Cultivating ‘patches’ of heath remained a challenge for several generations of descendants to then heath-dweller Jacob Alberts, who when living at Noorderdragten 278 in the Frisian/Dutch municipality of Smallingerland in 1811, officially declared his surname to be Van der Heide.  Along this Noorderdragten route Jacob Alberts was not the only one to opt for the surname Van der Heide; there were four more families to do so, none of them related.  Heath could be found throughout the eastern parts of the province of Friesland, no doubt an influence in surname adoption since over 70 families decided they wanted to be known by that identity.

To carve out a living on the heath is generally not considered to be evidence of great prosperity. In fact most heath-dwellers may have been squatters on nearby communities’ common sheep grazing land (in Dutch ‘marke gronden’ commonly owned by farmers.)  If a squatter could overnight complete a sod hut and have smoke arise from its ‘chimney’, he would have secured the right to reside there. This raised the questions, ‘Had Oldeberkoop-born farmer’s son Jacob Alberts fallen into poverty’, and, ‘Was he a squatter?’  The answers are not definite, so likely a mixture of yes and no as documents show that he was a day labourer but one who resided on heath owned by his father-in-law Lieuwe Fokes, a peat fuel bargeman and merchant.

These circumstances, ironically, made Jacob Alberts van der Heide, living and working at his in-laws owned peatbogs, where he would have dug up heath-covered bogs to be sold as heating fuel, by necessity a combatant of heath. Some years later, his younger son Meine van der Heide worked the soil at an Ommerschans, Overijssel institutional farm, soil that had been heath until a few years before he settled on it. It seems, that the Van der Heide generations were never far from former heaths.  Records show that grandson Jacobus van der Heide, whose wife Jantien was born on a peat fuel barge (in Dutch a ‘turfschip’), also farmed on former heath-covered bog land in distant Lutten. Also the next generation, greatgrandson Antonie Albertus van der Heide farmed on former heath fields near Rheezerveen and Heemse, Hardenberg. In fact, in A.A.’s working years, he actually turned two separate heath-covered properties into productive farms. Three of Jacob Alberts’ greatgrandsons, A.A.’s sons Hilbert, Jacobus and Meine turned near Ommen separately in the late 1930s, in an estimated total, more heath acreage into productive land than all the previous generations here named combined.  Much of that former heath spread remains in the family and now belongs to an estate, in Dutch ‘landgoed’, known as Den Woesten Heide, home to a flourishing tree farm, to lush pasture, and annual crops such as potatoes, grain and grass seed.

Much has changed in the country between the years 1811 and 2011. Most former heath covered bogs, moors and marginal sandy regions by far have become significant contributors to a vast Dutch agricultural output. It is great that some of Jacob Alberts van der Heide’s descendants have a share in that national success story but it is also very appropriate that the heide / heather / heath / Erica ‘roots’ are kept alive, after all we hail from ‘Den Woesten Heide.’

Photo: Heather with hundreds of tiny bell blossoms in full bloom at a walkway overpass location, a continent away in North Vancouver, BC, Canada, taken January 2017.

P.S. Descendants of Jacob Albert van der Heide have spread far and wide.  Son Albert lived out his days in Makkinga, Friesland. Son Lieuwe raised his family in nearby Groningen. Son Roelof’s branch settled in its entirety in Michigan, as did two of Meine’s children but most remained in NE Overijssel.  Today’s generations can also be found in Canada and Australia.

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The customer, an older woman, clearly wanted to stretch the conversation when she was finished placing her order for a birth tile to memorialize the latest addition to her multi-generational family. Do you know anything about the roots of my surname, she inquired. “I am certain you never heard of mine.” She was right in her assumption. Doodkorte, a name which could be translated as “Dead short” or more literally “Shortdead”, is not a common Dutch surname.

The English translation of these two strung together Dutch words, “Dead” and “short” do not offer a clue as to their meaning nor do “Dood” and “korte” into the Dutch language. The customer did not know anything about their meaning either.

Asked what part of the Netherlands her family was from, the answer “from the north”, was somewhat helpful. Doodkorte would definitely not be an indigenous surname in Friesland or Groningen. If it is not Dutch, is must have an origin from across the border, in Germany. At this point, an awareness of ancestor migration patterns is helpful.

Over the centuries, the Netherlands, before 1795 a collection of semi-independent provinces, attracted numerous seasonal workers and peddlers. The Dutch called them “Hannekemaaiers” and “lapjespoepen”. Many of these men eventually stayed and integrated into Dutch society.

