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.
Linda Van Drunen Crawford from Austin, Texas wrote me this February. She found information about her paternal line before, all the way back to the 1750s, and had plans to come to the Netherlands at the end of April and the beginning of May. She really wanted to visit the area where her ancestors once lived. Therefore, she asked me to do some extra research to confirm her lineage and to make some suggestions on where to go during her trip through the Netherlands.
Her family carries the surname Van Drunen and has its roots in the province of Noord-Brabant, the same province as where I am living. The surname Van Drunen suggests the family once came from the village of Drunen, approximately half an hour to the north of my hometown Tilburg. But an actual link between the family and the village was not established. Yet.
Through e-mail I learned that Linda wanted to learn more about the oldest generations, who lived in the 18th century. She also wanted more details about the family in the 19th century: where did they live, what did they for a living, were there relatives who stayed in the Netherlands? And she explained that she really wanted to visit one specific place, a homestead in Sleeuwijk where her ancestors lived before they emigrated to the United States.
On Sunday June 19th, 2016 Antecedentia organized its first Genealogy Network Lunch. Four genealogists/researchers from the Netherlands, the United States and Germany met for the first time: Jennifer Holik, John Boeren, Ursula Krause and Yvette Hoitink (see picture). Two others, Luana Wentz Darby (the United States) and An Stofferis (France), were invited but could not make it to the Netherlands.
The afternoon started with two keynote speakers. Beatrix van Erp-Jacobs, emeritus professor at Tilburg University, spoke about legal records from the 17th and 18th century that help genealogists find more information about persons and families. Sjef van Erp, professor at Maastricht University, explained the current developments in Europe in the field of succession law. He warned all participants: the ones who are mentioned in a last will might not always be the heirs according to (national or European) law.