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Genealogy in the Netherlands

By Mary Verkuilen Dodd, June 1998 APGQ

Researching ancestors from the Netherlands has been one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my limited genealogical career. I was a United States Army officer stationed in the Washington, D.C., area when my interest in genealogy was beginning to take root in the late 1980s. Orders assigning me to Stuttgart, Germany, in the summer of 1990, and the subsequent world events -the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Persian Gulf War, the disintegration of the Soviet Union- made genealogy a foggy dream from a previous period. In late 1991, a rare opportunity presented itself: five consecutive days off (unheard of) and an offer of lodging from a retired Dutch baker and his wife in Arnhem, Netherlands. My 10-year-old son, Brian, convinced me (and his fifth-grade teacher) this would be an excellent educational opportunity and we headed to the train station.

A methodically prepared research trip this was not. There were no lists of research objectives or associated tasks. There was no prior consultation with staff members at archives and repositories to confirm available holdings and hours of operation. I only knew that all four of my paternal great-grandparents had come from Holland to Wisconsin as children in the 1840s and 1850s. My expectations, therefore, were low. We declared the trip a success the moment the train headed north out of the Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof and set about on a quest to determine the home province and village of our Verkuilen ancestors. Here is a summary of what we found and what we learned.

On-Site Research

Research in the National Archives

On the first full day in Holland, our hosts took us to the train station and put us on the train to Den Haag (The Hague, home of the International Court of Justice). Within two blocks of the central station we found the Centraal Bureau voor Genealogie (Central Bureau for Genealogy) located within the Algemeen Rijksarchief (National Archives) of the Netherlands1.

The Central Bureau was founded in 1945 and is the focal point of genealogical research in the Netherlands. Its library holdings include more than 100,000 books pertaining to Dutch families, heraldry, and regional and local histories. Other resources include newspaper clippings filed by surname and approximately 60,000 manuscripts. Thousands of records of vital genealogical events such as births, marriages, and deaths are also available on microfilm. Excellent summaries of the holdings at the Central Bureau for Genealogy can be found in two sources and will not be repeated here. Baxter's In Search of Your European Roots2 and the Central Bureau's Web site3 will provide overviews for the researcher who is contemplating research in the Netherlands.

Our "research objective" was to determine the province with the greatest probability of being the home of our immigrant Verkuilens. With this in mind, we opted to use the surname file of the Central Bureau for Genealogy. This file is a collection of newspaper clippings for each surname containing anniversary announcements, obituaries, and other newsworthy items. We ordered the file and proceeded to set up a tally sheet where we logged each location mentioned in the articles. Using a map provided by the archivist, we grouped the locations by province. The "winner" in this not-so-scientific survey was the province of Noord Brabant, which appeared to have the greatest density of the Verkuilen surname.

Also located in Den Haag is the miniature city of Madurodam4. Any researcher who would like to learn more about Dutch culture and history would benefit greatly from a visit to this outdoor attraction. Using a 25:1 scale, it is a historically correct reproduction of a Dutch village and its surroundings - complete with windmills, tulips, moats, and canals.

Research in Provincial Archives

We set out the next day for 's-Hertogenbosch (or Den Bosch as it is referred to by the locals) and the provincial archives of Noord Brabant. At the Rijksarchief in Noord Brabant5, we found a new and modern research facility that had been designed as a replica of a 1629 citadel. The facility came complete with a moat, drawbridge, fortress walls with gun ports, and a restaurant-all essential criteria for ensuring a 10-year-old research assistant does not become bored!

From a research standpoint, the archives contained collections of civil and church records from throughout the province. We posed the question, "We're looking for proof of great-great grandfather, Martinus Verkuijlen's birth and parents. He was born in Noord Brabant about 1810-1814 and immigrated to the United States in 1848. What do we do now?" The congenial staff member proceeded to introduce us to the index card files and explained the organization of the microfilm cabinets and the procedures for requesting original ledgers and obtaining photocopies.

Before we were done, we had located and copied the marriage record (civil) of Martinus Verkuilen and Gertruui Hendriks (1840), birth records (civil) for their children (Johannes, 1841, and Anna Maria, 1846) and a birth record (church) for Martin (1812). The marriage record named the parents of the bride and groom (a new generation!) and stated that all but the groom's father were deceased. With this information, the search began for the death records of these ancestors. Again, we met with positive results and from these death records learned the names of the parents of this generation.

Brian learned three key Dutch words, geboorte (birth), huwelijk (marriage), and overleden (deceased), and the fine art of threading the film onto the readers. With this background, he played an essential role in our system of "assembly line" research. Brian would find the film, thread it onto the machine, and advance it to the year in question. I took it from there and located the record in question, while he completed the same steps for the next record on a second machine. If/when the record was located, Brian would again take charge of the machine, depositing the required Dutch guilder for printouts and then rewinding the film and returning it to the table for refiling.

