Read how you can search for an ancestor who has emigrated
Over the centuries, many enterprising fellow-countrymen left the Netherlands to start a new life elsewhere. The United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa were popular destinations. Of those who emigrated in the 1950s and 1960s the families that remained will often have information such as names, photos or letters. But how can you find out more about an adventurous ancestor who had set sail earlier?
Did my ancestor emigrate?
You have pretty well completed your genealogical research, but one son of the family is missing. With the exception of his birth certificate you found nothing about him. No marriage certificate, no death certificate, in short: disappeared off the face of the earth! Then you start thinking that he might have emigrated.
Unfortunately there is no single register containing details of all Dutch people that ever emigrated. You will need to search through a number of Dutch sources to find out if someone has actually done so.
You begin your search in the population register, in which from the second half of the nineteenth century the details of all inhabitants were recorded per Dutch municipality. In addition to personal data such as the date and place of birth, religion and marital status, removals both within and beyond the borders of the municipality were recorded in the population registers. Via the websites of archives and records offices and WieWasWie (WhoWasWho) there are numerous population registers that can be searched by name. If you find the person you are looking for and they are recorded in the period covered by the register, you should then be able to find the annotation that they have moved. If you are lucky, the registrar will have noted not only the date and the country to which they emigrated, but also the name of their new abode. The annotation ‘doorgehaald bij de xxx VT (volkstelling)' (crossed out at the xxx VT (census)) also appears regularly, which means that the exact date of departure is unknown.
Extensive information about population registers can be found (in Dutch) on the page Gemeentelijke bevolkingsregistratie als bron (Municipal population registers as source).
Lists of emigrants
In 1848 the Dutch government began recording the ‘Table of emigrants to North America or other overseas regions’. These lists of emigrants were kept up to date for each year and municipality, then collected by the provincial authorities and sent on to the Minister of the Interior. In this source you can find details of persons who had left the Netherlands in a particular year with, in addition to their personal data, their social class, the composition of the household, their reason for emigration (improving their circumstances, for example) and the presumed destination. However, not all emigrants are to be found in said lists. Firstly because only single emigrants and the heads of families were recorded. Furthermore, some emigrants did not report their proposed departure to the authorities, either because of their indifference or, for example because they were wanted by the police.
The original table of emigrants from the period 1848-1877 is kept in the National Archive in The Hague. An index of names can be consulted via its website. Scans of the documents are searchable and and to be consulted via the Family Search
https://www.familysearch.org/search/catalog/413835?availability=Family%20History%20Librarywebsite. Available in some of the provincial Regional Historical Centres are lists that cover a longer period, of which the longest running series (that of the Collection Overijssel) runs to 1919. In order to search through those you must first know where the migrant lived prior to their departure.
For every ship − and later for every aeroplane − that departed to the country of emigration, passenger lists were drawn up. In addition to the names of passengers and those of the crew, often their age, place of departure and destination, plus the number of pieces of baggage were recorded. Nineteenth-century passenger lists are no longer available in the Netherlands, but for the period 1900-1969 there are lists available for the Holland-Amerika Line. You can study them online in WieWasWie or via the website of the Rotterdam City Archives. The American website of the Gjenvick-Gjønvik Archives can already offer some sixty 'Holland-Amerika Lijn' passenger lists from the period 1904-1954. These can be searched by name.
The National Archive also has a number of Dutch Passenger manifests, but in general these are not structured or long-term files. In some cases there are destination (or host) countries that do have passenger lists of Dutch emigrants available. These are named individually below under the countries in question.
Dutch emigrants also made the crossing from other European ports, such as Le Havre, Antwerp, Bremen, Hamburg, London, Liverpool and Glasgow. Via the website Cyndi's list you can discover quite easily if and where passenger lists relating to a certain port have been published. For Hamburg the passenger lists are available via Ancestry.com.
Obituaries in Dutch newspapers can also be helpful when you are researching your emigrated family members. For example, when grandma dies in Holland, and all her children are named in the obituary together with the place where they live. It can also be the case that the family that remained in the Netherlands places an obituary of an emigrant family member in Dutch newspapers. This is also true for announcements of weddings and births that have taken place in a host country. It is therefore well worth consulting the CBG’s collection of family announcements. This is possible via our website CBGverzamelingen.nl (CBG Collections).
