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The use of patronymics in The Netherlands

Lorine Schulze from Olive Tree Genealogy wrote recently about patronymics in New Netherland. The naming pattern in New Netherland is, of course, based on customs at the time here in The Netherlands. It is not true though that the Dutch only used patronymics: Family names (as we know them now) were already quite common in the early 17th century (when the New Netherland colony was founded), and there were also other naming systems in use. But in many rural regions, especially in the north, patronymics played an important role until well after 1811, when surnames became compulsory.

In this article, we will have a look at patronymics in The Netherlands and the consequences for your Dutch genealogy research when you pass the magic year 1811.


A patronymic is the father's name with a suffix. Patronymics are used instead of surnames, or as a middle name: In the name Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, Harmenszoon is the patronymic (Rembrandt's father was Harmen) and van Rijn the surname, while in the name Meints Klaassen, Klaassen is the patronymic (his father's name was Klaas) and there is no separate surname. Different suffixes were in use in different regions, and the suffixes also changed over time, but the most common suffixes in the 18th and 19th century were -s and -sen.

In regions where family names were not common, research before 1811 is difficult. Not only are there no BMD records available anymore, but you don't know for which names you have to search the church books - often you only know the first name of the father.

A big help when searching the church books for an elusive ancestor is the habit of our Dutch ancestors to name their children after family members: The first few children were named after their grandparents, later children after their parents, aunts, uncles or maybe great-grandparents. Another help are the witnesses at baptisms: These are often family members, usually aunts, uncles or grandparents. And if an ancestor died after 1811, there will be a death record which may list his parents.

Let's have a look at a few examples. The first example is from Huizen, an isolated coastal village in the province Noord-Holland, the second example is from the province Friesland.

An example from Huizen, Noord-Holland

On Genlias, you can find the marriage of my ancestor Gijsbert Eppen Veerman, son of Willem Eppen Veerman and Lambertje Mol.

Genlias, marriage of Gijsbert Eppen Veerman

In the archives of the province Noord-Holland in Haarlem I found the following information on father Willem:

  • His death record: Willem Eppen Veerman, aged 63, husband of Lambertje Mol, son of Ep Eppe and Jannetje Gijsberts Harder, died 5 May 1819 in Huizen.
  • The marriage of Willem Eppe, widower of Deliaantje Joosten van der Hulst, and Lammertje Hendriks Mol, on 18 May 1794 in Huizen. Note that the name Veerman is not used here, this name is probably adopted in 1811. Deliaantje and Lambertje did have surnames, though, and patronymics (Joosten and Hendriks) as well.
  • The baptism of two children from this marriage, Hendrik (25 June 1797 in Huizen, witness Jannetje Gijsberts Harder) and my ancestor Gijsbert (20 April 1799 in Huizen, witness Marritje Mol).
  • The marriage of Willem Ebbe, unmarried, and Deliaantje Joosten van der Hulst, unmarried, on 9 May 1784 in Huizen.
  • The baptism of three children from Willem's first marriage: Ebbe (13 March 1785, witness Jannetje Gijsb. Harder), Ep (20 May 1787, witness Jannetje Harder), and Deliaantje (10 June 1792, witness Jannetje Gijsb. Harder, the mother died at this birth).

From the death record, we know when Willem was born (more or less) and who his parents were, so it should be easy to find his baptism. But even without the death record we probably have enough information to find the baptism (and thus the parents). The patronymic Eppe(n) or Ebbe and the name of his first two children suggest his father's name must be Ep, Eppe, Ebbe or similar. Jannetje Gijsberts Harder was a witness at several baptisms, so she was probably a family member.

