Let me start with a few lines of an email message that I received in August 2017.
“I will be in Amsterdam from 24-28 September (2017) and had hoped to contact a local genealogist, well before now, to access further family records prior to my arrival. Given the time lines at this point I imagine that this might not be possible.”
These words were written by Eileen Baker of Canberra, Australia. In another email she wrote: “During my visit to Amsterdam I had hoped to visit some of the areas that the Bouman family lived in.”
Although there was only one month left, I wanted to give this a try. Could I help Eileen find some locations in Amsterdam, that were related to her family history? Without specific locations for her to visit she would still enjoy Amsterdam. But it was my strong intention to give her that special feeling when you step into your ancestors’ footsteps.
What could I do? I started with her great-great-grandfather, Johannes Bouman, who was born in Amsterdam in 1828. He was the family member that decided to emigrate to Australia in 1852. From his birth record I learned the names of his parents and with help of their names I found the birth records of his siblings. These records showed the names of three streets: Wittenburgerstraat, Kattenburgerplein and Kattenburgerdwarsstraat. I then looked for the Bouman family in the population registers of Amsterdam for the periods 1851-1853 and 1853-1863. All entries showed the same street name: Kleine Kattenburgerstraat.It was clear the family lived in the Kattenburg area. Could I help Eileen find the addresses in nowadays Amsterdam? The answer was disappointing: no, not really. In the 19th century the Kattenburg area was famous for shipyards. Many people in this neighborhood worked on one of the shipyards, as a sailor, carpenter or porter. The Bouman family was no exception. In the 1930s – during the great economic recession – the deterioration of Kattenburg started and by the 1960s the whole neighborhood was impoverished. Large parts of the area were demolished, except for the facades of some houses on Kattenburgerplein. On the spots of the removed premises, modern flat buildings were built.
It was a sunny Saturday morning in June. I arrived at 9.45am in Bergen op Zoom, a former military town in the western part of the province of Noord-Brabant, the Netherlands. This was the moment that I would meet an American couple: Jim and Kathy VanVliet of Tacoma, Washington. Four months earlier they asked me if I was able to be their guide on a heritage trip to see some ancestral places in the Dutch provinces of Zuid-Holland and Zeeland. Literally they said: “Ideally we would love to have someone who could spend a half day or day guiding us through the area so we can make the most of our time.”
From the moment they arrived by train, we spoke about genealogy. Not so much about their family history – we would do that later that day – but more about what it is like to be a professional genealogist in the Netherlands. We also spoke about new developments in genealogy, for example DNA research. As with other couples that I met before on heritage trips, Jim and Kathy were very much interested in the Dutch culture, history and landscape.