New Netherland Family History

Using New Netherland documents to explore your ancestry

Vital Records

For family historians vital records offer the most basic and essential facts about an individual's life. When researching recent generations we rely on birth certificates, marriage licenses, and death certificates held at local or state offices. Finding evidence to pinpoint these important life events in the seventeenth century, however, can be a considerable challenge. Throughout this body of records are entries that either explicitly state, or otherwise suggest, facts about life events and relationships among individuals in the way that modern vital records do today.

The first example could not be clearer. It gives the full names of a couple married before the court, the date, and the place.

This day Adriaen Jansz van Leyden and Maria Reverdinghs van Daswijck were united in marriage before the court here. [Ordinary Session, June 18, 1652]? (Fort Orange Court Minutes, 1652-1660, [12] p. 14)

While the evidence from early New Netherland records is not always as explicit, the records might still contain many pieces of pertinent information.

Before me, Cornelis van Tienhoven, secretary of New Netherland, appeared Gerrit Wolphersen, husband and guardian of Aeltjen Cornelis, daughter of Cornelis Lambersen Cool, deceased, who in said capacity appoints and empowers Mr. Andries Hudden in his, the principal's, name to demand and collect from Aeltjen Brackoengne, widow of the late Cornelis Lambersen Cool, all such part and portion of the property left by Cornelis Lambersen Cool as belong to him, the principal, in his capacity as aforesaid... To which end this is signed in the original record by the principal and witness hereto invited, the 30th of December anno 1643, in Fort Amsterdam, in New Netherland. This is the X mark of Gerrit Wolphersen Willem de Key, witness (Register of the Provincial Secretary, 1642-1647, [93b] p. 18)

From this entry we learn the following:
Gerrit Wolphersen was married to Aeltjen Cornelis.
Aeltjen Cornelis was the daughter of Cornelis Lambersen Cool.
Cornelis Lambersen Cool died before December 1643.
Cornelis Lambersen Cool was married to Aeltjen Brackoengne and she survived him.

This is quite a bit of family history from one record. Though exact dates of the marriages are not given, the fact that the marriages occurred can be documented. What this entry does not say, and researchers must be careful not to assume, is the name of the mother of Aeltjen Cornelis. In fact, a 1642 record shows that Aeltjen Brackoengne was not the first wife of Cornelis Lambersen Cool. (Ibid. [18c] p. 38)

Vital information about ancestors may come from records that were created for very different reasons. Consider the following example, part of a declaration by a witness, regarding a shooting.

Today, 21 June 1662, appeared before me, Abraham van Nas, appointed notary public by the honorable director-general and council of New Netherland, the undersigned witnesses: Casper Luter, soldier, about 30 years old and Hendrick Dyck, also soldier, about 26 years old, who, at the request of the vice-director, Willem Beeckman, testified and declared to be the truth, first, that he, Hendrick Dyck, deponent, on Monday evening about eight or nine o'clock was sitting at a table in Pop Jansen Outhout's house in the colony of New Amstel ... (Delaware Papers, 1648-1664, [19:38] pp. 281-282)

From this record we learn the ages in 1662 of two men in New Amstel, "Casper Luter, soldier, about 30 years old and Hendrick Dyck, also soldier, about 26 years old." Thus the approximate birthdays of these men would be 1632 and 1636, not precise but a useful approximation. Knowing the year of an individual's birth may help with sorting people into family groups or in distinguishing two individuals with similar names.

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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