Beginner Tips for Dutch Research

Hey everyone! Just a few weeks ago I presented my talk “Tracing Your Dutch Roots” to the Detroit Society for Genealogical Research (www.dsgr.org). Of course, in these uncertain times, we met through Zoom, but there was a great turnout! For those of you new to researching your Dutch ancestry, here are three beginner tips to aid you in your search:

  • Be mindful of how your ancestor’s name may be rendered or spelled in various sources. Often times, Dutch-language names would be rendered as an English language equivalent in U.S. sources. Thus, “Grietje” could become “Grace.” “Hendrikus” could become “Henry.” “Jannetje” could become “Jenny,” and the list goes on. Further, understand the spelling of your surname or the surnames of ancestors born in the United States may (and likely do) differ from the original Dutch-language version. Often times, this is a shift to using English phonetics to render the surname, or a translation all-together. Thus, “Dijkema” could become “Dykema,” “Meijer” could become “Meyer,” and “Schoemaker” could become “Shoemaker.” Keeping a broad and open mind is crucial to your search!
  • Remember that even sources in the United States could be written in Dutch. Dutch communities and colonies would have actively used the Dutch language as part of the public and private lives, as well as their religious ones. Many Dutch-language periodicals were published (which high levels of circulation) over the years, and well into the 20th century. Expect to also find church records written in Dutch, as well as early tombstones as well. Remember, you are in your ancestor’s world, and English – while part of ours now – may not have been a part of theirs.
  • Delper.nl is a great resource for accessing Dutch-language periodicals with full-text (over 120 million pages); the scans are available for download, and the text is searchable! Even though Delpher was developed and is managed by the Royal Library of the Netherlands (Koninklijke Bibliotheek), the website contains access to many publications in the United States and West Michigan, so it can be of great help for those researching their Dutch ancestors in early Dutch communities in the U.S.

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