What your name? Todtkotte! In former times when literacy was not as common among the labourers and the peddlers, it would not help to ask them to spell their surname. Clerks just recorded the information the way it sounded to them. Oh, Doodkorte.

The Dutch Doodkorte clan hails indeed from Germany and has been traced back to a man name Gerardi Todtkorte, who lived in Epe, Westphalia, the German county where many peddlers of the farm-based cottage industry textile came from. A farmer, Gerardi died in 1730. His oldest son, Johan Herman, settled in the Netherlands. (His other sons were known back home as Doetkotte.)

Westphalia belongs to the Dutch/German region where the Saxon dialect was spoken. The Saxon noun “kotte” suggests that Gerardi lived on a small farmstead which way back became known as the Todtkotte. But why Todtkorte? Why “todt” (‘dood’ or ‘dead’)? The known records do not say but area history may well offer clues if investigated further. Does the name suggest that it was long ago the site of a murder, a place where the remains of foul play were found or the site where Saxon tribes brought pre-Christian era sacrifices? These suggestions are all very plausible.

In this Dutch-German region farmstead names were in fact ancient addresses, they can easily be 800 to 1000 old and frequently precede archived documentation but always point to an early occupant or history. Since surnames often precede recorded genealogical data, it follows that they may be seen as the archeology of genealogy.

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North Americans of Dutch ancestry may not have preserved their knowledge of Dutch but thanks to Dutch education standards most people in the Netherlands master English well enough to help you bridge this divide.

For those doing their research in North American data bases, for instance in those compiled by the Mormons, a Dutch word and terms list will be sufficient in most cases.

But you want to know more. You want context. You want to know what your ancestors saw and experienced, how they lived and where they worked, walked and went to church. So you want to take a trip to the Netherlands but have few contacts there and those you have do not share your interests.

No problem really.

Your best friends are your computer, Google and a good map.

Make a list of all the places mentioned in your genealogy and family stories. Check them out on the map, watch for double placenames by cross referencing them with the names of municipalities.

Then search for local or regional historical societies, the ‘historische vereniging’, the ‘genealogische vereniging’ or the museums. Ask them for the information you are looking for, keep it within their area of interest. Do not hesitate to approach them in the English language, most Dutch people have a basic knowledge of it.

If you are certain you have the correct area and the contacts are promising, check Bed and Breakfast addresses for accommodation. These operators are generally very welcoming and proud of their area and, as a rule, will go out of their way to help you find your way around.

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Modern technology has made great strides for those taking cataloguing family history seriously. However, I do not like the word cataloguing because it could remind people of tedious and monotonous work. Call it what you will but it can be fun too.

One of the areas of family history most neglected is the family photo album! Eh? Yes. If this is difficult to believe, check it out. Where are most of the pictures stored, the precious mementos that detail so much of one’s physical progress? Not usually in an album but more likely in a box or boxes stached away behind others, hidden from view.

Regardless of where the photographs are located, just check to see who you know on the pictures and how many faces you no longer identify with certainty. So you know all of them still? Fine, but will your child, grandchild or greatgrandchild twenty or thirty years from now? Will they cart along boxes of mementos with every move?

I hope you get the point.

Here are a few suggestions for getting started:

1) Categorize all the photographs into groups: must keep, may want to keep and do not want to keep.

2) Categorize the photographs by subject, date and occasion.

3) Create a numering system best answering your needs.

4) Number the photographs but do not mark them on the front. Consider making photo copies of all the pictures on sheets for marking and number the originals on the back. If in albums number the albums, the pages and the pictures.

5) Use a Word file to describe the who, what and where of each photograph.

6) Invite family members to review your descriptions for clarification, additions or simply corrections.

7) Once completed, add the computer file name for easy reference to each page and clip all the pages inside the album, the box, envelope or file folder.

8) Create a back up of your Word file and update it when upgrading your computer and or your Word program.

You now have all the basic ingredients for a family history book. In fact, the pages may trump the information vast numbers of families have available in theirs!

If you have a family member with writing skills, the pictures and the captions will be all they need for the next step, an expanded document or history.

Just think of it, you already laid the foundation and, presumably, had all the fun doing it.

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The Mayor’s post of the central Dutch municipality of Putten has been vacant since  September 1, 2010, when a Mr. Berend Jan van Putten took early retirement. You are reading this right, Mayor Van Putten of the Municipality of Putten.

No doubt, many people in the vicinity of Putten must have wondered at one time or other if Mayor Van Putten’s ancestors actually were named after the town of Putten. Is such a connection possible? Would it not be ‘cute’ to be named after the town of which you are the leading official?