The following day we researched at the Rijksarchief Gelderland6 in Arnhem and visited the Open Air Museum just outside Arnhem. My existing knowledge of our Gelderland ancestors, the Driessen and Sanders families, was more specific than my existing knowledge of the Verkuilens. We spent about a half-day documenting several facts which had been previously documented only with the statement, "Family tradition says ...". It became clear that these families were very prominent families and the amount of available information was too extensive to pursue in depth on this visit. We opted for a "field trip" to the Netherlands Open Air Museum and thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to see the replicas of Dutch life through the centuries. The objective of the Open Air Museum is to "give a historically accurate picture of the changing pattern of daily life in the Netherlands from about 1600. To this end, original houses, farms, windmills, and business premiseshave been rebuilt in the museum-park7". Any Dutch researcher would be well advised to leave the microfilm and dusty ledgers behind for a day and see first-hand the homes, farms, and villages of their ancestors. Good walking shoes are a must!

Research in Local/Regional Archives

In 1992, a return trip to Holland found me in the company of my sister and brother-in-law. Avid bicyclists, they had come to cycle the "old country." On this trip I served as the "sag" wagon, hauling baggage and locating lodgings at the agreed-upon village for each night's stay. During the day, they cycled while I returned to the archives in Den Bosch and ventured out to the next level of research opportunity-the municipal archives.

In the village of Uden I paid a visit to the Uden Municipal Building and found many of the same records that were housed at the Rijks-archief8. What was new were the emigration records for all who had departed the village during the nineteenth century. The records gave the birth dates of all members of each party and also provided the marriage dates of the husband and wife and named their parents. What a genealogical gold mine! A key discovery in this file was the emigration record of Martinus' brother, Wilhelmus, who emigrated in 1853, five years after Martinus and his family. This discovery put into question the long-held belief that those "other" Verkuilens in the Fox River Valley area of Wisconsin were not related.

Finally, the emigration records contained the first hint to dispute the hypothesis that Martinus had been widowed and then remarried after his arrival in Wisconsin. The archivist translated a pencilled note on the emigration index card. The note referenced a name change for Martinus' wife ordered by the Royal Court of Nijmegen in 1823 (when she was 11 years old).

Preparation

Though I was not knowledgeable enough at the time to have taken many of the following steps, I highly recommend them. A little advance preparation using the resources of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the World Wide Web will assist any Dutch researcher in using those precious on-site research hours to maximum advantage.

Family History Library, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Several research aids have been published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A discussion of a few of these publications follows.

Dutch Genealogical Word List

This 12-page document is a "must." It provides the Dutch equivalent for key genealogical terms. Days of the week, numbers, months, relationships, occupations, and key events (birth, marriage, death) are all translated in this list.

Guide to Genealogical Sources in the Netherlands, Series C

This series of publications consists of a general manual (No. 3) on the Netherlands, and manuals listing the holdings and resources in ten of the twelve provinces. There are also manuals describing the availability of church records for various religious denominations that are prominent in the Netherlands. For a list of all papers in this series and their prices, write to The Genealogical Society of Utah, 35 North West Temple Street, Salt Lake City, UT 84150.

Other Family History Library Resources

A search of the Family History Library Catalog9 for locality "Netherlands" returned 145 topics ranging from archives to yearbooks. In between were entries for topics such as church records, civil registrations, emigration and immigration, and genealogy. I expanded on the "Genealogy - Handbooks, manuals, etc." topic and found twenty-six records. One of these, Dutch Genealogical Research, by Charles M. Franklin, is the manual that I used for what little preparation I did prior to my first research trip. Though somewhat dated, this manual opened the first doors for me in this unique country and I still refer to it.

The topic "Emigration and Immigration" also contains some interesting records that provide potential for locating an ancestor's home province or home village prior to beginning research across the Atlantic. In this section I found Robert P. Swierenga's Dutch Immigrants in U.S. Ship Passenger Manifests, 1820-1880. This is the resource that pointed me to the ship arrival records for all four of my great-grandparents.

Not surprisingly, most of the manuals listed are in Dutch. There are a limited number of rolls of film that contain actual genealogical records such as baptisms, marriages, births, and deaths. Nonetheless, a careful review of selected holdings of the Family History Library can provide an excellent foundation for where to look and what to expect in the Netherlands.

