Monday, 27 January 2014

Explaining a Dutch genealogical database

The WWW logo
"Old" hands in the land of genealogy, and in particular those with Dutch roots, may remember Dutch data base GenLias. In that case I have some bad news for you, because that's what it is, a memory. It doesn't exist any more. And that is hardly news, it ceased to exist over a year ago. But the good news is that there is a successor. In Dutch it is called Wie Was Wie meaning Who Was Who and commonly abbreviated as WWW. It is operated by the Central Bureau for Genealogy.
For those not familiar with Dutch genealogy sources it may be good to know that the Netherlands have very permissive archives. Most of the primary genealogical data are available on the internet at no cost. That is certainly the case for the period from 1812 onwards when registration of these data became a government responsibility. But also church records written down prior to that date may be consulted from your easy chair. If they still exist that is. Under the WWW umbrella many regional archives and the National Archive make these data available to genealogists worldwide. At the moment some twenty archives show documents related to over 87 million persons. In an increasing number of cases also a scan of the original document can be consulted and downloaded. Eventually the site will be in English as well but for the time being it is in Dutch only. To overcome this problem I'll try to compose a simple user manual in English so that you can do some basic research yourself.

The url for WWW is The following screenshot is the most important part of the homepage. The translation is underneath each of the following screenshots.
Personen zoeken --> Search for individuals
Ruim 87 miljoen personen in de database! --> Over 87 million individuals in the database
Zoek op naam --> Enter surname
Zoek --> Search button
Uitgebreid zoeken --> Advanced search
You may use wildcards, * for more than one character and ? for a single character.
Assume you are looking for the surname Snyder but you don't know whether to write this as Snyder, Snijder or Sneider, you type Sn*der.
However, if you are looking for a common surname like this one it is likely that you get more hits than you can handle in a week. Hit the search button and you'll see this:
Found: 26,738 results for Sn*der
You'll agree with me that going through over 26,000 results is not very practical. Before using the advanced search button to possibly lower this large number, let's have a look at the (first) result page. Hope you can read it, otherwise click on it to enlarge.

You see 10 results on each of the 2,670 pages.
Pagina (--> page), any page number can be filled in there.
The headers translate as follows.
Achternaam --> Surname
Voornaam --> First name
Patroniem --> Patronymic
Akteplaats --> City where document is registered
Aktedatum --> Registration date (in the Netherlands the sequence is day-month-year!)
Documenttype --> Type of document
Clicking on each of the headers influences the numerical or alphabetical sequence.
Below the type of document you see certain expressions. They are:
BS (Burgerlijke Stand) --> Civil Registration (from 1812 onward)
DTB (Doop, Trouw, Begraaf) --> BMD (prior to 1812, during that period birth data hardly exist, baptismal dates do)
Huwelijk --> Marriage
Overlijden --> Death
Dopen --> Baptism
Clicking on an asterisk (not visible here) results in that particular document being stored elsewhere. Clicking on the symbol to the left of a surname (see Visser above) gives you access to a document scan. Both facilities are only available if you register.
Now, let's try to reduce the number of results. To do this click on the advanced search button (Uitgebreid zoeken). It is in the blue rectangle on top of the above results page. And this is what you get:
First some translations.
Achternaam --> Surname
Tussenvoegsel --> Insertion              Zonder --> Without
Voorna(a)m(en) --> First name(s)
Patroniem --> Patronymic
Beroep --> Profession
Rol --> Role This pull down menu shows All roles, bride, groom, registered person, witness, child, mother, mother of the bride, mother of the groom, deceased, partner, relation, father, father of the bride, father of the groom and previous partner. In most cases all roles will do.

Voeg een persoon toe --> Add a person. I'll come back to that.

Periode Bijv. 1800 t/m 1900 --> Period Example 1800 u/i 1900 If known you can insert dates here.
Land Alle landen --> Country All countries Leave unchanged
Regio --> Region Leave blank unless you know the name of the province.
Plaats --> City, village

If we make a small detour for a minute and apply this time period limitation to the Sn*der example the number of results is cut by 11,000.
Let's go back to the above Uitgebreid zoeken page.
Filling in most boxes is optional.

On the right hand side you see:
bevat --> includes
syn --> synonym
exact --> exact
If you are uncertain about the spelling of a name checking either one of the first two may be of use.

The screenshot below is part of the one shown above.
Zoeken in      Alle documenttypen --> Search in     All types of documents
It's best to leave this box unchanged.
Zoeken of Leeg alle velden --> Search or clear all boxes.

I promised to come back to the Voeg een persoon toe --> Add a person-button. If you click on that button the screen below is added to the one we discussed above.
Tweede persoon --> Second person
The next five boxes have been dealt with earlier.
Verwijder laatste persoon --> Remove last/2nd person Clicking this button removes this part of the screen.