The purpose of this post is not to explore Mayor Van Putten’s genealogical data however but the origin of his surname and of others named Van der Putten, Van Put and Put.

Dutch speakers know that the singular of putten is put, another surname, one mostly occurring without the prefix Van. When hearing the noun putten or put today, thoughts quickly turn to a well or a sunken tank to collect runoff water, such as rain.

That the meaning of Putten or Put is not simply a well or sunken water tank should be obvious from the fact that there is, for example, a former South Holland island now called Voorne-Putten but some centuries ago, before the waterway between the islands of Voorne and Putten silted, was known as “Land van Put”.

There is a suggestion – check Meertens – that in earlier times the Dutch nouns ven, vijver, laak, poel, plas en put, in a broader sense, were interchangeble in their meaning. In the case of put it is best to think of a body of stale water which the ‘Land van Put’ may have had.

Pronunciation differences over the centuries and lack of spelling rules have given the Dutch place names that are remarkably close in spelling, think of Putten and the North Holland village of Petten.

If the meanings are so similar, we could call Putten related to Petten. It is amazing what one can dig up with a bit of study of old Dutch and its surprising number of dialects. It helps explain surnames and placenames.

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If we take every surname meaning at its face value, than the Van Polen clan ought to look for their origin somewhere in Poland. Since many Central and Eastern Europeans gravitated westwards over the centuries this sounds all very plausible.

Before we consider this idea, there are some Dutch roots’ alternatives to explore.

Near the northern Dutch town of Delfzijl there is a tiny hamlet Polen. Was it perhaps an outpost of Polish nobility?

Archives of the central Dutch municipality of Putten show that it had a farmstead called Polen. Its owner, Geurt Hendriksen settled on Van Polen as his surname in 1812.

Geurt Hendriksen was not the first Van Polen in the Netherlands, however. In the late 1700s, a certain Obe Jacobs of Bolsward was known as Pool, Pooltje and Van Polen. His offspring was named Van Polen.

Why would Dutch people call a neighbour Van Polen, after a foreign country?

In this case, I do not think they did. Far more likely they named both the hamlet and the farm after a topographical feature in the Dutch landscape, which lays at the root of a much wider range of surnames. That Obe Jacobs during his life was known by three closely related surnames, as identified above, should tell us something about naming in earlier times.

I will end this post with linguistic teasers: Is Polen the plural of the far more frequent singular Pol surname? Or should the plural of Pol be Pollen? This then begs the question: what is a Pool or a Pol?

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The origin of the surname Tanis has been a source of speculation for a long time. One of the Tanis family members discovered a hamlet in Normandy, France, named Tanis.

Others have suggested that the Tanis surname could refer to the Thames River Valley in Essex, England. In the Netherlands, the prime concentration of the Tanis clan can be found in the coastal village of Ouddorp, which is only a boat ride away from the Thames, they say.

Another tongue-in-cheek explanation places the Tanis origin in Egypt because it has a town named Tanis.

The village of Ouddorp is part of the municipality of Goedereede, which is home to 555 members of the 1,548 member Dutch Tanis clan. Include those residing in adjoining municipalities of the former island of Goeree-Overflakkee and the Tanis clan concentration reaches a subtotal of 668 members. (The clan saw many emigrate to the USA in the late 1800s, but that is another story.)

The earliest birth entries with the surname Tanis date from the mid 1550s, when at least three brothers named Tanis lived in Ouddorp, a village known for dependence on fishing. The other economic activity was agricultural, including growing madder, a root used for extracting dye for treating leather and textiles, including ropes and sails.

Ouddorp’s fishermen, like their contemporaries elsewhere, needed to protect their fishing gear from deterioration and treated the material by submerging it in a ‘taanketel’ (tanning drum) and boiling it in a ‘taanhuisje’ (tanning shed) although these fireplaces could also be in the open air.

Could the Dutch verb ‘tanen’ be relevant in the solution to the Tanis origin question?

Let us look elsewhere in the country. The Vollenhove, Overijssel local historical society periodical Kondschap of June 2010 featured an article titled, ‘Het tanen van scheepstextiel’ (The tanning of seafarer’s textile), which describes the process in detail although there is no direct reference to the madder culture because they used a certain kind of tree bark.

Is there a link with the tanner trade? The genealogical research available focuses too much on the bare data without detailing information on livelihood issues which tell so much more about ancestors.

Although I plan to keep looking for more references that may clarify the origin of the Tanis surname further. With the information received since this post of 2010, I am more open to the idea that the Tanis roots may well be found across the North Sea in England (and perhaps further back to Normandy, see also David R. Tanis’ comments above. Please show genealogical research to confirm this. 2017 modification).

