When I started out researching my family tree, or genealogy, the Internet had not yet been invented. I remember that we visited the National Archive in Hasselt for family search, browsing in archive sources at random, hoping to find an ancestor. And in the archive in Vlaardingen I copied indexes and reconstructed a pedigree at home.
Doing research is nowadays much easier. Obviously you start out in your own family archive, if you have one, and by interviewing your family members. Interview for example your grandparents, your parents and uncles and aunts. From behind your computer, you can research the ‘hard data’ of your family tree almost without effort.
So just do it!
If you want to climb your family tree, then these ten essential websites will help you make a good start with your family search.
Getting started with your family tree
- Wiewaswie and Open Archives: This is your starting point. The information in Wiewaswie (126 million records) derives directly from the civil registration. This is the most important source for genealogy research. All information from the civil registration can be researched online. When you’re done, you’ve gone back until 1811, the year that civil registration was introduced in the Netherlands. Bob Coret offers Open Archives, on which you can search the genealogical data of Dutch archives in open data. By the end of 2017 Open Archives offered 171 million records, so more data than WiewasWie.
- Geneanet. It is now time to see if you can further complete your family tree with data that others have found. Geneanet is a website where many (amateur) -genealogists share their data. According to Geneanet the database contains more than 400 million names. GenealogieOnline, a website also by Bob Coret with 45 million names, is also used by many genealogists to publish their genealogy. Bob Coret’s StamboomForum has 89,000 users.
- Familytreeseeker and GendexNetwork. Again, a very practical way to make use of research by others.FamilyTreeSeeker and Gendex Network allow you to search for people in family trees published on the Internet. They index (by means of a Gendex file) published pedigrees on the web and present them as one large searchable database. The search results link to the web page on which the data of a particular entry can be found. One of these sites indexed by FamilyTreeSeeker deserves a mention of its own: Graftombe. This website digitises cemeteries. You can request free pictures of graves.
- Geneaknowhow. And then there is always that needle in the haystack you’re looking for. Be warned: this haystack is huge and there is no guarantee to success. This website is actually a motley collection of archival sources that are online or digitally searchable. The information is categorized by Dutch or Belgian province and you will also find image banks and passenger lists. And on Archiefzoeker you can find all kinds of literature sources. At Archiefwiki you find all the Dutch archives.
- Familysearch. Family Search is the website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or Mormons. This denomination practices genealogy out of religious conviction. The good thing is that the resources – from all over the world – the church has collected are available online on the Family Search website to be consulted.
- Cyndi’s List. Cyndi’s List is without doubt the largest collection of web links to genealogical websites worldwide: more than 290,000 of them, enough to keep you busy for a while. The links are categorized geographically and thematically.
- The National Archive probably holds the largest archive collection in the Netherlands. Through their public website GaHetNa you can browse the collection of more than 125 kms of records, 14 million photos and nearly 300,000 historical maps. The Centraal Bureau voor Genealogie is the national knowledge and documentation center for genealogy and related sciences. It is located at the same address as the National Archive. A part of the collection can be consulted online, including an extensive collection of prayer cards.
- Delpher. The Royal Library in The Hague, situated next to the National Archive, holds a vast collection of books, newspapers and magazines (from the first newspaper in 1618 to newspapers from the twentieth century). You can search in them online. You can also find family announcements published in newspapers. Look for those also in Mensenlinq and Familieberichtenopinternet.
- Dutch Genealogical Society . Through the website of the NGV you can search for genealogical data of its 10,000 members. Furthermore, you’ll find information about the services that the association has to offer. Check out the page with genealogy software. After all, you’ll need suitable software to register the details of your family tree. The NGV has tested is the best of them. It is important that a program supports the international standard Gedcom so that you can exchange data with other genealogists. Good programs are GensDataPro (which I use), Aldfaer, Brothers Keeper, Haza 21-Genealogy, Personal Ancestral File, Pro-Gen, Geneaal, Reunion, Oedipus II. Interaction with other genealogists also takes place on Stamboom Forum (over 66,000 members).
- Dutch Database of Family names. This database pictures the distribution of surnames in the Netherlands. All 314 000 names that were registered in 2007 by the Municipal Administration, are included. In addition, also included are the names of the 1947 census. There are similar sites for Belgium, Germany, France, Italy.
BONUS for non-Dutch speaking genealogists: Do not forget to visit Yvette Hoitink’s blog Dutchgenealogy, dedicated to finding your Dutch ancestors!
That completes my Family Tree Top 10. There is, as you see, no need for expensive commercial websites like Ancestry.com or MyHeritage (which now even advertises on TV).
Genealogy research in Belgium
Many of the abovementioned websites are useful for research in Belgium as well. Two extra organisations deserve to be mentioned:
- At the State Archinves in Belgium (Rijksarchief in België) you will find more than 23 million pages of genealogical sources (church registers and civil status registers). Almost 27,000 church bregisters can be searched online (including tables). You have to register first at the website for a free account.
- Familiekunde Vlaanderen vzw offers service and advice to genealogists on their website Familiegeschiedenis.be and offers courses as well. Besides their online sources they have documentation centres in several cities in Flanders.
One important concluding remark: to ensure the quality of your work, it is necessary to always check the information you have found with the original sources. Only then are you can be sure that you do not copy other people’s mistakes.
That’s it? No, never. Making a family tree doesn’t stop when you have all the data together. It needs to be a story. You should find out what these people’s lives were like, what they did, what kind of problems they had. Then they come to life.
That’s never finished: there are untold stories and perspectives to be discovered in your family tree. Inspirational (all in Dutch):
- A reconstruction of the life of my oldest ancestor
- A four-part series about the origin and meaning of my name
- The best Dutch and Flemish genealogy weblogs
- 4 ideas for storytelling in your family tree
- Photos from my family archive
- The war diary written by my grandfather during World War II
- How my family immigrated from Belgium to the Netherlands
- My descent from Charlemagne
- A special recording of the voice of my grandparents
Do you have a good tip for online family search? I’d like to hear it! Leave your comment below to the benefit of us all.