Your ancestors in the Netherlands
The Netherlands (commonly known in the UK as Holland) is a Country with a rich history. Known as a liberal country the Netherlands embraced many asssets of culture for the first time, many we now take for granted. Were your ancestors Dutch? This blog will help you get started.
The Netherlands (meaning the low countries) or Nederland (Holland as we generally refer to the Country) is situated in NW Europe. The official language is Dutch, with a secondary languauge of West Frisian. Low German may be spoken in northern parts of the Country.
The largest city is Amsterdam (the capital) with Rotterdam, The Hague (regularly dubbed the world’s legal capital, for its International Courts), Utrecht and Eindhoven following in size. Rotterdam has the largest port in Europe. The population stands at just over 17 million, one of the most densely populated in the world.
Since 1848 the Netherlands has been a parliamentary constitutional monarchy.
From 800BC the Iron Age Hallstatt culture became influential. Germanic tribes from the North may have been attracted to the area between 850BC and 650BC, this completed in 250BC. During the Gallic Wars (58-50BC) the area south and west of the Rhine was taken by the Romans under Julius Caesar. The Franks expanded their territories after the fall of Roman governance. By the 490s all territories in the Southern Netherlands were reunited into one Frankish Kingdom. As the climate improved the Saxons, Angles, Jutes and Frisii moved in, eventually moving to England to become the Anglo-Saxons.
By the 7th C a Frisian Kingdom emerged with Utrecht as its centre of power. The Frankish Carolingian empire controlled much of Western Europe. By 843 it was divided into East, Middle and West Francia. Much of present-day Netherlands became part of Middle Francia. The Vikings raided much of the low countries along the coasts and rivers. Gerolf of Holland, a local noble assumed lordship of Frisia after helping to assassinate Gofrid, bringing Viking rule to an end in 855.
In the 10th and 11th C The Holy Roman Empire ruled much of the Low Countries. Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy united most Imperial and French fiefs in the current Netherlands in 1433. The house of Valois-Burgundy and their Habsburg heirs ruled the Low Countries 1384-1581. All fiefs in the current Netherlands region, plus fiefs in present day Belgium, Luxembourg and some land which is now French or German were united into the Seventeen Provinces. In 1568 the 80 years war began, with moves to suppress the Protestants. The Union of Utrecht in 1579 bought the northern half of the Seventeen Provinces together in what is seen as the foundation of the modern Netherlands. In 1648 King Philip IV of Spain finally recognised the independence of the seven north-western provinces in the Peace of Munster.
Following the Peace of Munster, Holland, Zeeland, Groningen, Friesland, Utrecht, Overijssel and Gelderland formed a confederation. The Dutch Empire grew to be one of the major seafaring and economic powers for much of the 17th C.
In January 1795 the Netherlands became a unitary state, following Dutch Republicans (with the support of revolutionary France) proclaiming the Batavian Republic. William V of Orange had fled to England. From 1806-1810 the Kingdom of Holland was organised by Napoleon Bonaparte as a puppet kingdom, ruled by his brother. This failed and the Netherlands became part of the French Empire until 1813. William Frederick, the son of William V of Orange, returned to the Netherlands in 1813 and proclaimed himself Sovereign Prince of the Netherlands. The Congress of Vienna added the southern Netherlands to the North. In 1830 the south gained independence as Belgium. In 1839 the Kingdom of the Netherlands was created through the Treaty of London.
During WW1 the Netherlands remained neutral. In WW2 Germany invaded the Netherlands in 1940. In 1954 the Charter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands reformed the political structure.
The Netherlands is made up of 12 provinces, under a King’s Commissioner (Commissaris van de Koning). All provinces are divided into municipalities (380 of them) or gemeenten.
The Netherlands has been predominantly Christian until the late 20th C. In 2015 50% of the population declared to be non-religious. Christians declared 44% of the total population (Catholics 24%, Protestants 16% and other Christians with 5%). Islam was 5% of the total population and other religions (Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism) comprised 1%. All percentages are rounded up.