About the sources in the host countries
Just as in the Netherlands, there are all manner of sources with historical personal data available in the host countries in which you may find your migrant ancestor. Below you will find a number of sources that can be relevant to your research. Here we discuss what sort of sources can be of importance.
Sources relating to population registration and immigration are mostly to be found via the various national archives; fortunately this can often be done online. In addition, websites such as FamilySearch and Ancestry offer countless indexes and digital sources of the various host countries. FamilySearch shares all the data free of charge, in Ancestry you will have to pay to view some of the information. On this page we refer to the individual databases within these websites. It can be useful to enter a general search on both sites. In this way you can search through all the available databases in one shot.
In the host countries, immigration can be researched via passenger lists and naturalization dossiers. In order to find information about immigration and naturalization it is often necessary to search in the national archives of the host country. The websites Ancestry and FamilySearch also offer migration sources online.
Births, marriages and deaths
For the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, sources comparable to those in the Netherlands are maintained for the registrations of births, marriages and deaths. In these countries too, the data was recorded by churches, after which the government took this over with birth, marriage and deaths certificates, the so-called BMDs (births, marriages, deaths) or vital records. One notable difference with Dutch death certificates is that in English-language certificates the cause of death is recorded, and that this information is also in the public domain.
In the English-language host countries there is no system of continuous population registration, in which both the numbers of population and the changes therein are shown, such as that which has existed in the Netherlands since the nineteenth century. However, these countries do have censuses, mostly once every ten years. This then provides a cross-section of the population at that moment. Although these censuses are more limited than the Dutch population registers, you can still gain valuable information about the citizens.
In countries that do not have population registers it is the responsibility of the citizens themselves to register with the government in order that they become entitled to vote at the elections. The electoral register (or roll) that this produces, can at a certain moment serve as a source of information about the citizens of a municipality. Because registration was not mandatory, and because only adult males were included in the register until the implementation of votes for women at the beginning of the twentieth century, the electoral registration never includes the entire population.
Cemeteries are important sources to find ancestors that have emigrated. To search through these, you can make use of the websites Billiongraves and Find A Grave. Through the years, countless volunteers have added photos, names and dates of graves to these databases. You can search through both websites by name. Unfortunately, not all the cemeteries can be found on these websites. In some of the host countries there are also governmental institutions that place details of their inhabitants online.
To the United States
The stream of Dutch emigrants to 'America' began in about 1840. As soon as you know that a person has emigrated to the United States, you can start your research. It is useful to know which state they went to, but fortunately these days even without having that information there is plenty of information to be found. Predominately, the sources are made available via FamilySearch and Ancestry.
Early migrants, who left to go to Pennsylvania (the then basis of the United States) in 1727 and 1776, can be found in the reference book by Rupp, A Collection of Upwards of 30,000 Names of German, Swiss, Dutch, French & other Immigrants in PA from 1727 to 1776. This can be found in the CBG bibliotheek (library), but it is also available online as a PDF. There are no European departure lists in existence from this period.
From 1820 up to and including 1891, emigrants that went to the United States were registered in Castle Garden on Manhattan. After 1892 emigrants set their first foot on American soil at Ellis Island, near New York. Registration continued to be carried out there until 1924. Finally there are the New York Passenger and Crew Lists from 1925 until 1957. These three sources have been merged to form a database that contains 65 million records. In addition to the database with names of the passengers you can also find scans of the original ships’ manifests. These provide interesting supplementary information about the immigrants, such as their destination in the United States, and with whom they were going to live initially.
The passenger lists of ships and aeroplanes from later periods can be found via the website Ancestry. The United States naturalization files covering the period 1794 to 1995 can also be consulted via this website.
Births, marriages and deaths
In the United States birth, marriage and death certificates have been created since 1900, but there are also states that started this centuries earlier. Whether these vital records are available online via Ancestry or FamilySearch varies from state to state. The originals are lodged with the Department of Health of the state concerned.
