Ask Yvette – A research plan for an 18th-century brick wall ancestor

Reader Rob Ton wondered what other sources he might consult to identify the parents of his brick wall ancestor Aert Ton. Aert Ton was married in Heerewaarden, a village in Gelderland, on 19 May 1737 to Hendersken van Neerlangen. Neither his marriage nor his burial record identifies his parents.

Since this is a common problem that many of you are facing, I thought I’d share how I create a research plan. I have never done any research in Heerewaarden before, so you can see how I discover what record groups might be available for a new (to me) area.

Research to date

Rob Ton documented the research he has already done in WikiTree. This shows Rob already did several important pieces of research:1

  • He searched the marriage and burial books for more information about his known ancestor, and found that Aert probably died in 1748, and his widow remarried in 1753 to a Jan Ton.
  • He identified the probable place of birth of Aert Ton, which the marriage listed as Heerewaarden.
  • He used his knowledge of normal ages to get married to infer the period during which Aert Ton must have been born (between 1686 and 1718, most likely between 1705 and 1715).
  • He studied the Ton families living in Heerewaarden at the time around his birth and identified two Ton families having children in Heerewaarden at the right time: Gerrit Jansen Ton who married Anneke Fransen van der Linde in 1704 and Dirck Jansen Ton who married in 1708 to Hilleke Peters van Duijnen Unfortunately, neither couple had a son named Aert.
  • He browsed the entire baptismal register for the period to see if any other child named Aert or variations could be his ancestor.
  • He identified the children of Aert Ton and Hendersken van Neerlangen.
  • He studied literature to see what conclusions other researchers came to. He identified several online trees that name Dirck Jansen Ton and Hilleke Peters van Duijnen as the parents. But being a critical researcher, he did not accept the prior researchers’ conclusions without evidence.

Possible research strategies

There are several research strategies that may help to solve Rob’s brick wall.

Strategy 1: Look for naming patterns

Dutch children are usually named after their grandparents, so knowing the names of Aert’s children may suggest the names of his parents. The children of Aert Ton and Hendersken van Neerlangen are identified on the Wikitree profile as:

  1. Peterken (b. 1738)
  2. Dirck (b. 1740)
  3. Jenneken (b. 1743)
  4. Rutje (b. ? ; d. 1746)
  5. Gerrit (b. 1746; d. 1748)

The Wikitree profile says that Hendersken van Neerlangen was likely the daughter of Peter Huybertsen van Neerlangen and Ruthje Willems van Hare. The unusual name Rutje supports the hypothesis that Hendersken was the daughter of Ruthje Willems van Hare.

This means Aert’s mother may have been Peterken or Jenneken. Peterken could also have been named after her maternal grandfather. That might happen if he just died before she was born, as recently deceased grandparents often take precedence. Based on the names of the sons, Aert’s father may have been Dirck or Gerrit.

Since Dirck and Gerrit are the two names of the candidate fathers, and neither of the candidate mothers is called Peterken or Jenneken, the naming patterns aren’t very helpful in this case. The fact that the oldest son was named Dirck makes Dirck Jansen Ton the slightly more likely candidate to be Aert’s father.

The missing birth date of Rutje suggests there may have been more children, which may affect the order of the children and thus the likely order in which they were named after their grandparents. I recommend browsing the baptismal records for Heerewaarden for the 1736-1750 period to see if there are any other children born to Aert and Hendersken.

Strategy 2: Look at the map

Searching for baptismal records in neighboring villages may show other children of Aert Ton and Hendersken van Neerlangen.

If you look up Heerewaarden on a map, like Google Maps, you will see that Heerwaarden is next to the border with the province of Noord-Brabant.

Heerewaarden is on the edge of the region covered by the Regionaal Archief Rivierenland [River land regional archives], where Rob searched for baptismal records according to the Wikitree profile. I would also recommend looking on the other side of the river Meuse. In these swampy areas, the weather can affect which roads are accessible. If there was heavy rainfall, it may have been more easy to go places by water than by road.