Source: Wikipedia and and netherlands-tourism.com/history-of-the-netherlands/, accessed 2019
Family History records are created and organised locally. Civil Registration (birth, marriage and death) are kept at a local level. Church records (christening/baptism, marriage and burial) are kept at a local level.
If you are unsure of your ancestors town in the Netherlands follow the advice in the FamilySearch Wiki.
Births, marriages or deaths are civil records and were introduced in 1811 under Napolean. In Limburg and some parts of Zeeland civil registration began in 1795 as these areas had already been conquered by France. One year and ten year indexes are available.
The contents of a birth entry are shown below, only in addition to English and Welsh records
- The ages and occupation of the parents.
- The names, ages, occupations, and residences of the witnesses.
- The relationships of the witnesses to the child, if any.
- It will never say if the child is legitimate or illegitimate.
The contents of a marriage entry are shown below, only in exception to English and Welsh records
- The birthplace of the bride and groom.
- The names of the parents and their residence and occupation, if living.
- The names of the witnesses, their ages, occupations, residence, and relationship to the bride or groom, if any.
The contents of a death entry are shown below, only in exception to English and Welsh records
- The names of the deceased’s parents.
- The place of the deceased’s birth.
- The names of the witnesses, their ages, occupations, residence, and relationship if any.
Married women are always recorded under their maiden surname.
Access to Netherlands Civil Registration records online is excellent.
A snapshot of a family, on one night of the year; the Census (volkstelling) gives an invaluable insight into our ancestors lives.
Except for the 1829/30 and 1839/40 census all other censuses are not as relevant for genealogists, as they are purely statistical.
A Frisian census was taken in 1714, only Franeker and Barradeel survive.
The 1744 Descriptions of families (Omschrijvinge van familiën) survives complete for Friesland.
The 1748 census for Overijssel survives in its entirety.
The 1749 Frisian Recording of families and persons (Opteekeninge der familiën en persoonen) is also complete.
A 1749 provincial census of Gelderland contains further information.
A 1795 census survives and is held by the relevant provincial archive.
A census substitute; a voters list, created by Napolean can be found in municipal and provincial archives for 1811.
A national census was conducted by the Ministry of Home Affairs from 1829 to 1889 then by Statistics Netherlands from 1899 to 1930.
Three further censuses were undertaken by Statistics Netherlands (Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek – Central Agency for Statistics) in 1947, 1960 and 1971. In 1981 and 1991 a “virtual census” was undertaken based on data in the Population Registers and surveys.
Census records can be difficult to find online. Some specific websites are mentioned on FamilySearch. Post-1811 census records are sometimes included in the FamilySearch Record Collection.
Perhaps more important than the Census are the population registers. Population Registers differ to a Census in that it records the population over a period as it changes (a Census is a snapshot at a point of time). The administration of the population registers commenced in 1850 and (in different formats) still exists today. They consist of registers, family cards, person cards, databases (further information).
Check out further information and available census material on the FamilySearch website.
Emigrants and Immigrants
Emigration (leaving) and Immigration (arriving) records tend to be passenger lists, permissions to emigrate or records of passports issued.
Large numbers of Dutch emigrants can be found on every continent and in many countries. There were several waves of movement for the Dutch people:
- 1614 to 1820. Emigrants tended to migrate to North America, South America, Africa, India, Indonesia, and the West Indies.
- 1820 to 1940. More than 250,000 emigrants are thought to have left the Netherlands and migrated to North America, Indonesia, Africa, and the West Indies. Many were from the provinces of Friesland, Gelderland Groningen, Drenthe, South-Holland and the eastern part of Noord-Brabant.
- 1940 to 1970. Thousands left after World War II and settled in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States.
The Dutch government compiled lists of emigrants leaving the country from 1845-1877. These give:
- emigrant’s name
- municipality of last residence
- reason for leaving and
They list the number of women, children, and servants accompanying the emigrant. These records are described in the FamilySearch Catalogue.
The Family History Library has microfiche copies of the Holland–America Line passenger lists from the port of Rotterdam for 1900-1940. The fiche numbers of these records are listed in the Place search of the FamilySearch Catalogue.