There are two noteworthty points about the Tanis tradition: for centuries there were no firm spelling rules but this surname’s spelling stayed the course while many others in the area did not.

The other point, the given name Jacob, its female equivalent Jacoba and minor variations such as Jaap and Jack are still being used after nearly 500 years.

As for “tanen”, Wikipedia has a brief article (in Dutch) with an illustration listed at

To read more about the Tanis and Ouddorp connection in North America, you may want to read:

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Tracing the origin of a surname is for many people akin to exploring the world the way some ship captains did before every region of the globe was charted.

Where do we start? It certainly may not look easy to trace family origin based on a word or two, such as in the case of the Dutch surnames Van Vliet and Van Dyk. Which vliet or which dyke figures in the family’s surname?

It may look daunting but is it really?

In the list of Dutch place names alone (I did not check Flemish lists), there are a bit over 30 towns, villages and hamlets which contain the syllable vliet. It is reasonable to assume that there are even a few more waterways which contain vliet in their name. This narrows the search down significantly.

So how far does one travel back in history to locate the Vliet or the Dyk figuring so much in one’s identity?

A family tree or genealogy may actually offer clues or even have the answer without explicitly stating it. If a place name such as Leidschendam turns up in your genealogy, it will obscure its relevance in this search. Using a well-detailed Dutch map, which shows waterways as well, will alert you to the fact the town is located on a waterway officially called the Rijn-Schie canal (more commonly referred to as the Vliet, the word vliet suggests flowing, perhaps from ‘vlieden’ or fleeing). You may have solved your question!

As far as dyk is concerned, the number of dykes (dijk or dijken) in the Netherlands is very significant because these water retaining walls can be found nearly everywhere.

Here too, it may be not as difficult as thought. So you traced your roots to the vicinity of Kampen, Overijssel, where your ancestor farmed on a place called Kampereiland (Island of Kampen).

You now want to explore the municipal records covering rental agreements for the actual location of the farm. You will not only have found the relevant dyk, but also the place where they lived and perhaps even documents with extensive information for a family history.

In conclusion, a genealogy with only the essentials such as names, place names and statistical information misses the real story, the flesh on the bones.

Check maps, look for dates in local history sources and discover what your ancestors may have witnessed and experienced (such as dike breaches and shipwrecking on the vliet).

Exploring family history can be real fun, indeed.

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If surnames are to serve as the archeology of genealogy than no one should be satisfied with a superficial explanation of the meaning of the name.

The author of one of my reference books on the subject, for example, laments in the book the fact that someone laid the connection between the surname Van Grieken with Griekenland (Dutch for Greece). It may add an exotic feeling to one’s origin but it certainly does not do justice to the subject.

Grieken is actually the name of a hamlet that now belongs to the western Dutch town of Rijnsburg. A hub of Dutch floral culture today, Rijnsburg has a history going back over a thousand years!

The hamlet of Grieken could be as old as well but was simply ‘overgrown’ by its neighbour.

Anyone with the surname Van Grieken wanting to know where the earliest Van Griekens are from, may want to focus their roots exploration on that Rijnsburg vicinity connection.

Any research on surnames starting with a “Van” should start by focusing on place names, including hamlets, villages, towns in the Netherlands, Belgium but also Germany, and, to a lesser degree, beyond. I hope to get back to the “Van” Something subject with more research suggestions.

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Immerseel is a toponym from the border region between what was once the heerlijkheid (seignory) of Wommelgem and the parish of Deurne, only a short distance east of Antwerp.

The word is derived from Imberts Seele or the farm of Imbert and is Frankish in origin. When the knight Jan van Liere received the seignory of Wommelgem as a feudal holding from Jan I, Duke of Brabant in 1277, he built his castle on the land known as Immerseel.

After building his castle he took on the name Jan, Heer van Immerseel, a surname which was passed on to his descendants.

The Van Immerseel family played an important political and economic role in Antwerp. They served as Markgraven of and Burgemeesters of Antwerp and in the 16th century their descendants established a merchant company known as the Firma van Immerseel which had world wide trade activities.

The above information is a submission by the Van Immerseel researcher John Van Immerseel.

The research by the Van Immerseels has been richly rewarded and should serve as a sign post for every “Van” Something as they wonder about the origin of their surname.

That origin can be very obscure indeed. It does not help when people restrict themselves to modern Dutch word meanings.

For example, consider the syllable “seel” in Immerseel. The word is from before the 13th century but not found in recent Dutch dictionaries or word lists.

A bit of research in early Dutch sources and some knowledge of medieval Dutch can be very rewarding.

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