Online

One resource I did not have available to me on my first two trips to the Netherlands, but which I used in preparation for a 1997 research trip, was the Internet. The first place to begin is the home page for the Central Bureau for Genealogy10. Though the majority of the information available through this site is in Dutch, there is also a link to an English version. In addition to summarizing the facility's holdings, the Web site provides the hours, location, telephone and fax numbers, as well as prices for services and copying. Most importantly, the catalog for the Central Bureau for Genealogy is online and can be searched by surname, geographic location, or other topic. From the comfort of my home, I did a search for my Verkuilen surname and was rewarded with 3 hits. One of these hits was the dossier file I used in 1991 to plot the density of the Verkuilen surname. A search for the Driessen surname (my paternal grandmother) revealed forty-three hits.

From the home page of the Central Bureau for Genealogy, there are links to all of the other archives with Web sites. Click on any of these and you will be able to learn the address and operating hours of the facility you are considering as well as some information on what is available. Keep in mind that the further away from the Central Bureau that your "surfing" takes you, the less likely you are to see English text. However, many of the words are intuitive and if you have the Dutch Genealogical Word List discussed above, you'll be able to absorb the basics and at least obtain phone numbers so you can call or fax your questions.

A visit to the Netherlands category of "Cyndi's List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet11" will provide a comprehensive collection of links to additional sources in the Netherlands. These are indexed and include such topics as maps, gazetteers, lists of professional researchers, publications, societies, and surname pages for families of Dutch descent. A visit to this site and relevant links is a "must" when considering research on Dutch ancestors.

Research from a Distance

Correspondence

Most archives will respond to written queries. For details of terms and policies, contact the archives via letter, phone, or e-mail if available. The policies of the Central Bureau for Genealogy are available online by visiting the home page of the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Washington, D.C., and following links to the Press and Cultural Affairs Section12. An initial inquiry stating the general nature of the search will generate a response from the archives. This response will indicate whether the facility has records to cover the place, time, and event in question and will present the terms of the research. In two instances within the past year, this letter has indicated that the facility would proceed with the research unless they heard from me within two weeks with alternative instructions. In both instances I allowed the research to proceed and was rewarded with the exact information I had requested along with a report (in English) which described the enclosures.

Hired Researchers

To locate a local Dutch researcher, contact the archives nearest the location you are searching. If you have access to the Internet, the home page for the archives in that province may list the names of researchers familiar with that area. In some instances this list can be sent to you via e-mail. I have hired researchers on two occasions and was quite pleased in both instances. In the first situation, I obtained the researcher's business card at the provincial archives. In the second instance, I met the individual on a research trip. While looking "lost and confused," a gentleman offered to assist. In doing so, he became familiar with my ancestors and the locations in which I was researching. From this introduction, further research was commissioned.

Practical Considerations

Language

One factor that makes research in the Netherlands easier than in most foreign countries is the fact that most Dutch citizens under the age of 50 speak English to some degree. Since the end of World War II, English has been a required subject in the Dutch school system. The Dutch citizens we encountered were eager to practice their English skills. Thus, such tasks as communicating with archivists, asking directions on the street, and requesting information, either in person or through correspondence, are simplified.

Lodging and Meals

The focal point for planning a trip to the Netherlands should be the Netherlands Board of Tourism (NBT). In addition to a home page on the Internet13, there are branches of the NBT in Chicago14 and New York15. An inquiry will yield extensive literature and information to assist in planning itineraries and making reservations. Additional general information on the Netherlands can be obtained from the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Washington, D.C.16

For those who wish a research trip not bound by advance reservations, the system of Dutch Tourist Information offices has more than 400 locations throughout the country. Follow the "VVV" signs that begin on the outskirts of all cities and most larger villages. These signs will usually lead to an office near the heart of town. Here the itinerant researcher will be able to make lodging arrangements. Available accommodations will range from a room in the home of a Dutch family to a suite in a pricey hotel.

Payment

Though it fluctuates daily, the general ratio of U.S. dollars to Dutch guilders is 2:117. ATM machines are readily available throughout the country (Note that the key pad at Dutch ATM's only have numbers, no letters!) During my 1997 research trip, I carried no traveler's checks and used the ATM machines to withdraw cash from my checking account as needed. When I arrived home and received my bank statement, I was pleased to find that the exchange rate used in converting the currency was better than if I had exchanged American dollars (cash or traveler's checks) at local Dutch banks. This was also the case with credit card charges.

Payment for research fees has proven to be the greatest challenge in my Netherlands research. European practice is to direct payment to a specific bank and specific account within that bank. While stationed in Germany, this posed no difficulty as I simply took the invoice and payment to a local German bank where the money was transferred to the Dutch account of the archives or private researcher. I paid a small fee (less than $2) for this service. From the United States, research can be paid for through Capitol Foreign Exchange (call 888-842-0880 for information). At the time, I had to be creative in figuring out how to meet my obligations to my Dutch benefactors without paying up to 50 percent of the cost of the invoice in wire transfer fees. Fortunately, I have noticed on the Internet in recent months that several of the archives I have dealt with are beginning to offer payment by credit card as an option.

