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Bartholomeusnacht - hugenoten
Tijdens de Bartholomeusnacht werden duizenden Hugenoten vermoord


A French-sounding name immediately sets many people thinking of a Huguenot among their 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 may be true, but it might also be just 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.

The history

If you suspect that there are Huguenots in your family tree, it may be a good idea to first 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 In 1685 the Edict of Nantes was revoked.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 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 Huguenots fled to countries such as the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and England. 

Bartholomeusnacht - hugenoten

Tijdens de Bartholomeusnacht werden duizenden Hugenoten vermoord

In our Library you will find numerous reference books about the Huguenots and their background. You can explore them in the reading room of the National Archives in The Hague. In addition, some local archives provide manuals to help you understand why and where the refugees settled in the Netherlands, such as the ‘zoekgids Hugenoten’ of the Zeeland Archive.

International sources relating to Huguenots can also provide insight into the history of Dutch migration: descendants of the refugees can, in turn, also have migrated. Look for example in the Publications of the Huguenot Society of America and the Geschichtsblätter der Deutschen Hugenotten-Gesellschaft (History of the German Huguenot Societies). On the website of the British tv show Who Do You Think You Are you will find a page dedicated to the Huguenots. At the bottom you will find a number of links to search further.

Not everyone with a French name has Huguenot ancestors

Additionally, you can find some useful information in certain 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 (in Dutch) with the title: ‘Schomberg en de hugenotensoldaten: “Voorwaarts, vrienden, verzamel je moed en wrok: daar zijn uw vervolgers!” ‘Schomberg and the Huguenot soldiers: 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 Hugenots. A third possibility is that the name is a corruption of Eidgenossen, which means allies.

And, talking about names … The 70,000 fleeing Huguenots that ended up in the Netherlands (12,000 of whom in Amsterdam) caused a large increase in the number of (corruptions of) French names, which still occur to this date. But be careful. 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 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  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 (Dutch) family history indicates a Huguenot in your family tree, you will have to carry out some supplementary research. Below we will give you an overview of the best sources.

Tirannie van Alva

Tirannie van Alva, Willem Jacobsz. Delff, 1622. Coll. Rijksmuseum

Walloon microfiches

The collection of Walloon microfiches of the Bibliothèque Wallonne Leiden is an alphabetic index of the baptism, marriage and burial books of the 16th, 17th and 18th century of Walloon municipalities in the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Germany. The collection, which covers the period from approximately 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 kept 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.

You can sometimes consult relevant sources at Dutch local archives as well, for example at the Leiden archives you will find the Registers betreffende de Hugenootse vluchtelingen (registers relating to the Huguenot refugees) for the period 1685-1688, including an alphabetical index, and at the Amsterdam City Archive the  Grand Livre des Réfugiés.

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 deed in which two ministers declare that Pierre Dutilh ‘has, in the interests of his faith, 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. It is very well possible that this refers to a Huguenot.

Coat of arms

Various Huguenot families soon reached the top rungs of the social ladder in the Dutch Republic and bore a family coat of arms, such als the Dutilh, Van Charante and Chabot families. You can find them in older editions of Nederland's Adelsboek and Nederland's Patriciaat, a series of booklets that list Dutch nobility and distinguished families respectively. They also mention the family's faith. You can read more about them on our heraldic website CBG Familiewapens. Finally, our genealogical database WieWasWie contains the church registers of a large number of municipalities, which you can search by name. These include registers from the Walloon or French churches.