The colorful story of a family history

  • By Antecedentia
  • 12 Jul, 2017
Jim and Kathy Van Vliet visiting the Pernis historical society

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.

map from the 'kadaster' showing all the buildings in Colijnsplaat about 1830

Colijnsplaat

The house was the last one in a row of six identical houses, used to house several ‘poor’ families. These houses were owned by the local Poor Relief Committee. Although I did not find a photograph of the house itself, I did find several photos from the street. Kathy got a clear idea what the area looked like in the middle of the 19th century when Jan and Cornelia lived in one of the houses with their big family.

We walked from the café to the church, where Kathy’s ancestors went for church services. Next stop was the street of the ‘poor houses’. At the corner of the street I introduced Kathy to a distant family member: Johannis de Rijke (1842-1913). Both Kathy and this famous civil engineer are descendants from the Liefbroer family. A short biography of Johannis de Rijke is available on Wikipedia .

From Colijnsplaat we drove over the ‘ Oosterscheldekering ’, the largest of the 13 series of dams and storm surge barriers that are part of the Delta Works. These dams protect the province of Zeeland and other (large) parts of the Netherlands against floods. From there we drove on to Brielle , a fortified town with a very interesting history and a wonderful place for lunch. Because of the nice weather we could enjoy our meal on a terrace.

Kathy Van Vliet and a distant relative, the famous Johannis de Rijke

Pernis

The afternoon was reserved for Jim’s ancestors: the Van Vliet family from Pernis. As part of my research I spoke with Jan van der Schee who is a member of the historical society in Pernis. He was more than happy to meet with us and he had some surprises!

First he took us to the house where Jim’s great-grandfather Huibrecht van Vliet lived before he decided to emigrate to the United States. The house still exists and Jim could literally stand on his great-grandfather’s doorstep.

Jan told us everything about the fishing boats that would sail all the way from Pernis to Iceland to catch cod. The crew was away from home for several weeks and many of the fishermen never returned, but drowned at sea. A remarkable coincidence: Jan’s grandfather Aalbert Groenendijk worked on the same fishing boat as Huibrecht’s father Ruth van Vliet!

After a short walk through the center of Pernis, Jan took us to the museum  that is run by volunteers from the historical society. Part of the museum looks exactly like a fisherman’s house from about 1900. It gave Jim and Kathy a wonderful insight in their ancestors’ lives.

Jan also showed copies of documents from the 1860s, 1870s and 1880s that mention Ruth van Vliet as part of the crew of several fishing boats. Some of the documents also show Aalbert Groenendijk’s name.

At the end of the afternoon we had a little bit of time left to visit the church of Poortugaal, a small town close to Rotterdam. It was in this town and in this church where Ruth van Vliet’s 2x great-grandfather, also a Ruth van Vliet, married in 1730. I took a couple of pictures of Jim and Kathy standing in front of the church.

Pernis in the 19th century, picture of the house of the Van Vliet family

Wonderful experience

When I dropped Jim and Kathy off at the Schiedam train station, they were very much impressed by all they learned, saw and heard that day. Later on they shared their experiences with me. Jim said: “You were able to take the black and white facts of genealogy and discover the colorful story of our family history.”

Kathy said: “My perspective is that you helped us find details and locations that we either could not have found on our own, or would have taken us weeks, if not months, to find. You seemed as interested in our families’ stories as we are, and to genuinely enjoy the discoveries made. Thank you for the connection and time spent with Jan at the Pernis historical society and how greatly that impacted our learning about what life was like for Jim’s great-great grandfather. It was not only interesting but helped us to feel a connection to him and appreciate the difficult life that he must have lived. He’s no longer just a name with dates on a page. It was really a thrill to walk in our ancestors’ footsteps. This has been a highlight of our trip to the Netherlands and the time spent with you was invaluable for learning more about our ancestors and our heritage.”

She was absolutely right: I enjoyed the research and the trip, but most of all the company. It was – again – wonderful to help people understand their past.

By Antecedentia 17 Oct, 2017
In the center of the Netherlands lies the city of Apeldoorn. It has about 160,000 inhabitants and is well-known for its zoo with 35 different species of monkeys, called Apenheul. The city is also famous for one of the finest Dutch palaces: Het Loo. I recently visited the palace, the gardens and the park. Although I was there a couple of times before, it was interesting again to see the staterooms and to read about the royals who lived here during many centuries. In the first half of the 20th century Het Loo was the favorite palace of Queen Wilhelmina (1880-1962). After she abdicated, she spent the last fourteen years in quietness in and around this palace. Here she made many paintings of the surrounding area. Her granddaughter, princess Margriet, was the last resident. She lived here until 1975, together with her husband and four sons. Since 1984 the palace is a museum and is open to the public.

English royals
One of the most fascinating parts of Het Loo’s history, is the fact that it was built between 1684 and 1686 for stadhouder William III of Orange (1650-1702). Because of his marriage to Mary Stuart in 1677, he became king of England, Scotland and Ireland in 1689. As a Prince of Orange he was already a sovereign prince and this - together with the office of stadtholder of the Dutch Republic - gave him an international status. His position only improved when he ascended the English throne. He now needed his palace in Apeldoorn to be an impressive summer residence, full of splendor and grandeur. The palace was enlarged, the gardens became a true example of garden art. If you want to read more about the history of the palace, please visit the website of Het Loo .
By Antecedentia 10 Oct, 2017

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.
By Antecedentia 12 Jul, 2017

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.

