A French-sounding name immediately sets many people thinking of a Huguenot among the ancestors. But that certainly isn't always the case. There are several sources in which to search in order to discover whether you really descend from a French or Walloon ancestor.
In many families the story goes that there is a Huguenot in the family tree. This can sometimes be true, but sometimes it can just be wishful thinking. Being a descendant of a Huguenot would appear to be something to be proud of, perhaps because of the association with the courageous decision to stand up for something in which you believe – in the case of the Huguenots a different religious belief. But how can you find out if the supposed Huguenot in your family tree was ‘real’ or not? On this page we give you background information and tips as to how to search.
If you suspect that Huguenots are present in your family tree, it is a good idea to study their history. In 1685 the Edict of Nantes was revoked. This edict was promulgated in 1598 by King Henry IV of France and gave the French followers of Protestantism, the Huguenots, the right to profess their faith freely. However, the Edict of Fontainebleau declared this to be a punishable offence. Calvinists risked persecution and confiscation of their possessions. This ultimately left them to choose: return to the (Roman Catholic) mother church, or emigrate. The first major persecution of Huguenots had already taken place after the Saint Bartholomew’s night in Paris in 1572, whereby thousands of Calvinists were massacred by murderous Catholics. The revocation of the Edict of Nantes was followed by the Grande Réfuge, in which according to some estimates between 210,000 and 900,000 Huguenot fled to the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and England, among others.
In our CBG Bibliotheek CBG Library you will find numerous reference books about the Huguenots and their background. You can explore them in the reading room of the National Archive. In addition, in local archives you can sometimes find a manual in order to better understand why and where the refugees settled in the Netherlands, such as the ‘zoekgids Hugenoten’ search guide Huguenots of the Zeeuws Archief.
International sources for Huguenots can also provide insight into the history of the Dutch migration. Finally, descendants of the refugees can have re-emigrated. Look for example in the Publications of the Huguenot Society of America and the Geschichtsblätter der Deutschen Hugenotten-Gesellschaftn History of the German Huguenot Societies. On the website of Who Do You Think You Are, the programme on which Verborgen verleden Hidden history is based, you will find a page dedicated to the Huguenots. Thereunder are a number of links via which you can search further. The sites are primarily oriented towards a British public, but in some instances there are also leads for Dutch researchers. You can find more tips in the article ‘Hugenoten in je familie?’ ‘Huguenots in your family?’ at cbg.nl.
Watch out! Not every Dutch person with a French name was a Huguenot
Additionally, you can find some useful information in some non-genealogical sources. For example, on the website of the Vereniging van Christen-Historici Association of Christian Historians you can read, among other things, an article with the title Schomberg and the Huguenot soldiers: ‘Schomberg en de hugenotensoldaten: “Voorwaarts, vrienden, verzamel je moed en wrok: daar zijn uw vervolgers!” ‘Forward, friends, gather up your courage and resentment: there are your persecutors!’, about the French refugees and the Walloon churches, and a review of the memoirs of the Huguenot Isaac Dumont de Bostaquet.
Corruption of names
It is not entirely clear where the term ‘Huguenots’ comes from. The name can refer to Besançon Hugues, the leader of a religious revolution in Geneva. Another interpretation is that the word is derived from ‘le hugon’: ‘free spirit’. This was a term of abuse that Catholics used for Hugenoten. A third possibility is that the name is a corruption of Eidgenossen, which means allies.
And, now that we have mentioned names … The 70,000 fleeing Huguenots that ended up in the Netherlands (12,000 of whom in Amsterdam) was there the cause of a large increase of French names and corruptions of them, and these still occur. But watch out! Not every Dutch person with a French-sounding name was a Huguenot. Economic reasons also attracted many migrants from France and the Southern Netherlands, present-day Belgium, to the North. Furthermore, at the time of the Saint Bartholomew’s night many Walloons came to the Netherlands as the result of the suppression by the Duke of Alva.
Names of foreign origin were often ‘Dutchified’ by the implementation of the burgerlijke stand civil registry in 1811, but you can often trace their origins: Berlonje from Boulogne, Bevort from Beaufort, and de Croo from Ducroix, for example. But to be sure whether a French name in your family history indicates a Huguenot in your family tree, you will have to carry out some supplementary research. Hereunder you can read what are the best sources for this. If you want to know more about Huguenot names, read the article at cbg.nl.
The collection of Walloon microfiches van the Bibliothèque Wallonne Leiden Walloon Library is an alphabetic index of the baptism, marriage and burial books of the 16th, 17th and 18th century of Walloon municipalitiesin the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Germany. The collection, which covers the period from circa 1500 to 1858, contains roughly 1.2 million hand-written notes. The cards have been scanned and can be consulted online via FamilySearch.
The website contains more scans of collections that are managed by the Bibliothèque Wallonne, such as the collection Mirandolle (1644-1858), with notes by name and subject from the Walloon registers of Rotterdam, The Hague and ’s-Hertogenbosch.
At Dutch local archives too you can sometimes consult relevant sources. For example, at Erfgoed Leiden en Omstreken, Heritage Leiden and Surrounding Area the Registers betreffende de Hugenootse vluchtelingen Registers relating to the Huguenot refugees (1685-1688), including alphabetical index, at the City Archive Amsterdam the Great Book of Refugees Grand Livre des Réfugiés.
You will find even more information on small and larger sources and archives in the article that CBG researcher Martine Zoeteman-van Pelt wrote for our magazine Gen. You can download the entire article at the artikel over het decembernummer van de Gen article about the December edition of the Gen at cbg.nl.
In the interests of the faith
If you suspect that that member of the family with the French name really was a Huguenot, you can try to verify this on the basis of information in one of the CBG family dossiers. For example, a document from the dossier of the Dutilh family records a legal document in which two ministers declare that Pierre Dutilh ‘in the interests of his faith has left France and must be recognized as a member of the Reformed Church’. This took place in 1686, so shortly after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. There is a good chance that this relates to a Huguenot. In the article ‘Hugenoten in familiedossiers ‘Huguenots in family dossiers’.