On the other side of the river Meuse was the province of Brabant (now Noord-Brabant). Baptismal records for Noord-Brabant are available at the website of the Brabants Historisch Informatiecentrum.

Strategy 3: Research known associates

Aert was part of a community and probably associated with some of the same people after his marriage as he did while growing up. Researching his known associates may help to put him in a family context.

The information in the profile does not give the exact birth dates for the children, or links to their baptismal records. Consulting the original records may show who witnessed their baptisms. Witnesses were often close relatives, so after you identify the witnesses, you should research them to see how they fit in the larger family context.

Researching the wife, Hendersken van Neerlangen, is also important. If Rob can prove her parentage, he knows which children were named after her family, and which baptismal witnesses came from her family.

Researching the second husband of Hendersken van Neerlangen, Jan Ton, may also be helpful. Since Jan Ton had the same last name as Aert Ton, they may have been related. At this time, people needed dispensation to marry the siblings of deceased spouses (which often was refused in which case they could not marry at all)The website Genealogiedomein has a PDF with marriage dispensations granted in Gelderland between 1711 and 1770. If they married without dispensation, this indicates that Jan Ton was not a sibling of Aert Ton. If we can find out who Jan’s parents were, they probably were not the parents of Aert. If they did marry with dispensation, Aert and Jan were probably brothers so identifying the parents of Jan would also give us the parents of Aert.

Strategy 4: Expand the search to other types of records

The Wikitree suggests that the only original sources that have been consulted so far are the baptisms, marriages and burials from the churches. As Rob has found out, these records often are not enough to reliably prove parent-child relationships.

The Repertorium DTB, a book that has an overview of all baptismal, marriage and church records and the repositories where they were in 1980, shows that there were no gaps in the registration of the Dutch Reformed baptisms (preserved since 1640), marriages (since 1652) and burials (since 1742).

For 17th and 18th century research, these are the main three main record types to look for:

  • Church records
  • Court records
  • Town records

The records of Heerewaarden are kept at the Regionaal Archief Rivierenland. By browsing the archives section of their website, I was able to identify the following record groups that have records for Heerewaarden in the 18th century:

  • Record group 3141: Dutch Reformed Church of Heerewaarden, 1723-1973.
    Besides the baptisms, marriages and burials, this record group also has the church council minutes (1723-1963) and the membership records. Unfortunately, the membership records only start in 1769, too late to be of use for this puzzle. The church council minutes can be consulted at the Regionaal Archief Rivierenland in Tiel.
  • Record group 3187: Court records of Heerewaarden, 1633-1811.
    This series includes both civil court cases (1633-1811) and voluntary court cases (1612-1811). The series of “Geloftesignaten” (1612-1811) includes property deeds, powers of attorney, last wills, estate divisions et cetera. These types of records often provide rich information about family structures. These records have been scanned and are available from the online finding aid. They are unindexed, so this will require browsing the actual records, which will require an understanding of Dutch handwriting and the Dutch language in this period
  • Record group 3123: Village Heerewaarden, 1687-1810.
    This series includes the “Dorpsboek”, which holds city book with miscellaneous notes from 1749 to 1810, village accounts from 1687 to 1809 and property tax records for 1714-1717 and 1723-1758. These records may identify other Ton families, and may who Arie Ton’s neighbors were. Subsequent entries may also show silent land transfers from father to son. These records are not available online and can be consulted in the reading room in Tiel.
  • Record group 3124: Fishermen’s guild in Heerewaarden, 1660-1924.
    Occupations were often passed from father to son, so often family members belonged to the same guild. Most guilds had a special rate for sons of members to join, so the membership records may indicate if Aert Ton’s father was also in the guild.  Unfortunately, the membership lists of this guild have only been preserved for 1660-1715, too early to mention Aert Ton, so this record group is not a high priority right now. The records are available in the reading room in Tiel.
  • Record group 3100: Polder Heerewaarden, 1684-1969
    Heerewaarden is located between rivers, where people had to work together to keep their feet dry. “Polder” records show the meetings that the people had, board memberships, accounts for maintenance of dikes, leases of plots and maps of the region. Some polder maps I’ve seen from other places show the owners on the map. This may help to identify neighbors and comparison of maps may show transfers from father to son.
The river lands near Heerwaarden, 1697