American population registers that record all removals and from which complete families can be reconstructed, do not exist. There are, however, the ten-yearly censuses since 1790. The most recent census that is in the public domain, is from 1940. The following census, that of 1950, has been available since April 2022.
In general, the censuses provide information such as the names of everyone that belongs to each particular household: age, place of birth, address, occupation, immigration andstate citizenship, marriage, and period of military service. The censuses can be searched online both via FamilySearch and Ancestry.
Searching for deceased persons in the United States can be carried out via the websites Find A Grave and Billiongraves. Both sites contain photos, names and data of graves. The graves can be searched by name.
Since the end of the nineteenth century, Canada has been an important destination for Dutch emigrants. Particularly after the Second World War and into the nineteen fifties, many Dutch people emigrated to Canada. Ancestry research in Canada is much more difficult than in the United States because there is less personal data personal data available via the Internet.
The Canadian equivalent of Ellis Island, Pier 21, has a national museum with a reading room and a variety of databases of Canadian immigrants. Unfortunately these cannot be consulted online. However, requests for information can be placed and immigration records requested. You can make your request via de website of Pier 21.
Another interesting source is the list Dutch Emigrants to North America, 1946-1963. This originates from a programme of the 'Christian Reformed Church in North America' (CRC) to help Dutch Reformed immigrants, for example in finding accommodation, jobs and sponsors. The list contains information about almost ten thousand families and a PDF is available, whilst via Ancestry the list can be searched by name.
Births, marriages and deaths
The registration of births, marriages and deaths in Canada began in the second half of the nineteenth century in the Vital Statistics. The original certificates can be found in the provincial archives. There are only very few Canadian provinces that provide an index of this on the Internet. When these indexes are online, the information can also be found via Ancestry and FamilySearch.
The are electoral registers available for the period 1935 to 1980, the Voter lists. These can be searched by name via Ancestry. In addition to the names you can also find occupations and addresses.
There are indexes of cemeteries for the provinces Ontario and British Columbia. These can be searched by surname (last or family name) via the Ontario Cemetery Finding Aid and the British Columbia Cemetery Finding Aid. In addition you can find Canadian graves via the websites Find A Grave and Billiongraves.
Originally Australia was less attractive as a country to emigrate to than the United States and Canada. The enormous distance from the Netherlands was the greatest issue. That changed after the Second World War: between 1947 and 1961, 126,000 Dutch people left to go Down Under to build a new life. There are many sources available about emigration to Australia.
From 1946 the Dutch consulates in Australia carried out extensive registrations of Dutch emigrants. A number of basic items was entered on the migrant's card: personal details, type of travel to Australia, date of arrival, occupation, religion and composition of the group travelling. In many instances the name of the ship or the airline with which they flew to Australia was also entered on the card.
Via the website of the Dutch National Archive emigration cards of Dutch men and women who emigrated to Australia between 1946 and 1991 can be researched by name. The search results give a summary of the information on the card. In order to be able to request a copy of the original, evidence must be provided that the migrant concerned is deceased.
The arrival and location of migrants to Australia can be traced via the National Archives of Australia. On the website, migrants can be found by name in, among others, naturalization dossiers and passenger lists (1897 tot 1966). In some cases, scans can also be viewed of the emigration paper. The Passenger lists and naturalization files for some parts of Australia can also be found via Ancestry.
Births, marriages and deaths
The Australian vital records can be searched through online by state, with the exception of Tasmania. You can find the links to the databases per state at the bottom of this page. And Ancestry can also provide many BMDs.
The Ryerson index of the 'Sydney Dead Persons Society' forms a name index to obituaries that are published in the newspapers of New South Wales after the year 2000. Using information from the index, the corresponding obituary can be found online, or via the records department of the newspaper concerned.
Via Ancestry it is possible to search the Australia Electoral Rolls, 1903-1980. In this electoral register you can find where someone lived, what his or her occupation was and, with a bit of a search, who also lived at the same address.
In Australia it is customary that the local authorities run a website with an index of all cemeteries and crematoriums in the region. A search of such a website gives you information about the deceased: name, dates of birth and death, date and location of the ceremony and whether cremation or burial has been opted for. If there is a grave, the location of the cemetery is given.
