by John de Jong
I stood on a dike in the small village of Andijk, my ancestors’ home, looking out at the rough sea. It was easy to imagine my ancestors, hundreds of years earlier, preparing for an approaching gale. I was standing on a strong, modern dike. But in their day, only an earthen dike protected their homes from the rising waters—homes built on land they had reclaimed from the sea years before.
Each family in the village would have been responsible for a portion of the dike. During a storm, one of the villagers was assigned to ride along the top of the dike with a flag and watch for breaches. When he saw one, he would race to the home of the responsible family and alert them to repair the breach. I am sure neighbors would come to help. Together they fought to keep their families and community safe.
Records kept since 1667 in the village of Andijk have not only helped me to learn the names of my ancestors, but even led me to discover sermons, taught by the local pastors, that were preserved by the churches, followed by the Dutch government, and finally by organizations like FamilySearch.
As I think about my Dutch ancestors from Andijk and elsewhere, I recognize gifts from them in the form of character traits, passed from generation to generation: their ingenuity in reclaiming land from the sea; their persistence in protecting that land; their quick willingness to lend a helping hand; and their focus on the most important priorities, especially family and religious freedom.
During World War II, my grandmother, who later emigrated with our family to the United States, used her skills as a seamstress to secure work mending the clothes of Dutch farmers. Their farms were still producing food, but the food was taken by the occupying German soldiers. Though my grandmother was paid with food, it was forbidden for her to take it to her family in Amsterdam. So she found ways to smuggle it back to them.
She told us how she was once given eggs, which she carefully placed in the wicker basket on her bicycle. When a guard stopped her at one of the checkpoints, he asked what was in her basket. At that moment, she recalled her father saying that she should always tell the truth. So she said to the guard, “There are eggs in the basket.”
The guard just laughed and said, “If you have eggs in your basket, you just go on through.” And she did.
Another time she had hidden a round of delicious Dutch cheese under her loose dress. This time, the checkpoint guards made her get off her bicycle, come into the guard shack, and sign some papers. Somehow, she kept the cheese from being discovered. She made it home safely and the cheese was enjoyed gratefully by her family and friends.
My grandmother took risks smuggling food, and fortunately she was never caught. However, she and my grandfather also hid Jews during the war. One day, while they were gone from the apartment where they lived, one of the hiding refugees flushed a toilet. A neighbor heard the noise through the thin apartment walls and alerted the police. As a result, my grandfather was sent to a concentration camp, which he endured for nine months. Thankfully, he survived. My grandparents had known the risks of helping someone else, but for them, the risks were worth it. Helping others in need was part of who they were.
Many years later I saw my mother and grandmother, then recent converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, reach out to help others in a different way. After our family emigrated from the Netherlands to the United States in 1963, they immediately began going to the Salt Lake Family History Library to work on their family history. They did this for a full day once each week over the next 30 years.
I remember going with my mother to the library as early as age 8. On one trip, she wrote down the name “van Nieuwenhuijs” for me. After putting a microfilm on the machine, she said to me, “Okay, you look for it.” So I looked through the microfilm, and I found the name! I was excited, and so was she. Even at that young age, I felt a connection to my ancestors.
Later I discovered how the Dutch focus on family and helping others had made that microfilm and thousands of other records available—all indexed by the Dutch. No other country on earth has such a large percentage of the available key genealogical records indexed. The recent addition of over 51 million Dutch names to FamilySearch has expanded the total number of Dutch names in the FamilySearch index by over tenfold! Additionally, I am discovering many more family members as I review the record hints which are now appearing in my tree on FamilySearch. If you have Dutch family and the records exist, you can most likely find your family online.
Windmills are practically a symbol of the Netherlands, and they played a significant role in the establishment of the country. Through pumps run by windmills, the land was dried and made useful. The saying “God created the earth, but the Dutch created Holland” is not far from the truth. Through my family history research, I discovered multiple cousins who actually ran windmills to keep the land dry for over 200 years. Without this constant effort, a third of the country would be under water today. The creation of this elaborate system of hundreds of water-pumping windmills is a wonderful example of working together to accomplish a goal.
I am particularly proud of the Dutch cultural heritage of religious freedom, which has been in place since the late 1500s. It was a key belief of William of Orange, the founding father of the country. Those who sought refuge in the Netherlands from religious persecution included Sephardic Jews who fled Spain and Portugal in the 15th and 16th centuries, Huguenots from France in the 16th through the 18th centuries, and Pilgrims in the 16th and 17th centuries. Today, the Netherlands is a place of refuge for many Muslims.
My connection to my Dutch heritage was strengthened when I received my mission call to the Netherlands. Serving there, I had a strong feeling that I had come home. I was even assigned to the same stake where my grandfather had been a bishop.
Unexpectedly, after serving for about two months I began to have severe medical problems. Finally, my mission president telephoned my father and said he was feeling uncomfortable about keeping me on my mission when I was so ill. But my father responded, “Well, he was called to go to the Netherlands on his mission, and that’s where he needs to serve.” While it’s appropriate and necessary for some missionaries to return home before their scheduled release date, that wasn’t what I was supposed to do.
My family had been fasting for me, and after the phone call my mission president gave me a priesthood blessing. Miraculously, the pain stopped and I had no more trouble for the remainder of my mission. In fact, the reprieve lasted until a year and a half afterward. At that point the pains returned, and doctors determined that I had congenital kidney problems that required surgery.
I look back on that experience and feel gratitude for my father’s faith and persistence. His faith was rewarded, and I was blessed with the health I needed to complete my mission. I had a wonderful experience as a missionary, and I could have missed out on it without the determination and faith which came from my father and his forbears.
I am filled with gratitude for the gifts my ancestors have given me: their ingenuity, persistence, compassion for others, and priorities of family and religious freedom. I am a better person because of the gifts of my Dutch heritage.
For information on how to find your Dutch ancestors using FamilySearch records, read the articles below.
51 Million New Dutch Records Now Available on FamilySearch
How to Find Your Ancestors in Dutch Records
New Records and Resources to Discover Your Dutch Ancestors
How to Search the FamilySearch Site