If you are researching your pedigree, you can count yourself lucky if your ancestors came from Holland.
Napoleon introduced a system of civil registration into the Netherlands in the late 18th century. After June, 1811, all births, marriages and deaths were officially registered by the local authorities, using a standard form. There were always two copies: one for the municipality and one for the province.
The Dutch, an orderly people, have organized these records and created a system of genealogical archives. Each city in the Netherlands has an archive – like a library — containing records of the families who lived there from at least 1811 on. Many of these have been transferred to microfilm, and most are now listed in an on-line database, Genlias.nl. Access to these records is free and open to anyone. There is a small charge, usually half a Euro (75 cents) to make a copy.
There is also a national genealogical archive in the country’s capital, The Hague. Here you must pay an admission fee to use the facility, about 5 Euros per day. Copies are still half a Euro.
I learned about the archives from Eric Ruijssenaars, a professional genealogist working in Holland. He told me about family cards, which list all the people living in a family, as well as marriage and employment information. We visited the national and city archives in The Hague with Eric, and the archives in Rotterdam and Utrecht on our own. The staffs spoke English, and were friendly, helpful, and interested in our research. When we found a fact we were searching for, our assistants were as excited as we were.
In the Rotterdam archive, we found the Vanderdonck family card. I have a pale copy from the microfiche, too light to reproduce here.
Alexis Dieudonne Egide Vanderdonck was born on the 20th of November, 1844, in Beek, Belgium. The son of Boniface Vanderdonck and Anne Catherine Hubertine Dery, A.E.D. lived in Rotterdam with his wife, Paulina Kool, and his daughter, our grandmother, Fredericka Paulina Vanderdonck. [Kool, by the way, is pronounced Coal, and it means “cabbage” in Dutch.] The family moved around some – they are listed at 85 Goudshe Wagenstraat, then on Weste Wagenstraat at numbers 52, 71, and 75. [These are the same streets on which Vanderdonck had his cigar shops, and the final address indicates that the family lived above the shop.]
Vanderdonck is listed first as a laborer, but later as a “Winkelman,” that is, shopkeeper, in the cigar and cigarette business. I don’t know at what point his status changed, or how he obtained the money to open his three shops.
Paulina Kool moved to Paterson, NJ, and Fredericka — well, the card says either Amsterdam or America — I can’t quite make it out. After that, Vanderdonck, without wife or daughter, moved to various addresses in Rotterdam, and then to Brussels and Ostend.
Another note on the family card indicates that Vanderdonck divorced Paulina in 1891.