Farm names

In the days before the Civil Registration forced everyone to stick to a surname, people in the eastern part of the Netherlands were named after the farm they lived at. You can still see that in the surnames today: Derk te Kolste, Piet te Lintum, Gerrit Jan Hoitink, etc. Since the surname might change every time a person moved, this sometimes offers difficulties in tracing your ancestors. There are some strategies to help you solve those name puzzles.

Farm near Winterswijk

The simplest problem is when a man moves in with his wife. This is usually the case when the wife doesn’t have brothers to take over the farm. She then tries to find a hard-working husband to run the farm. He will usually change his name in the name of the farm. To illustrate how these name puzzles can be solved, I will use an example in my own ahnentafel.

Reinder te Boske, son of Barent te Boske, in Lintelo, pub.bans Aalten 14-4- 1753 Geertje Oolthuis, dr. of late Teube Oolthuis, in Barlo. I then tried to find his baptism, which didn’t cause me any trouble. Reijnder, son of Berent and Beerndeke te Boske was baptized in Aalten 20-10-1720.
I also found his brothers and sisters:

  • Hendersken te Boske, bapt. Aalten 04-05-1710.
  • Kunneken te Boske, bapt. Aalten 06-09-1711.
  • Henderken te Boske, bapt. Aalten 07-10-1714.
  • Hendrina te Boske, bapt. Aalten 30-05-1717.

I tried to find the marriage of Berent te Boske to a person named Beerndeke, but I didn’t have any luck. I did find a Berent Kressers, son of Henric Kressers from Winterswijk, pub.bans Aalten 28-04-1709, m. Aalten 26-05-1709 Beerndeken te Boske, dr. of Reijnder te Boske, in Lintelo.

I supposed he moved in with her and took her name. The name of Beerndeken te Boske’s father Reijnder also pointed in this direction, since it was normal in those days to name your children after their grandparents. Normally, I would have found this evidence conclusive enough, but later I found my hypothesis proved by the list of rotmeesters from Aalten in 1748, were in Lintelo was mentioned Berent Kressers, bouwman (farmer) at te Boske!

A general method to solve these problems is impossible to find, but there are a few techniques that have worked for me:

  • Work from a hypothesis. It’s easier to prove something than to invent it altogether.
  • Write down all the siblings of the person you’re looking for. Since children are usually named after grandparents it can help you to make a hypothesis.
  • Write down all the godparents of children. These are normally related; very often aunts and uncles, or grandparents act as witnesses.
  • Don’t stick to a man’s surname. If you can’t find the marriage you’re looking for, try if a man with the first name you’re looking for is marrying a woman with the last name you’re looking for. He might have moved in with her. Also look for names of previous spouses. For example: Willemken te Huijstede, widow of Dirk te Lindert, married Jan te Hengeveld. Their children, however were baptized as ‘te Lindert’. From this you can conlude she stayed on the ‘te Lindert’ farm after the death of her first husband and the second husband moved in with her.
  • Rely on first names, rather than last names. F.i. if you’re looking for a Wander, son of Geert te Kloese, write down all Wanders, son of Geert you can find in the appropriate period. Then look up the marriage of the parents of all the Wanders you’ve found. Maybe their mother’s name was te Kloese, or Wander named his eldest daughter after his mother. (This gives you a hint especially if the mother’s name is unusual, or an unusual combination, like ‘Anna Hillegonda’ or ‘Euphemia’.)
  • If people live in neighbourships near the border of two church communities, try the other community as well. Many people from Woold in Winterswijk had one or more of their children baptized in Bredevoort.
  • If the husband and the wife come from different places, look up both the marriages. There might be some additional information in the other one.
  • Check the church records whether the people you’re looking for were members of the church. If they came from another town, they had to show an attestation from the former community.
  • Read in magazines how other people attacked their problems. Maybe the same trick will do it for you.
  • Judicial records can also give a lot of information on relationships between people. Last wills can give you an insight of family relations. For the Achterhoek area in the mid 1700’s, try the ‘Liberale Gifte’ of 1748. This is like a census record and lists all the families at that time.

How to solve farm name puzzles

If you want an example of how to solve farm name puzzles, check out the Case Study – Working with farm names.

About Yvette Hoitink

Yvette Hoitink, CG®, QG™ is a professional genealogist in the Netherlands. She holds the Certified Genealogist credential from the Board for Certification of Genealogists and has a post-graduate diploma in Family and Local History from the University of Dundee. She has been doing genealogy for over 30 years and helps people from across the world find their ancestors in the Netherlands. Read about Yvette's professional genealogy services.


  1. hi yevette my great grandfather was german but formally dutch i have no idea where in holland he would have lived intersting reading how they got their names ours was schellhorn i know that is german doing research myself and his father was a game keeper probably that was why they had a surename like that can you tell me how hard it is to search in holland as i always get no such name

  2. Yvette, so many of my Dutch ancestors from Gelderland have surnames (farm names, I assume) that end in -ink. Can you translate any meaning of that syllable in English for me?

  3. Thanks for this informative article about farm names that you posted to the German Genealogy FB group. I have a general question for you — I suspect that my Robrecht ancestors came to Paderborn, Westphalia from Holland around 1550, but there’s no paper trail predating the church books where I found my Robrechts living in the 1660s as peasant craftsmen in Bühne, Höxter, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany.

    My question: Do you know of any circumstances that may have lead Dutch Robrechts and/or other Dutch folks to migrate east to Westphalia (the Bishipric of Paderborn) in the 1500s? Any comments appreciated. Thanks!

    • Michaël Boers says

      Hello Gloria Christine,

      There may be many reasons for Dutchmen to have moved East, but I know that there was a monestary in Paderborn that owned lands in Putten on the Veluwe (Gelderland). There are bookkeeping records preserved of the Kelnerij of Putten. Apparently there was a steady flow of goods from the farms owned by the monestary towards Paderborn. The Robrechts might have been employed by the monestary. Either as bookkeepers, or transaporters, etc.
      I am sure there can be many more reasons to emigrate, but this could be one of them.

  4. Elaine Smith (Moman) says

    Thank you Yvonne, I have it with Rotman to Moman and have also seen husbands take on the wife’s name. I knew it had something to do with the farm “Erve Rotman” but to date, I still have not found any further information on the Moman Moat in the same area of Breklenkamp. I do know that my Rotman/Moman are originally from across the border in Lage/Uelsen area’s

  5. Cheryl Wabeke says

    I have 2 questions:
    1) In researching my Dutch ancestors, I have found 3 from the 1600’s from these places in Gelderland:
    “Verm. Barnevelt”
    “Verm. Hattem”
    “Verm. Putten”
    My question: what does “Verm.” mean? I have an idea but I can’t find an English translation
    for this word.
    2) I have 7-8 ancestors (1525 – 1688) who were born in Belgium but died in Gelderland. Do you
    know why they may have moved? 80 Year War? Economic reasons? Persecution in Belgium? Other reason?
    Thank you very much.

    • “verm” = “vermoedelijk” = “probably.”
      Lots of people moved north from the area what is now Belgium during the Reformation. The overlord (king of Spain, Habsburg emperor) was enforcing Roman Catholicism and persecuted protestants. The northern Netherlands were in revolt and became predominantly protestant. Many protestants fled north.

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