by Yvette Hoitink, CGSM
In the Netherlands, historical records are kept in public archives. Increasingly, archives are digitizing and indexing these records, and then publishing the resulting scans and indexes online as open data that is free for reuse.
FamilySearch collaborates with the archives to provide online access to the most popular records, in collections or through the catalog. Some of these collections are indexed and available through the Search tab on FamilySearch.org, while other collections can be browsed manually. Not all scanned images have been made available as collections yet, so also check the catalog for the towns where your ancestors lived.
How to Find Your Ancestors from the Netherlands
The new “Netherlands, Archival Indexes, Miscellaneous Records” collection contains a range of records from all over the Netherlands. To use these records to trace your ancestors, it’s important to understand what they are and what kind of information they contain. The sections below provide helpful background and tips to help you successfully navigate this valuable collection of records.
Research after 1811
If your ancestors lived in the Netherlands after 1811, there are certain sets of records that will be particularly helpful in your research.
- Civil registration records of births, marriages, and deaths. The strict regulations regarding the civil registration make these records the most reliable sources of vital information from that time period. Most Dutch families can be traced back to the late 1700s using birth, marriage, and death records.
- Population registers. These documents record who lived in a place at a certain time and can be another great place to find ancestors who lived between 1850 and 1939. Like census records, they show whole households, but they are kept up to date and include information about arrivals and departures.
- Emigration lists. These records were kept by the government to keep track of emigrants, often including name, age, occupation, religion, reason for leaving, and destination. They were compiled based on the departure dates in the population registers.
Research before 1811
If your ancestors lived in the Netherlands before 1811, research becomes more complicated. Records from that time period aren’t as detailed, and there was no legal requirement for a hereditary surname. However, there are several types of records that can be useful.
- Church registrations of baptisms, marriages, and burials usually go back to the early 1600s and are the first records to look for.
- The Dutch Reformed Church has been the dominant church since the Reformation in most parts of the Netherlands, but most people in the southern provinces of Brabant and Limburg attended the Roman Catholic Church. (Roman Catholic records were kept in Latin; other records were kept in Dutch.)
Although church records can provide important details about your ancestors, they usually don’t provide enough information to prove identity and parentage. Since many Dutch people were named after family members, there can be a lot of same-named people in a town. Proving that a spouse in a marriage record is the same person as a child in a baptismal record may require other types of records.
- Court and notarial records may include last wills, prenuptial agreements, estate settlements, and guardian appointments that can show how people were related.
- Tax records and land records can tell you if your ancestors owned property and how they acquired it. These records often go back to the late 1500s.
Dutch records are excellent and will often allow you to trace your ancestors back to the late 1500s. The digitization efforts of the archives in the Netherlands and FamilySearch are making many of these records available to you through FamilySearch.
- “Netherlands, Archival Indexes, Miscellaneous Records (FamilySearch Historical Records),” FamilySearch. Wikipage providing detailed information about this collection.
- “The Netherlands Genealogy.” FamilySearch. Wikipage with information about research in the Netherlands.
- Bals, Gerda. “Reading Dutch Handwritten Records.” FamilySearch. Video instruction about reading Dutch records.
- Boeren, John. Legacy Quick Guide: Dutch Genealogy. PDF. Legacy Family Tree, 2017.
- De Wit, Herman. “Digital Resources Netherlands and Belgium.” Geneaknowhow. Website with links to online sources for Netherlands research.
- Hoitink, Yvette. Dutch Genealogy. Website and weblog about research in the Netherlands.
- Van Drie, Rob. Dutch Roots. The Hague: Centraal Bureau voor Genealogie, 2012. Book about researching Dutch ancestors. Available through Amazon as a Kindle publication.
- Zoekakten. Website with waypoints to scans available at FamilySearch, organized per province, then municipality, then record group, and then period.
For more information on the new Dutch records available on FamilySearch, read the following articles.
51 Million New Dutch Records Now Available on FamilySearch
New Records and Resources to Discover Your Dutch Ancestors
Gifts from My Dutch Heritage
How to Search the FamilySearch Site