New Netherland Family History

Using New Netherland documents to explore your ancestry


Information about an ancestor's occupation can add to our understanding of his or her life. It may also differentiate one individual from another with a similar name. This was especially true before the widespread use of surnames. The translated documents occasionally describe a person by their occupation, including some examples in which their work is not the main consideration.

Upon the petition of the baker Hans Fredericks, whom I used as emergency assistance during the illness of the aforesaid Commissary Blansche, deceased, I have permitted him to depart for Holland aboard the aforesaid fluyt [De Liefde], because he has been engaged for some years to a widow there whom he fears otherwise might chance to marry another during his long absence. [1655] (Curaçao Papers, 1640-1665, [23] p.86)

From this record we learn the following:
The Hans Fredericks that was in Curaçao in 1655 was a baker.
The Hans Fredericks was engaged to a widow in Holland.
Also that commissary Blansche died before 1655.

The following example provides evidence that Comelis Cornelissen and Jan Witmondt, together, owned a brewhouse in Greenebosch in 1657. This puts these men in a specific place on a specific date as well as connecting them to one another. The record also gives a wonderful picture of the many things needed to run a brewhouse.

Conditions and terms on which Comelis Cornelissen and Jan Witmondt propose to sell their brew house located in the Greenebosch in Colonie Rencelaerswijck. First the brew house shall be delivered to the buyer with all permanent fixtures together with a well, and related tools: a brew kettle, a fermentation tub, a wort tub with a cooler, a mash tub, a hand mill with four stones, thirty tight half barrels and six tubs, two beer stands with two round tubs, and a malt kiln with a cloth cover, a beer sling, and a beer container, and a new stable seventeen feet long and fifteen feet wide, with a garden, which also shall be delivered tight, excepting the garden produce which is therein. Delivery shall take place on the first of November 1657... (Fort Orange Records, 1656-1678, p. 69 [107])

The world outside the home was not just for men. The records of New Netherland also describe women by their occupations, revealing details about an ancestor's activities and her position in society.

This day, date underwritten, before me, Cornelis van Tienhoven, secretary of New Netherland, appeared Dirck Cornelissen from Wensveen, as husband and guardian of Marritjen Jans, daughter of Tryn Jonas from Masterland, in her lifetime midwife here in New Netherland ... [1647] (Register of the Provincial Secretary, 1642-1647, [163e] p. 471)

Even when an occupation is not explicitly mentioned it might be inferred.

[Ordinary Session Held in Fort Orange, November 28, 1656] Juffrouw de Hulter, plaintiff, against Jan Gouw. The plaintiff demands payment for 1200 pantiles, amounting to seven and a half beavers. The defendant denies that he owes the plaintiff the sum of /64. The parties having been heard, the defendant is ordered by the court to pay the plaintiff the sum of /64 in beavers within the space of six weeks... (Fort Orange Court Minutes, 1652-1660, p. 266)

Juffrouw roughly translates to Miss in English and a pantile is a clay roof tile. The quantity of tiles for which Juffrouw de Hulter demanded payment suggests that she was manufacturing the tiles or owned the facility that did.

This day, date underwritten, Tobias Feacx and Cornells van Tlenhoven have agreed in manner as follows: First, said Tobias Feax binds, as he hereby does bind, Annitje Patricx, his step-daughter, for the term of two consecutive years, commencing on the date hereof, to serve said Cornells van Tlenhoven and his family for two consecutive years as a servant-maid ... (Register of the Provincial Secretary, 1648-1660, p. 86 [31c])

This record is a good example of the value to researchers of the patronymic naming system. The excerpt does not tell us the names of Annitje Patricx's parents, only that of her step-father. Yet her surname gives us a hint of what her father's name might be.

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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