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Dutch genealogy has many pitfalls for researchers from an Anglo-Saxon background. Little things that are just different from what you would expect. We discuss some important issues here that you should be aware of during your research. Most of them related to names, dates, places and language.



Names starting with Van, Vander, De etc.

Infixes (tussenvoegsel in Dutch) are seperate words, not capitalized, and ignored when sorting: van Kampen, van den Berg, de Jong (sorted under K, B and J respectively).

Many Dutch genealogy search engines have a separate field for the infix. Don’t include the infix as part of the name – you will not find anything! If there is no separate field, infix may or may not be part of the name field – best is to try both.

Please note that rules for similar looking Flemish (Belgian) names are different.

Name changes

Immigrants in the New World often anglicized their names. That could mean anything from a slight spelling change to a completely new name. If you know your ancestors are Dutch, but you can’t find your surname on any Dutch website, chances are your name is spelled differently over here.

Naming patterns

Parents usually named their children after relatives. The first two sons were named after the grandfathers, the third after the father. The first two daughters were named after the grandmothers, the third after the mother. Other children were named after aunts, uncles and sometimes greatgrandparents.

When a child died, the first child (of the same sex) born after its death often had the same name. But if you find two children with the same name you cannot conclude one of them died young: Sometimes two children would get the same name, because they were named after different relatives with the same name.

Deviations to the naming patterns do occur, but if you find that no children were named after the grandparents you are likely to be on the wrong track, and it’s time to re-evaluate your sources.

Married name or maiden name?

Except in some special circumstances (such as adoption), names don’t change. In particular, women’s names don’t change after marriage. In practice, women will often use their married name, but official documents, including death certificates, will contain a woman’s maiden name. This also applies to 18th century church books: In a baptism record, maiden names will usually (but not always) be used for the mother and any female witnesses.

Names containing ij or y

The letter combination ij is very common in Dutch names (and in Dutch words in general) – so common that Dutch typewriters used to have a separate key for ij. In older, handwritten, documents ij and y are often used interchangeably.

ij still has a special status in the Dutch alphabet. It is sometimes treated as a single letter, sometimes not. Dictionaries sort words containing ij as you would expect, but some phone books sort ij as if it were y. Occasionally, you may find the ij sorted just before (or just after) the y.

If a name starts with ij, both letters are capitalized: IJsbrand, van den IJssel.

Dutch immigrants in the US often replaced ij in their name with y, while their relatives on this side of the ocean tended to keep the ij. So if you can’t find your de Rooy ancestors in Wie Was Wie, it could be because they were listed as de Rooij. If you search for a name with an ij or y, always search for both versions.


Date format

Dates are nearly always in the format day-month-year, so 5-7-1875 will mean the fifth of July, not the seventh of May.


The Gregorian calendar was introduced between 1582 and 1701 (depending on the province), something to keep in mind if you’re researching 17th century ancestors. Julian and Gregorian calendars co-existed for over a century. Some documents contain
both dates (e.g. 2/12 Mei means 2 May Julian, or 12 May Gregorian).


Holland, Michigan

A document lists your ancestor’s birthplace as “Holland”. This doesn’t necessarily mean they were Dutch. There are also several towns and villages in the US called Holland. You would not be the first to search (and fail to find) your ancestors in the Netherlands, only to discover they were actually from Holland, Michigan.

Did you fall into any of these pitfalls while searching your ancestors? Or a different one maybe? Please share your story in the comments below. Thanks!

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