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!


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