You can find out via Google or another search engine whether a certain town has such a website. Perhaps search on 'Melbourne deceased search'. The indexes of many of these sorts of websites are, incidentally, also on the websites Find A Grave and Billiongraves. Ancestry provides a cemetery index
http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=1266covering the period 1808-2007.
To New Zealand
The first European to ever set foot in New Zealand was the Dutchman Abel Tasman in 1642. Small groups of Dutch colonists followed in 1840. It was only in the 1950s that New Zealand became a popular destination for permanent settlement.
Via the website of Archives New Zealand there are various immigration sources to be searched: The Alien registration files, Immigration Case files and the Central filing system: application for naturalisation. Fore reason of privacy restrictions the records themselves are not accessible for the public. You are not going to find more than a name and an inventory number.
Via Ancestry there is an extensive naturalization database of New Zealand covering the period 1843-1981 available. Herein you can find, among other things, someone’s place and date of birth, sometimes also their previous nationality, occupation, current address and the date of naturalization.
Births, marriages and deaths
There is a governmental website with a national index of the BMDs of New Zealand. Contained therein are: the birth certificates that are older than 100 years, those of stillborn babies that are older than 50 years, the certificates of marriage that are older than 80 years and the death certificates of inhabitants that have been deceased for longer than 50 years or those who have been born longer than 80 years ago. With the information from the index you can buy a copy of the certificate. Via Ancestry you can also find various indexes of BMDs.
New Zealand implemented general women’s suffrage as early as 1893. The electoral rolls of 1853 to 1981 can be searched via Ancestry, among others. In addition to names, you can also find addresses and information about property.
Just as in Australia, in New Zealand in many instances the local authorities run a website with a cemeteries database. You can find these via a search engine. Transcriptions of graves from the period from 1800 to 2007 can be searched via Ancestry
To South Africa
The Dutch colony on the Cape of Good Hope was established in 1652 as a resupply station for ships of the VOC that were on their way to the (former) Dutch East Indies. In the course of the centuries there were various groups of Dutch colonists that went to live there, but these were few in number until 1940.
On the website of the National Archives of South Africa (NASA) there are a variety of databases of different regional archives. The indexes on the immigration papers can be searched by name in the database of the Cape Town Archives Repository (KAB). These are rather limited and at the most provide the household composition at the year of immigration in numbers. A visit to the archive itself is necessary in order to look at the documents. On the basis of the name to be searched it is also advisable to enter a search in the other databases on the site.
Ancestry provides an index on various immigration sources from the period 1858-1986. The collection Passenger lists 1688-1950 to South Africa is certainly not complete, and because Dutch emigration to South Africa did not get into full swing until the 1950s, the chance of a hit is small. You should also try the lists of incoming (1878-1960) and outgoing (1890-1960) passengers from the United Kingdom; these also includes Dutchmen who travelled from and to the Cape via Great Britain.
Births, marriages and deaths
Via Ancestry and FamilySearch you can view scans of, amongst other things, baptism, marriage, and registers of membership of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa, covering the period 1660 to 1970. Both sites also offer several indexes on vital records. Availability varies per province, so it is a good idea not to limit your search to one individual list.
The website of the 'National Archives of South Africa' only states divorces. You must search the various databases by name. The index only gives a year of divorce and the names, including the woman's maiden name.
Via Ancestry there are indexes to be searched on different electoral rolls covering the period 1719 to 1996. In addition to mere names, there is also interesting data to be found about occupation and property, for example.
Graves and estates
Since the 1960s, data relating to deaths per province have been recorded in the Estate Files. Herein are the personal details of the deceased, a possible partner, the last address, and who dealt with the estate. The estates can be found in part via Ancestry but also via the Supreme Court.
The South African Government Gazette, the Green Gazette, online since 2006, provides information about recent estates. In the search field use as many relevant terms (estate, plus a name) as possible in order to avoid large numbers of hits. You will have to pay if you then want to see the whole page, but with any luck the information is already in the limited preview of the page.
The Genealogical Society of South Africa has photographed many South African graves. They can be searched by surname. This website even crosses the border to cemeteries in Namibia. You may also want to try Find A Grave and Billiongraves.