The purpose of this second person screen is to eliminate a lot of pink noise. It enables you to look for documents showing e.g. a mother and her child or a bride and the groom rather than looking for a child or a bride alone.

Now let us apply this second person possibilty to the already reduced Sn*der data. Assuming there is a certain relationship with a person with surname Jong, the number of data is reduced dramatically.
179 is not a very small number to look at but it can be done. You also have to appreciate the fact that the surname de Jong is the number 1 name in the Netherlands.

Now that I have mentioned a surname preceded by an insertion (de Jong), it is time to tell you how those names are written in the Netherlands. In English speaking countries the Dutch name de Witt is often written as DeWitt. More examples: van Zandt and VanZandt, van der Pool and Vanderpool, ter Willigen and Terwilligen. So looking for DeJong will return a meager 342 results whereas Jong with insertion de shows over 422,000 hits. Obviously this difference in writing also influences the alphabetical order in which names appear.

Once you have a result it is possible to narrow it down further. In the left hand margin of each result page there are several possibilities.
From top to bottom it reads:
Verfijn resultaat: --> Narrow down result (by changing ...)
Periode --> Period
Verfijn --> Narrow down button
Collectiegebied --> Region where document was originally registered.
And not shown here:
Organisatie --> Name of archiving institution
Documenttype --> Type of document
Rol --> Role

Now that our quest has been narrowed down to the last 179 records, it is time to have a look at the record itself. I picked one at random.
BS Overlijden met --> Civil Registration of death of Yltje (first name) Hylkes (patronymic) Snijder (surname)
Overledene --> Deceased
Geslacht --> Sex    Vrouw --> Female
Leeftijd --> Age
Vader --> Father
Moeder --> Mother
Gebeurtenis --> Event    Overlijden --> Death
Datum --> Date    Zaterdag --> Saturday
Gebeurtenisplaats: --> City/village where event took place
Documenttype: --> Type of document
Erfgoedinstelling --> Archive name
Plaats instelling --> Archive location
Collectiegebied --> Region
Archief --> Archive number
Registratienummer --> Registration number
Aktenummer --> Document number
Registratiedatum --> Date of registration
Akteplaats --> Place where document has been drawn up

The image in the top right hand corner indicates that a scan of the original document is available for viewing and downloading. The above  mentioned document is shown below.
Civil Registration of the death of IJltje Hijlkes Snijder
in IJlst on January 5, 1839
So far consulting this data base is free but that may change. I expect that retrieving basic data (Civil registers and the older BMD data) will remain free. However, to look at document scans and to store document records for later investigation you need to register. Those facilities may become part of a subscription. Today they are still free of charge. In case you want to register and need assistance, please let me know. Or alternatively I can arrange the download of a scan for you. In any case I hope this post is of use to genealogists with Dutch roots. I'll be happy to answer any questions.

In conclusion I like mention that not everything that you find in this database is faultless. Human beings are known to err and so is software made by the same humans. To demonstrate what I mean I like to refer you to Yvette Hoitink's blog about some "funny" mistakes made by With her kind permission I copy her infographic here.

I am not saying that WWW makes this kind of mistakes but an additional check never harmed anyone! By the way WWW shows just 45,616 mentions of Reusel, the village mentioned in Yvette's infographic.

Update Jan 28, 2014
Today, one day after this post, WWW launched the first version of WhoWasWho in English. Coincidence? Curious? Here is the English site.

Update Jan 29, 2014
Yvette Hoitink, the author of the a.m. infographic, drew my attention to the fact that she did not say that caused the mistakes she revealed. She states "I did not say that these errors originated with, just that they can be viewed in their Member Trees. In fact, I think two of the errors originated with Familysearch and one with FamilyTreeMaker.
The truth shall prevail...

Update Apr. 29, 2014
For further explanation of WWW please see this video. It'll take approx. 7 minutes.


  1. Thanks Peter, I used to use Genlias and found it great. I've had a bit of a try of WWW but got lost in translations so your blog today has really helped. I'll book mark it for each time I use WWW.

  2. @Jackie
    I'm happy to say that you can delete your bookmark. Today WWW launched the English version
    Hope that works out for you. Otherwise you are always welcome to consult my version ;)

  3. Peter, Thanks for the great explanation. I appreciate it.

  4. Great to see my infographic is being used! BTW, I did not say that these errors originated with, just that they can be viewed in their Member Trees. In fact, I think two of the errors originated with Familysearch and one with FamilyTreeMaker.

    And the timing of your article was remarkable, just a day before the English launch :-)

  5. @Yvette
    Your infographic fitted in beautifully with my subject. So you published your blog on the very right moment!
    I'll mention your remark re in a blog update as well.
    Thanks for visiting!


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