Summary

Research in the Netherlands has given me an opportunity to meet and appreciate the congenial nature of the Dutch people. I have received courteous and efficient assistance from archivists, hotel personnel, restaurant staff, and people on the street providing information. The beauty of the country, with its windmills, canals, tulips, and wooden shoes, added immensely to the thrill of meeting potential "cousins" and learning more about my ancestors and my Dutch heritage. I highly recommend a research trip to the "old country" to anyone who has traced his or her Dutch heritage to an immigrant ancestor and wishes to continue the journey.

Endnotes

1. Centraal Bureau voor Genealogie (Central Bureau for Genealogy), Prins Willem-Alexanderhof 22, 2595 BE 's-Gravenhage, Netherlands; phone +31-70-3150500; fax +31-70-3478394; http://www.cbg.nl.

2. Angus Baxter, In Search of Your European Roots, 2d ed. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1994), 187-190.

3. Brief Information in English, Central Bureau for Genealogy; http://www.cbg.nl/english/englishpag.htm.

4. Madurodam, George Maduroplein 1, 2584 RZ Den Haag, Scheveningen, Netherlands; phone +31-70-3553900; fax +31-70-3512185; http://www.madurodam.nl.

5. Rijksarchief in Noord-Brabant, Zuid Willemsvaart 2, 5211 NW 's-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands; phone +31-73-6818500; fax +31-73-6146439, http://www.tref.nl/s-hertogenbosch/rijksarchief ; e-mail citadel@euronet.nl.

6. Rijksarchief Gelderland, Markt 1, 6811 CG Arnhem, Netherlands; phone +31-26-4420148; fax +31-26-4459792.

7. J. M. Bos, Guide [to] Netherlands Open-Air Museum Arnhem (Arnhem, Netherlands: Publikatiecommissie Nederlands Openluchtmuseum, 1990), 12. The Netherlands Open Air Museum is located at Schelmseweg 89, 6816 SJ Arnhem, Netherlands; phone +31-26-3576100; http://www.openluchtmuseum.nl.

8. On a return visit in July 1997, it was discovered that all of the historical and genealogical records found in 1992 at the Uden Municipal Building had been transferred to the Streekarchief (Regional Archives) in Veghel, a village about twelve miles away (Streekarchief Brabant-Noordoost, Markt 1, 5460 AH Veghel, Netherlands; phone +31-41-3342429). The emigration records discussed above were found again at this facility.

9. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Family History Library Catalog, August 1996; http://www.familysearch.org.

10. Central Bureau for Genealogy, http://www.cbg.nl.

11. Netherlands, Cyndi's List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet, http://www.CyndisList.com/nether.htm.

12. Genealogical Research, Royal Netherlands Embassy, 4200 Linnean Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008; phone (202) 244-5300; fax (202) 362-3430; http://www.netherlands-embassy.org/article.asp?articleref=AR00000383EN.

13. Netherlands Board of Tourism, http://www.goholland.com.

14. Netherlands Board of Tourism, 225 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 326, Chicago, IL 60601; phone 312) 819-0300; fax (312) 819-1740.

15. Netherlands Board of Tourism, 355 Lexington Avenue (21st floor), New York, NY 10017; phone (212) 370-7367; fax (212) 370-9507.

16. Royal Netherlands Embassy, Press and Cultural Section; http://www.netherlands-embassy.org.

17. Yahoo! Finance-Currency Exchange, http://quote.yahoo.com/m3?u.

Bibliography

Buning, Antoinette de Cock and Leo Verheijen, comp. The Netherlands in Brief. The Hague, Netherlands: Foreign Information Service, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1987.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Dutch Genealogical Word List. 1st ed. Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1989.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Guide to the Genealogical Sources in the Netherlands, Series C. Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Franklin, Charles M. Dutch Genealogical Research. Indianapolis: Ye Olde Genealogie Shoppe, 1982.

Howells, Cyndi. Netting Your Ancestors, Genealogical Research on the Internet. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, Inc., 1997.

Wijnaendts van Resandt, Willem. Searching for your Ancestors in The Netherlands. The Hague, Netherlands: Centraal Bureau voor Genealogie, 1972.

About the Author

Mary Verkuilen Dodd is a member of several genealogical and historical societies which include APG, NGS, and the Illinois State Genealogical Society. A retired United States Army officer, her military assignments have provided the opportunity to conduct genealogical research throughout the United States and in Europe. She has recently chaired a successful effort to renovate an abandoned cemetery, and is the editor of the family newsletter, Verkuilen Roots and Branches. mcdodd@intertek.net


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