Spelling Variants in Dutch Documents

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In this day and age of high literacy and standardization, we are used to, indeed expect, that what we see in print will be uniform. For example, we can look up words in dictionaries to find the ‘correct spelling.’ However, such has not always been the case. Centuries ago, there were no dictionaries available to dictate ‘correct spelling’ and most dictionaries that were available were designed to give definitions, not spelling. Most writers from before the 18th century would have found the idea of a single spelling for any particular word rather odd. If several possible spelling variants are available, why should one be limited to only one choice? Early writers certainly took advantage of the many possibilities available to them. After all, variety is the spice of life. In modern Dutch, the sound represented by the English word ‘I’ can be rendered by several letter sets, including ‘ij’ and ‘ei.’ Again, writers from previous centuries could and did use either of these in addition to several others that are not in common use today to render the ‘I’ sound.

In this article we will look at spelling that deviate from standard modern Dutch that appear in genealogical documents. In the vast majority of cases, the variant spellings represent the same pronunciation as the standard form. Some are simply antiquated; others are dialect forms. We will not consider personal names or words that have Latin endings, such as ‘Aprilis.’ We will, however, consider some place names.  The traditional dialect of northern Germany, Low German, is very closely related to Dutch. 

So, the researcher should not be alarmed, nor think the scribe ‘did not know how to spell,’ when he encounters these variants. Many of these variants will be found well into the 19th century. In some cases, it is impossible to tell whether the scribe wrote ‘ij’ or ‘y’. Although we list a few of these, to list every possible variation with this set would be superfluous.

Standard Dutch Variant
acht agt
achttien agtien
august oogst
dag dagh
dertien dartien
dezes deses
Dinsdag Dingsdag
dochter dogter
dochtertje Dogtertje
door dooir
een ëen
geboren gebooren
geboorte Gheboorte
gebracht gebragt
gekocht gecogt
gedoopt gedooipt
gekomen gekoomen
genaamt  genaemt, genaemd, genaempt
geslacht geslagt
getuigen getuygen, getuijgen 
heden heeden
huisvrouw huijsvrouw, huysvrouwe 
huwelijk houwelijk
jaar jaer
jaren jaeren
januari January
juni Junij
kind kindt
kleermaker kledermaker
knecht knegt
laten laeten
licht ligt
maandag maendag
maart maert, meert 
mei Maaij
mochten mogten
naar naer
's nachts 's nachs
namen (noun) naemen
negentig t'negentig
nemen neemen
paard peerd
sedert zeedert
tachtig tagtig
tussen tuschen, tusschen 
verzocht verzogt
vijftig vyftig
volmacht volmagt
vrijdag Vrydag
woonachtig wonagtig, woonachtigh
zaterdag Saterdag
zelven selven
zestig tsestig
zeven seven, zeeven
zeventien seventien
zich zig
zijn sijn
zijne syne
zoon soon, sone, soone

This list will grow over time as we encounter more spelling variations.