Let me start with a few lines of an email message that I received in August 2017.
“I will be in Amsterdam from 24-28 September (2017) and had hoped to contact a local genealogist, well before now, to access further family records prior to my arrival. Given the time lines at this point I imagine that this might not be possible.”
These words were written by Eileen Baker of Canberra, Australia. In another email she wrote: “During my visit to Amsterdam I had hoped to visit some of the areas that the Bouman family lived in.”
Although there was only one month left, I wanted to give this a try. Could I help Eileen find some locations in Amsterdam, that were related to her family history? Without specific locations for her to visit she would still enjoy Amsterdam. But it was my strong intention to give her that special feeling when you step into your ancestors’ footsteps.
What could I do? I started with her great-great-grandfather, Johannes Bouman, who was born in Amsterdam in 1828. He was the family member that decided to emigrate to Australia in 1852. From his birth record I learned the names of his parents and with help of their names I found the birth records of his siblings. These records showed the names of three streets: Wittenburgerstraat, Kattenburgerplein and Kattenburgerdwarsstraat. I then looked for the Bouman family in the population registers of Amsterdam for the periods 1851-1853 and 1853-1863. All entries showed the same street name: Kleine Kattenburgerstraat.
It was clear the family lived in the Kattenburg area. Could I help Eileen find the addresses in nowadays Amsterdam? The answer was disappointing: no, not really. In the 19th century the Kattenburg area was famous for shipyards. Many people in this neighborhood worked on one of the shipyards, as a sailor, carpenter or porter. The Bouman family was no exception. In the 1930s – during the great economic recession – the deterioration of Kattenburg started and by the 1960s the whole neighborhood was impoverished. Large parts of the area were demolished, except for the facades of some houses on Kattenburgerplein. On the spots of the removed premises, modern flat buildings were built.
Where could Eileen go? She visited the Kattenburgerplein and saw some of the old houses. She also passed by the Marine Establishment, a large complex that currently houses the National Maritime Museum. These buildings were already existent when her Bouman ancestors walked around in the neighborhood. She wrote about this part of her trip: “[I]t was very sentimental to walk past the Marine Authority for instance which would have been in situ at the time that our Bouman’s lived literally ‘just across the road’.”
There was one more location Eileen could visit: the Hermitage Amsterdam museum on the Amstel. I learned that Johannes Bouman’s father died at the address Amstel 773. The address later changed to Amstel 51. It was on this spot that the ‘Oude Vrouwen- en Mannenhuis’, a nursing home for elderly people, was located from 1719 until 2009. The old Bouman was one of the residents and died here in 1872.
Eileen enjoyed her time in Amsterdam many times more because she could visit the places where her family once lived. As she said herself: “It would have been a terrible shame to visit Amsterdam and miss this very sentimental aspect of my trip.”
If you have plans to visit the Netherlands and you want an experience similar to the one of Eileen, please send me a message. I will do my utmost best to find interesting places that are related to your family history.