Monday, September 30, 2013

Six Things To Know About Dutch Genealogy

So you've got ancestors from the Netherlands. Congratulations! There are great resources available to you to make your genealogy research easier. But there are a number of things you need to know about before you jump in and research your Dutch ancestors.

First, In the past, we did our research by reading microfilms at the local LDS Family History Center. Now, a lot of source documents can be viewed on-line. So much so that you can literally spend all your time doing just on-line research. You can find those source records in the Netherlands section of It doesn't contain everything, though. But if, for example, you need to see church records from Overijssel, you can try Von Papier Naar Digital. After downloading the records you need, you can crop and resize the images, and then insert them into your database. You can't get better citations than that! (You do cite your sources, right?)

Second, While access to the source records is great, you can't just scan them one by one to find what you want. There are just too many records, so you need an index. WieWasWie allows you to search the civil registration records using a number of different criteria, such as surname, given name, patronymic, and role in the event. If you're searching for a marriage record, you can search on the surnames of both the bride and groom. Unfortunately, not all records have been indexed. One big deficiency in the index that affects my own research is birth records in Gelderland. Fortunately, you can often find an index in the source records.

Third, understanding the Dutch language. At least a basic knowledge of Dutch is needed since most public records are written fully in Dutch. That is, even ages and dates are written using Dutch words rather than decimal digits. provides a useful document entitled Netherlands Language and Languages. In particular, here are a few basic things you need to know: The letters "ij" together are considered equivalent to the letter "y". That is, the names "van Dijk" and "van Dyk" are considered the same, and will sort as "Dyk". Oh yeah, for the purposes of sorting, prefixes like "van" and "de" are ignored. So look for your "van Dijk" ancestors under "D", not "V".

There are, of course, exceptions. To read Catholic church records, you'll need to know some Latin. Some churches used German. And some civil records during the French occupation were written in French.

One more thing about sorting: In some alphabetical indexes, names within a particular letter group may not be ordered alphabetically, but rather by date. In such indexes, you'll have to read through all the names in that letter group.

Fourth, Dutch script. Dutch handwriting in the civil registration is generally relatively easy to read, following a style that should be familiar to most English-speaking people. But as you go further and further back, especially in the church records prior to 1811, the hand-writing can become harder to decipher. Here's an example from the Arnhem marriage book:

Again, has some good resources to help you learn how to read Dutch records. Check out these on-line lessons.

Fifth, patronymics. A pivotal point in Dutch history of special importance to genealogists is the French occupation of 1810 to 1813. A number of reforms were established by the French. The first was civil registration. The second was the abolition of patronymic naming in 1811. That is, the system where your surname was based on your father's first name, not surname. Surnames were formed by adding a suffix to the father's first name, such as "sen", "sz", or "s".

Not all regions of the Netherlands used patronymics. For example, while northern Gelderland used patronymics, the southeast corner of the province generally did not. But even in areas where patronymics were common, if someone had a conventional family name, it would be recorded in the church records. Needless to say, it can get a bit confusing.

Theoretically, then, you shouldn't see patronymics in the civil registration. However, many families held on to their patronymics well after 1811. I even found one ancestor in the 1830 census still using their patronym.

Sixth, infant mortality. Like most other regions, infant mortality was high in the Netherlands prior to the 20th Century. In my own data, where age at death can be computed, roughly 18% of all deaths occurred before the age of five. So be prepared emotionally to view lots of infant deaths in the burial records. To make things for difficult for genealogists, names of children are often not written down. Here's an example of one month of deaths in Nijkerk:

Of the 22 deaths reported in that month, 14 were unnamed children. Linking the burial record to a particular person is not impossible, though. In one family with eight children, through a process of elimination, I was able to identify a date of death for all but two children. For each of those two, I just listed both possible dates in my Gramps database.

For those starting out with Dutch genealogy, this may be a lot of information already. And you'll discover more things with experience. If you have any more tips for beginners, please add them in the comments.

Cheers! Hans

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Cite Those Sources!

We all know the importance of citing sources in genealogy. It is absolutely a necessary practice in any form of research. Why then do so many published genealogies lack citations?

Citations are important for several reasons. First, when publishing your research, you need to convince others that you applied a sufficient level of due diligence to ensure the correctness of your work. For example, many of us have looked for people in the IGI, and so we all know how unreliable it can be. But think about it: Each entry in the IGI is based on the work of a genealogist. If you see a published genealogy without citations, you really have no idea about its quality.

