In 1993, I built my first website while I was a first year Computer Science major. I did not have to think long about a topic: genealogy, what else? Back then, hardly anybody had internet access in the Netherlands, so my target audience was Americans with Dutch ancestors. “Yvette’s Dutch Genealogy Homepage” was born. I had no idea then how much impact this website would have on my career.
Internet was all new and exciting, so soon the local chapters of the Dutch Genealogical Society came knocking on my door. “What do you mean, you’re giving the lecture? We hired an expert!” I was told one time by an organizer who hadn’t realized their invited speaker was just eighteen years old…
When my partner and I started our own IT company a couple of years later, we quickly decided to specialize in the heritage sector. They knew me from my lectures and pretty soon our first orders came in. I worked on several genealogical websites in the Netherlands, including Genlias. After ten years, we decided to discontinue the company and I started working for one of our largest former clients, the Nationaal Archief (National Archives in The Hague), as an IT consultant and project manager.
In the meanwhile, my own website was being surpassed. Archives and genealogical societies built their own websites. Geneaknowhow began to systematically collect links to digital resources in the Netherlands and Belgium, a lot more user-friendly than my own haphazard collection. I decided to go back to my roots and refocus on foreigners with Dutch ancestors. On occasion of the tenth anniversary, the website got its own domain name, dutchgenealogy.nl.
For a long time, I had doubts whether or not to put my database online. How would I prevent people from copying everything? And how much would I mind if that happened? I decided that sharing information was more important to me than protecting it, so I published my entire family tree online. My own research also builds on the work of others: volunteers who create transcripts or indexes, genealogists who publish about their research and archives who publish sources online. Pretty soon distant cousins started emailing me with additions and I understood why Americans call these websites “cousin-bait”. I received a photograph of my great-great-grandmother, whom I had never seen a picture for, and an elderly woman described her recollections about her great-grandfather, who had also been my grandfather’s great-grandfather. A wonderful “catch” that I had not foreseen.
Since last year, I’ve worked as a professional genealogist. My website is the main channel through which clients find me. Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest are nice, but my website is the hub where all my other activities revolve around.
Later this year, my website will celebrate its twentieth anniversary. It’s high time for a new design and a new focus, with more attention for methodology. Let’s just hope nobody doubts my expertise anymore.
This column first appeared in Genealogie, the quarterly magazine of the Central Bureau for Genealogy.