. Therefore, they would hire a wet nurse to do the task for them. Finding a good wet nurse however, was no easy task. The belief was that the wet nurse would transmit her health and character to the infant through the milk. Therefore, she had to be well fed, of strong composition, healthy and of honest and quiet character. She also had to be willing to move in with the noble household. When she did, she usually took her own children with her and actually took care of the noble child as one of her own.