Column: for granted

The other day, I was fortunate to discover that two resources that I needed for my research were put online. The Tilburg Regional Archives put up the population registers of Terheijden, a town where some of my maternal ancestors come from. Shortly afterwards, I noticed that the Gelderland Archives put the death duties files online, which allowed me to trace the real estate owned by dozens of paternal ancestors.

Once again, I realized how lucky I am to have online access to all these sources. For most of my pedigree I can consult the major sources online, often not just the indexes but digital images as well. These aren’t just put online by archives, but by private citizens as well. Thank you!

Border crossing Enschede-Gronau

Border crossing Enschede-Gronau

In other countries, things are often very different. My research often takes me across the border, sometimes physically but mostly digitally. Almost all of my ancestors lived near a border, so I have several lines that go back to present-day Belgium or Germany. I also research people that emigrated from the Netherlands to the United States and Brazil. Often, I am disappointed by how much I can find online. In Belgium I can find some relevant indexes, but hardly any digital images. In Germany, I cannot even find indexes for the towns where I need to do research.  More than in the Netherlands, archives in these countries seem to be hoarding their collections and do not want to ‘give them away’ by making them available online. How well off we are in the Netherlands.

When you follow Dutch discussions on newsgroups and forums, it turns out that not everybody counts himself lucky. Some people seem to take it for granted that so much is available online. Our expectations about online services keep increasing. We are not satisfied with searching the indexes, but we also want to be able to click through to the scans. And shame on the website owner who wants to charge a fee to cover at least part of the ever increasing costs. But is it fair to ask the site-owner, and indirectly often the tax payer, to pay the entire bill?

The other day, my home town asked our input to balance the budget. An interactive tool allowed me to pull sliders to show how I wanted to spend the money and where I wanted to cut spending. The choices were hard: will we increase property taxes or do we spend less money on language classes for minorities? Do we ask people with disabilities to pay for their own aids or do we cut back on supervising childcare? While I fiddled with the sliders, I wondered: if there was a slider to make genealogical sources available online for free, how many people would pull the slider off the zero?

This column first appeared in Genealogie, the quarterly magazine of the Central Bureau for Genealogy, in August 2012.
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. The earlier discussions about paying were, I think, more about paying for something with less functionality at that time (wiewaswie) that had recplaced something free with more functionality (genlias),
    Nevertheless, we are very lucky with all this data online. I am fully aware research was much thougher 15 years ago. I do remember, though, the thrill of having the actual baptism book of Zwijndrecht of before 1600 in my hands in DIEP.
    Now we can often search databases to find ancestors, which saves us a lot of time.

    • I personally think a lot of the problems had to do with communication rather than with the actual plans… For instance, there WieWasWie was never going to charge for anything that was free on Genlias (like the index). Only the images would be behind a paywall. And Genlias wasn’t a totally free service either, you had to pay if you wanted photocopies of the records you found.

      I’m very happy that most of the teething problems have been solved so almost all of the information that was available on Genlias is also available on WieWasWie (plus a lot more). And I love the option to click through to the scans which more and more archives provide!

  2. Helen Ware says

    Enjoyed your comments. One of my favorite websites is, the archives for North Brabant. It is 100 % free and is an incredible resource. However I would pay a subscription fee to access this site if I had to. We take all these free on line records for granted.

    • About half my ancestors are from Noord-Brabant too, so is one of my favorite websites as well. They’re working on a new website so I’m very curious to see if they will just change the interface or if they will add new information as well. I’ll write an article about the new website when it goes online.

  3. From this week on, everyone who is in for an adventure, may start using our new website. It’s still in beta though, and some parts are still in development, so we’ll keep our current website online for a while as well. On our current homepage you’ll notice a button that will take you to our new website. In regards to new information on it: the genealogical database already contains more information than on our current site. And we’ll be adding a lot of resources this year. See this blogpost for more info:

  4. Very well put, Yvette. As a British person, I feel lucky to have Dutch ancestors, simply because so much has been scanned and made available online (and so far, for free). Finding actual records for my English ancestors is a nightmare in comparison because all we can see are indexes rather than records.

    • Thank you! I attended Who Do You Think You Are? Live! three times in the past two years and was struck by the difference between records in the UK and in the Netherlands. Some people were almost insulted when I told them that our civil registration goes back further than yours (1811 versus 1837). Apparently, with the love of all things traditional and ancient, many Brits thought that they should have first dips on records too. To be beaten by the French (Napoleon) was worst of all.

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