Emigration records (Emigratie registers)
Contain lists of emigrants and documentation permissions for those moving to other provinces within the Netherlands (1500-present). The content of these collections includes:
- Emigration lists (1500-1878)
- Committee lists (1875-1934)
- Passenger lists
These records maybe located in the provincial, state, city and/or municipal archives, plus Amsterdam and Rotterdam shipping companies. They may only represent particular provinces; not the whole Country.
There are a number of other records and lists available; see the FamilySearch website.
Parish Registers generally detail Baptism, Marriage and Burial. They may be used as an alternative or substitute for civil registration.
Churches in the late 1500s started to keep registers of baptisms and marriages. Burials were often not recorded at first. Records do not always exist for the period before 1700. Many parish registers were not created by the church but by the local (civil) authorities. For example, the Schepenbank (College of Aldermen) had registers for marriages and deaths.
Records kept by Catholics are written in Latin. Most other records will be written in Dutch.
The main types of Church records are:
- Dopen (Baptisms)
- Trouwen (Marriages)
- Begraven (Burials)
- Lidmaten (List of Parish Members)
Most people in the Netherlands belonged to either the Dutch Reformed (Nederduits Gereformeerd) or Roman Catholic Churches. Some belonged to other religions such as Lutherans or Mennonites (Doopsgezinde) or were Jews (Joden). The Dutch Reformed religion was the only official recognised religion, Catholics had to marry either in the Dutch Reformed church or in the Schepenbank. Therefore the research for Catholic families should also include a study of Protestant sources.
The Following information will usually be found in a baptism record (in addition to English and Welsh records):
- The place of birth and/or baptism
- Whether the child was legitimate or illegitimate
- You are unlikely to find a date of birth. Catholics do not refer to the birth at all, Protestants sometimes do
Records of banns and the actual marriage are almost always included together. If the marriage was recorded separately to the banns, the record often includes names only and is not worth pursuing. Catholic marriage registers often only contain names.
The following information may be found (in addition to English and Welsh records):
- Previous spouses may be named
- The place of their births (or where they were residing when married).
- The date of the marriage proclamations or banns.
- If the groom was a member of the military, the regiment or name of the commanding officer
In some registers, especially after 1794 and in Amsterdam the following may be recorded:
- The names of their parents.
- The date of their births (or their age at the time of marriage).
- Their occupation
In most places people of any religion had to be buried in the Dutch Reformed Church or in the Catholic Church, depending on which was dominant in that town.
The following information will usually be found in a burial record (in addition to English and Welsh records):
- The parents if the deceased is a child
- The tax paid (determined by their wealth and ability to pay)
Some records, especially later records after 1794 may contain:
- Cause of death
- Place of residence or death
Membership Records (Lidmaten)
Some churches (especially in the Dutch Reformed religion), kept a record of their members. The records generally contain:
- members’ names
- dates of confessions of faith, and
- dates of arrival from other parishes.
They may also contain:
- death dates
- dates members left the parish
- communion lists
- names of those partaking of the sacrament or attending catechism school.
Membership records are usually in the archive of the church council [kerkeraad] of the parish. Sometimes they are part of the baptism or marriage register.
Essentially all Netherlands Church records from before 1811 are now online. To find out what records have survived, the best place to start is the website of the regional archive that holds the records. See the FamilySearch wiki for a comprehensive list.
To access records and research this area further check out the FamilySearch Wiki.
Key contacts and useful websites
Research ancestors in other countries
Wikipeadia, accessed 2019
netherlands-tourism.com/history-of-the-netherlands/, accessed 2019
FamilySearch.org, accessed 2019
Special thanks to John Boeren of antecedentia.com/ for reading and commenting on my draft blog
https://www.freeimages.com/ (Photo by Marcel Herber)
Robert Parker is a Genealogist and Trainer, based in Kent. He delivers courses, guidance, talks and research services for those interested in tracing their ancestors. See https://myfamilygenealogy.co.uk/guidance/ for his 5 steps to discovering your ancestors. Contact Robert to discuss your requirements without obligation.
What stories might your ancestors tell?