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.


  1. karin
    Fri 10th Dec 2010 at 4:54 am

    Great post! Good to know where to look besides at the last name.

  2. Sun 12th Dec 2010 at 4:49 pm

    Thanks for sharing, I like this blog!

  3. Phyllis Miller
    Sun 10th Aug 2014 at 4:29 am

    I am researching my 4th great-grandfather, WILLIAM (WILHELM) VAN DYKE who arrived in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania in the 1770’s, seemingly without other family members. He married Anna Barbara Meyer/Moyer and had a large family of children. Around 1800 he moved to Armstrong County, Pennsylvania and died in 1806. We have never been able to find his ancestry — his parents or siblings! His father may have been John Van Dyke. Help!! Thank you.

    • albert  –  Mon 11th Aug 2014 at 4:19 pm

      Your request for help is basically asking us to look for a needle in the proverbial haystack. Here are a few points first to consider to help narrow your search.
      1) It is very unlikely that your ancestor was known as William (Wilhelm) Van Dyke in the Netherlands. Consider the very real possibility that the surname was modified upon his entry into the United States. He may have been known as Willem van Dijke or Van Dijk back home (I am assuming now that he arrived straight from the Netherlands, although you are not stating this).
      2) He had many children. What were the children’s given names? In Dutch tradition, some of them may have been named after their paternal grandparents offering you clues in your search. Is this why you are suggesting his father may have been a John?
      3) What other Dutch settlers were living in Westmoreland County? Where did they come from? If William arrived there as a bachelor, who was the acquaintance he joined there? Knowing such information will help you narrow your search to a smaller haystack.
      4) Did William join a church in Westmoreland County? Did you search any church records?

      • Phyllis Miller  –  Tue 07th Oct 2014 at 3:29 pm

        According to the 1880 census of his son Adam, William was born in New Jersey. However, others say he was from Holland. Most of his son’s names had “John” in their names indicating to me that his father could have been named John Van Dyke. According to the Westmoreland County History, William was the first Dutch person in that county. No other Dutch settlers or families were mentioned. He joined a church in Westmoreland County and was baptized but they had no further information.

        • Lynn  –  Fri 25th Mar 2016 at 8:11 pm

          Phyllis – I am doing a search on behalf of my van Dyke friend who seems to be about the same age or generation as you. Her line is from William to Adam to Cyrus to Cyrus L. to Paul her father. I hit the same wall with William and Anna Barbara. I also tried going forward from 1640 New Netherlands and am currently in a huge tangle covering New Jersey, Delaware , Pa and New York state. Have you had any luck, or any more info since your posts?

          • Phyllis Miller  –  Fri 28th Apr 2017 at 6:45 pm

            Lynn, sorry but I just came across your reply — and today is April 28, 2017!! Anyway, you should be able to find a descendant of Adam Vandike, who was a son of William’s. I believe Adam was the youngest son of William. You can probably go through Ancestry and get more info. However, William is another case! Right now I am searching in Baltimore County and Cecil County, MD. I have found a William there but am not sure it is OUR William. Phyllis

    • Austin VanDyke  –  Sat 21st Jan 2017 at 2:00 pm

      Hi I’m Austin VanDyke. I’m 18 and I’m try to find where my family comes from. I don’t know and think really about the history if my family and I also love in Pennsylvania

      • Phyllis Miller  –  Fri 28th Apr 2017 at 6:47 pm

        Hi Austin,
        There are many Vandikes/Van Dykes in Pennsylvania. You need to go back as far as you can and find the area where the last family member lived. My William was from Westmoreland County – then moved to Armstrong County. But before that we are unsure. Good Luck!

  4. Wilma
    Tue 06th Jun 2017 at 8:36 pm

    Your blog is interesting to read…had to laugh when I read your post about the van Dijk surname (my maiden name)…you hit my ancestry in Kampen exactly.


Add comment

Powered by WordPress