By Antecedentia 12 May, 2017

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.

By Antecedentia 31 Oct, 2016
It was on a Monday evening, somewhere around 8pm that I received an email from Peter and Patti. Their question was very simple: in two weeks we travel from the United States to the Netherlands and we want to visit some locations where our ancestors lived, can you help us? I thought: “Wow… interesting question, great opportunity. But there are only two weeks left for preparation. That will be a challenge!” In the next three days we sent each other some emails. In order to prepare this heritage trip, I needed more information about their Dutch family and about their ideas about this trip. At first, Peter and Patti told me they wanted to see the different towns and villages where their ancestors lived, as well as visit several archives to do some genealogy research on their own. According to the information they had found in the United States, the family used to live in four areas: in Andijk and Enkhuizen, in Weesp and Kamerik, in Langerak and Vianen and in a few villages to the east of Groningen. For me it was clear: the initial plan to visit all these places and to do research in archives would be impossible. They had to choose.
By Antecedentia 23 Jun, 2016

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.

By Antecedentia 28 May, 2016
Interpret Europe (IE) is an independent and non-profit association that brings together people from across Europe who are professionally involved in heritage interpretation. Every year IE organises a conference on heritage interpretation. This year’s annual conference was held in Mechelen from 21 – 24 May. Approximately 160 participants from 26 countries came together for lectures and presentations, for study visits and for networking. The 2016 theme of the conference was ‘ Heritage Interpretation for the Future of Europe ’.

Together with An Stofferis of International Genealogy Services (France) I attended the conference and gave a presentation on Tuesday 24 May. Our presentation was called ‘Building Bridges: How genealogy leads Europe towards a sustainable and peaceful future’. The paper was published in the conference proceedings . The abstract in the conference programme describes the presentation as follows.

“One way to study the intangible aspects of culture, such as folklore, traditions and knowledge, is by performing genealogical research. Modern genealogists no longer only collect names and dates; they are looking for stories about people and families. Genealogy helps us find our place in the present and the future through our own family history. Questions such as, “Who were my ancestors? Where did they live? And what did they do?” make us curious. The next step leads us to tangible cultural heritage: we want to visit the village where our ancestors lived; we want to see how wooden shoes were made; we want to see and feel how it was to fight a battle that changed European history. But genealogy also reveals a darker side of history: stories about crimes, wars and other injustices. Questions such as, “Was this right? Would I have done the same?” make us reclect on our present and future, on our own society and on other cultures. This way we develop respect and better understanding.”
By Antecedentia 25 Feb, 2016
Today I visited the Noord-Hollands Archief  in Haarlem. One of my clients asked me to look for some documents about his great-grandfather who lived for more than five years in psychiatric hospitals. After my trip to the archives, I drove from Haarlem to Zandvoort to see the North Sea beach. It is a beautiful way through the dunes, with big villa’s in villages with names like Heemstede, Aerdenhout, Overveen and Bloemendaal. Somewhere halfway I saw a sign: war cemetery. I decided to take the exit, followed a muddy road and parked my car. At the beginning of a path through the dunes I found an information panel and I started to read about the history of Eerebegraafplaats Bloemendaal .
By Antecedentia 23 Feb, 2016

In the weekend of 20 and 21 February 2016, I was in Wavre, Belgium. Or Waver, as the Flemish say. I visited Généatica 2016, a genealogy conference organized by the Flemish association for genealogists ( Familiekunde Vlaanderen ) and the Wallonian association for genealogists ( Géniwal ). The conference took place in the town hall and adjacent (former) monastery. I was not the only one who was interested in this ‘salon de généalogie’: more than 1,500 other visitors joined me. It was a real success.

On Saturday I had the opportunity to attend a lecture about Belgian refugees in France during World War I. Two members of Familiekunde Vlaanderen spoke about sources in Belgium and in France that can help genealogists to find out for what places their family members left when Belgium was dragged into ‘the Great War’. Almost 1.5 million people left their homes and fled to the Netherlands, France or England.

There were more lectures that day, but I was not able to hear any of them. My time was spent on meeting other genealogists. Some of them were professional genealogists, like me. Others were representing a genealogical association or company. There were more than sixty booths! It was a very interesting experience to speak with everybody, all in one way or another passionate about genealogy.

Participants of the conference were invited for dinner in hotel Leonardo. I was seated at a table with Dutch and Belgian participants, some were into genealogy and others into cultural heritage. A few were in my ‘friend lists’ on social media. Now I could speak with them face to face. We had a great meal and a wonderful evening.

By Antecedentia 23 Feb, 2016
In the fall of 2008 I was invited for the inauguration of a professor at Tilburg University. In the auditorium, I noticed a group of men in black suits with red sashes. I had no idea who they were and why they were in the audience. But their appearance impressed me. After the ceremony, one of the men approached me. It turned out to be my former boss at the Regional Archives of Tilburg. He explained to me that the men were all members of the Royal Archers Guild of Saint Sebastian, one of the three guilds in Tilburg. He told me they were looking for new (and younger) members and he thought I would make a good guild brother, as I was greatly interested in history and traditions. I was flattered but told him I had not enough time to get involved in something new.
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