New Netherland Family History

Using New Netherland documents to explore your ancestry

Daily Life

Moving beyond the basic facts of an ancestor's life and digging into the smaller details of his or her daily existence adds depth to family research. The translated volumes provide a huge array of records including entries that detail the rules the colonists lived under, what their houses were like and what items they valued, transactions and squabbles between neighbors, political intrigue, mundane pettiness and drunken brawling.

Before me, Cornelis van Tienhoven, secretary of New Netherland, in the presence of the undersigned witnesses appeared Diggere Ritserts,who has hired himself for the term of three years to Davit Pietersen to serve and to be employed by him or his agent in such work as the said Davit Pietersen shall wish to employ him, Digger Ritserts; for which service Davit Pietersen shall annually pay to said Ritserts twenty Holland guilders in cash, two suits of clothes for summer wear, one winter suit and as many stockings and shoes as he shall need. The aforesaid Diggere Ritserts hereby promises to conduct and comport himself honestly and faithfully as a good and trusty servant should and is bound to do, binding himself hereto as by law provided. Done in Fort Amsterdam, this 20th of April 1639. This is the mark of Diggere Ritserts Tho: Willett, witness (Register of the Provincial Secretary, 1638-1642, [100] pgs. 137-138)

A person need not be mentioned in a record for it to enhance the story of his or her life. Records from a time and place in which your ancestor lived can reveal a great deal about the nature and spirit of that community.

[Tomas Cambers, an En]glish carpenter, promises [and agrees, if God] grant him health, [to] erect and build a [house], 30 feet long and 20 feet wide, enclosed all around and covered overhead with clapboards, tight against the rain; inside like the mason's house [with] a partition, a bedstead and pantry, two doors and one double and one single casement window. The carpenter shall furnish five hundred clapboards for the house; Schepmoes shall supply the nails, and board for the carpenter during the construction, which commences this day, for eight weeks, when the house, barring accidents, must be ready; and when it shall be entirely and properly finished, Schepmoes shall pay to Tomas Cambers, in addition to his board, the sum of one hundred and sixteen guilders, reckoned at 20 stivers to the guilder. For which the carpenter and Schepmoes bind themselves under submission to all courts, provided that the carpenter shall hew the timber to the best of his ability. Done the 6th of May anno1642, in Fort Amsterdam. This is the X mark of Tomas Cambers This is the X mark of Jan Jasen Schepmoes (Register of the Provincial Secretary, 1642-1647, [17a] pg. 33)

Because this contract between a carpenter and his client is so specific it is possible to imagine the dwelling and what it would have been like to live in such a place. Perhaps your ancestor lived next door in a similar dwelling or maybe they had less pleasant neighbors.

[Barent Dir]c[ksen, ba]ker, Jan Eversen, [and Jan] Cornelissen from Rotterdam testify at the request of Tonis Cray that the hogs of Pieter van [der] Linden have largely destroyed the plantation of maize and garden produce, so that it is almost worthless. He, Tonis Cray has had the fences inspected by Willem, the under-sheriff, who passed them as constituting a sufficient protection. Abraham Pietersen, the miller, likewise declares that last Sunday afternoon he heard Tonis Cray say to Pieter van der Linden's wife: "Yoke your hogs, and I shall not complain of all the loss I have suffered." Done the 26th of August 1643.

This is the X mark of Barent Dircksen, baker Jan Eversz Swol
This is the X mark of Jan Jan from Rotterdam Abraham Pietersen
(Register of the Provincial Secretary, 1642-1647, [71a] pgs. 156-157)

In the interest of law and order, as well as community harmony, undesirable behavior frequently found the colony's residents in court, leaving us with delightful insights.

[95] Tuesday, February 10, 1654
Pieter Bronck, being summoned to appear, declares that Jacob de Timmerman and Willem Jansz Prins, on Sunday, or the day before yesterday, valiantly fought at his house and in order that they should not injure each other with knives, he, Bronck, had broken both their knives in their pockets before they began to fight.

Jacob de Timmerman, summoned to appear in court on account of fighting, defendant is in default.

Willem Jansz Prins declares that he does not know much about having been fighting, as he was dead drunk, but admits that on Sunday, even during the service, he was drinking at the house of Pieter Bronck. Resolved to have them both summoned to appear again on the next court day. (Fort Orange Court Minutes, 1652-1660, [95] p. 92)

About the New Netherland Institute

For over three decades, NNI has helped cast light on America's Dutch roots. In 2010, it partnered with the New York State Office of Cultural Education to establish the New Netherland Research Center, with matching funds from the State of the Netherlands. NNI is registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Contributions are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. More

The New Netherland Research Center

Housed in the New York State Library, the NNRC offers students, educators, scholars and researchers a vast collection of early documents and reference works on America's Dutch era. More


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