Quick tip – Not many records on passengers passing through Rotterdam

If you’ve been watching Who Do You Think You Are? in the US, you may have noticed that both Josh Groban and Angie Harmon had ancestors who left Europe via Rotterdam. Rotterdam has been one of the most important harbors in the world for centuries. Since the 17th century, it has been the final port of departure for millions of emigrants. These people came from all over western Europe.


Rotterdam harbor, by G. Groenewegen (1795). Credits: Rotterdam City Archives

Many people ask me if I can find records about their ancestors who left via Rotterdam. Unfortunately, most people coming through Rotterdam would have left no records there. Many of them would have stayed in Rotterdam for only a short time, probably staying in a hostel or inn. Those places did not keep records of their guests’ names. There is a chance that they appear in the notarial records, of which an index is available at the Rotterdam City archives website (Dutch only), for example if they made up a will or gave a power of attorney before departure. But that would be mostly limited to richer emigrants.

The first record that an emigrant leaving from Rotterdam would definitely appear in would be the passenger list. But that traveled with the ship and would be left in the port of arrival.

There are exceptions, for example if one of the party died in Rotterdam. That’s what happened to Johann Jacob Zimmermann, the ancestor of Josh Groban, of whom I was able to find the burial record. Or a young family may have had a child born in Rotterdam, who appears in the baptismal records. But most people passing through Rotterdam would not have left any traces in Rotterdam records. Instead, search for them in their place of origin, arrival or destination.

If you happen to know about a source that features these people migrating through Rotterdam, I would love to hear from you 🙂

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. Judd Zandstra says

    My grandfather placed an ad in the Leeuwarder Courant (newspaper) when he sailed from Rotterdam thanking the NASM (??) for treating them well and wishing “friends and acquaintances a warm farewell until we meet again”. Perhaps this was customary and other emigrants did it as well.

    • I have never seen such an ad, what a nice thing to do! Quite remarkable since most emigrants hardly had enough money to pay for the voyage, let alone for an ad. The cynic in me wonders if the shipping company ‘sponsored’ people who wanted to place such an ad.

      NASM is the “Nederlandsch-Amerikaansche Stoomvaart Maatschappij,” the predecessor of the Holland-America line. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holland_America_Line for more information.

      • Judd Zandstra says

        The cynic in you is the cynic in me too. However, it gives a nice trail to where he emigrated from. When he was married a couple of years later, he also placed an announcement in the Leeuwarder Courant.

Leave comment