A few other notes:

  • We know Lambertje Mol's father was probably Hendrik (from the patronymic), and she probably had a sister Marritje (who witnessed the baptism of her son). This information helped me to find Lambertje's baptism and her parents (her father was Hendrik Lucasz Mol, and she did indeed have a sister Marritje).
  • Willem's daughter Deliaantje is probably not named after a grandmother, as was the custom in these days, but after her mother, who died during her birth. There are exceptions to the naming rules!
  • Patronymics are often abbreviated in records, especially if there is also a surname: Gijsb instead of Gijsberts. Jannetje Harder's father will have been Gijsbert, and not Gijsb.
  • A patronymic may become an ordinary name. Gijsbert Eppen Veerman used his father's patronymic Eppen as middle name in some (but not all) records, and many people adopted their patronymic as a surname in 1811. So be careful: Not every name that looks like a patronymic points to the father's name!
  • Note the use of maiden names for married women: Jannetje Harder, Deliaantje van der Hulst. Women are (almost) always listed under their maiden name in Dutch government and church records!

I had indeed no trouble locating Willem's baptism: Willem, son of Ebbe Jansz and Jannetje Gijsb Harder, baptized 4 January 1756 in Huizen. Witness was Meijnsje Gerr: Teeuwisz, and she will be the clue to finding the parents of Ebbe Jansz (Ebbe was probably baptized on 15 March 1722 as son of Jan Ebben and Meinsje Gerrits, but I still have to verify this).

An example from Friesland

Our second example comes from Friesland. A reader of Trace your Dutch roots asked me to help with a brick wall. His ancestor Wietze Jarigs Veenstra married Trijntje Jakobs Veenstra in 1817 in Smallingerland. You can find their marriage certificate on Genlias or Tresoar.

Tresoar, marriage of Wietze Jarigs Veenstra and Trijntje Jakobs Veenstra

According to the marriage act, Wietze's parents were Jarig Eeltjes and Antje Pieters, while Trijntje's parents were Jakob Wiegers Veenstra and Antje Libbes. Confusing is that Wietze had the same surname as his father-in-law, but not the same name as his father. Trijntje's grandfather Wieger Jakobs registered the surname Veenstra for himself and his children and grandchildren in 1811 (source: Tresoar, database Family names 1811). Jarig Eeltjes probably passed away before 1811 and never used a surname. I could not find a registration of Wietze's surname.

I searched the pre-1811 database on Tresoar for Veenstra, but (as I expected) without success. After that I searched for names like Wietze, Wytze, Jarig, Jaring, Eeltje, Eeltjes, Eelke etc. (and combinations of these names), and this time I found what I was looking for: The baptism of Wietze and the marriage of his parents. I found:

  • The death of Wietze Jarings Veenstra, 65, married, son of Jaring Eeltjes en Antje Pieters, died 14 June 1859 in Smallingerland (in the post-1811 database).
  • Jaring Eeltjes died or was buried on 27 January 1801 in Wartena (Idaarderadeel). I don't know if this was Wietze's father or a namesake - further research is needed to find that out.
  • Jaring Eelties from Suawoude married Janke Hendriks from Suawoude on 1 July 1798 in Suawoude (Tietjerksteradeel). Jaring may be a namesake, but as he is also from Suawoude I think it is the second marriage of our Jaring.
  • Born 21 July 1793 in Garijp, baptized 18 August 1793 in "Garijp, Suameer en Eernewoude" (Tietjerksteradeel): The twins Pieter and Wietse, children of Jarich Eeltjes and Antje Pieters.
  • Jaring Eeltjes from Suawoude and Antje Pyters from Suawoude married 27 June 1784 in Suawoude (Tietjerksteradeel).

A few notes:

  • In 1807, Wytze Jarigs (from Kollum) and Volkje Tjeerds (from Kollum) married in Kollumerland. This is (almost certainly) another Wytze Jarigs (ours was not from Kollum and too young to marry in 1807). Interestingly, this Wytze also adopted the name Veenstra in 1811 (spelled Feenstra in the database Family names 1811 on Tresoar, but Veenstra in later records).
  • I did not find any other children of Jaring and Antje. They probably had more children - I expect there eldest son to be named after Jaring's father, with a date of birth around 1785. Maybe I would find him if I tried a few more alternative spellings, or if I went to the Friesland archive in Leeuwarden to study the microfilms of the baptism books.
  • Tresoar apparently does not list baptism witnesses, and the information we have on Jaring Eeltjes is scarce, so getting further back in time using only Tresoar will be hard and may even be impossible.

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