The river lands near Heerwaarden by H. Tas, 1697 (click for larger version). Credits: Gelders Archief (public domain) 2

Summary: research plan for Aert Ton

I would be very surprised if this research won’t reveal any new evidence for the parents of Aert Ton. Keep in mind that evidence can be indirect: silent land transfers can indicate who the father is even though no record explicitly names the parents. Evidence can also be negative: the absence of marriage dispensation for Hendersken’s second marriage may rule out a candidate couple as the parents of Aert Ton.

To summarize, here’s my list of suggestions for Rob Ton:

Online research:

  • Browse baptismal records of Heerewaarden and neighboring villages in Gelderland and Brabant from 1736-1750 for other children of Aert Ton and Hendersken van Neerlangen and to find the witnesses.
  • Research the baptismal witnesses to see how they fit into the picture.
  • Research Hendersken van Neerlangen to see who her relatives where.
  • Check if Hendersken van Neerlangen had dispensation to marry Jan Ton.
  • Research Jan Ton to see who his parents were.
  • Check the voluntary court records of Heerewaarden for any references to the Ton family and associates

Research in the Regionaal Archief Rivierenland in Tiel:

Check the following records for any references to the Ton family and associates:

  • “Dorpsboek” of Heerewaarden (record group 3123, call number 13, 14)
  • Verpondingsregisters [property tax records]  (record group 3123, call number 31)
  • Village accounts (record group 3123, call number 72-80).
  • Church council minutes (record group 3141, call number 1)
  • Polder accounts (record group 3100, call number 363-543)
  • Maintenance records for the polder, 1705-1817 (record group 3100, call number 1)

I hope this example gave you some inspiration for your own research. If you have any further suggestions on how to find the parents of Aert Ton, please leave a comment.


  1. “Aert Ton,” profile, WikiTree ( : accessed 15 August 2015)
  2. H. Tas, “De weerden langs de Maes opt Eijland Vooren dight bij het Fort Nassau” [the river lands along the Meuse on the island Vooren close to the fortress Nassau], map, April 1697; “Beeld & geluid,” searchable catalog, Gelders Archief, query for “Heerwaarden”; citing “0124 Civiele Processen Hof 1799 no. 2 ( 5954)”.
About Yvette Hoitink

Yvette Hoitink, MLitt, CG®, QG™ is a professional genealogist, writer, and lecturer in the Netherlands. She has a Master of Letters in Family and Local History from the University of Dundee, and holds the Certification of Genealogist and Qualified Genealogist credentials. Yvette served on the Board of Directors of the Association of Professional Genealogists and won excellence awards for her articles in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly and the Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly. Yvette has been doing genealogy for over 30 years. She helps people from across the world find their ancestors from the Netherlands and its former colonies, including New Netherland. Read about Yvette's professional genealogy services.


  1. Thanks Yvette,

    I imagine this will keep me quite busy.
    A few minutes looking through the Geloftesignaten that you linked to, focusing on the period when I think Aert was most likely born I have identified records involving Gerit Janse Ton and others involving Aert [Jansz?] Ton (both as a litigant and in his capacity as ‘Schepenen’). My quick perusal did not show any records involving Dirk Jans Ton leaving open the possibility the family removed from Heerewaarden for a few years and returned before 1717. I’ll probably skim the records of the 1740’s and 50’s for any wills from potential parents Dirk and Gerit that might mention Aert, before I widen the search geographically.

    Thanks for all the great tips.


    • You’re welcome Rob. How wonderful that you already found several new records involving the Ton family. If any of them involve real estate, following that property could be another strategy. If you later find that property in the possession of Aert Ton, that is indirect evidence that you’ve found the right parents.

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