Second, citations can help you in your own work. When I started genealogy 22 years ago, many programs didn't have any meaningful support for citations. We had to use notes for that, if we cited our data at all. So when I resumed my interest in genealogy a year ago, I had to spend some time to line up all my data with my sources, mostly hand-written notes in a number of three-ring binders. I was able to find a source for everything, except for a few things. I ended up deleting some people since I had no record of how I got their data.

When you know where your information came from, you have a good idea about its quality. If you get some data from a published source with no citations, you can flag that with a confidence of  "Low". Or perhaps "Very Low". You can then use that information as a starting point in locating sources with a higher confidence level, such as the original civil or church records.

Version 5.5 of the GEDCOM standard has been in force since 1995, and so all genealogy software now should have a reasonable level of support for sources and citations. Unfortunately, not all do. For example, when evaluating WikiTree, I was disappointed in how the data was presented after importing some sample data. While it does a reasonable job with citations on import, WikiTree requires you to manually edit the raw GEDCOM data into a presentable form. For any new data, you need to manually edit the text, including the citations. Clearly, in my opinion, WikiTree is unsuitable both for serious research and for publishing data. However, note that point VIII of the WikiTree Honor Code is "We cite sources". When I considered joining WikiTree, I took that point to heart, and spent considerable time making sure all my facts were properly cited. Time well spent, though. It had to be done.

I use the program Gramps, which does have good support for citations. Now, I never add any information to my database without also adding a citation. Here's a useful tip when using Gramps: Always keep a clipboard window open. Since one citation can support multiple facts, when you create a new citation, drag and drop it right away to the clipboard window. Then when you need that citation to support another fact, you can drag and drop from the clipboard to the new fact.

Here's another Gramps tip: You can create a custom event filter to find events without citations. Set the name to 'Events with <count> sources' and values to 'Number of instances:="0"'. This way you can easily find uncited events.

These days, there's really no excuse not to include good citations. Considering that you can now easily download images of original source records, you can even include those images in your citations. Even if you still read microfilms at your local LDS Family History Center, you can often digitize images from the microfilms. Sure, a single image may take up a lot of disk storage. But disk drives are cheap, with external drives costing roughly $100 per terabyte. How much can you store in 1TB? About half a million images from FamilySearch.

So get to it! Cite those sources!

Cheers! Hans

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Introducing TreeSearch

It's time to create a new blog. I've been blogging for a number of years on The Omnifarium. But that blog, as the name suggests, covers a wide variety of different subjects. I think it's time to start something new focusing on one particular interest, genealogy.

I'll start with me. I've been doing genealogy since 1991. Genealogy hasn't been a major interest for me all of that time. Other interests held my interest for about 15 years, up until about a year ago. My interest was renewed after my wife, Sylvana, met someone named Boldt, who claimed to be a direct descendant of George Boldt. Since we believe that our family might be related to George, I contacted this person to ask for more information which he claimed to have. Later, I realized he cannot possibly be a direct descendant of George, since George's only son had only daughters. But the interest was rekindled.

All of my ancestors were born in Europe. Specifically, from two areas: The Grand-Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and the Netherlands. The photo at right shows a sort of road map of my ancestors. The top half shows my paternal ancestors from Mecklenburg, and the bottom half my maternal ancestors from the Netherlands. I've maintained this chart for the past 22 years, which I find immensely useful in navigating through my pedigree. As you can see, I have much more information on my Dutch ancestors. That's because the on-line resources are much more extensive for Dutch genealogy. You can find more information on my ancestors at my web site, at :: Genealogy

Currently, I have about 4900 names in my Gramps database. I chose Gramps for a couple of reasons. First, it runs on Linux. Second, it's available for free. However, after using it for almost a year, I find it an ideal application for genealogy, albeit with a somewhat steep learning curve. I'm still discovering ways to use it effectively. (I'll discuss Gramps in more detail later.)

Why did I choose "TreeSearch" as the name of this blog? Well, I've written some genealogy software. Often, when learning a new programming language, I'd write some code to handle GEDCOM data. At one time, I had a goal of writing a full-fledged genealogy program, which I planned on calling "TreeSearch". If I had gone ahead on that project, I'd like to think it would end up looking very much like Gramps.

What can you expect to see in this blog? I hope to write more about my Dutch and German ancestors, and issues surrounding research in those areas. In addition, I plan on writing about genealogy in general, as well as the technology used to support genealogy research.

Stay tuned!

Cheers! Hans