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Royal Decorations in the Netherlands

King’s Day – formerly known as Queen’s Day – is a public holiday in the Netherlands. The royal family celebrates the King’s birthday on the 27th of April by visiting a city (2019: Amersfoort, 2018: Groningen, 2017: Tilburg). Residents get the opportunity to show the royals all the best of their city and region. Every city, town or village organizes games, parades, markets and concerts. Many Dutch men, women and children walk around in orange clothes. Orange is the traditional color for the Dutch royal family, named after the former French title ‘Prince of Orange’.

On the last workday before King’s Day we have another special day, called ‘Lintjesregen’ (literally translated this means ‘Rain of Ribbons’). It is the moment when mayors throughout the country hand out royal decorations to people who have provided the society with longstanding and exceptional services. Most of them are volunteers, who have served societies and foundations for many years. Others have showed outstanding behaviour in unusual situations. Last year (2018) 2,906 persons in the Netherlands received a royal decoration at Lintjesregen. I was one of them. It is still a great honor that I may call myself Knight of the Order of Orange-Nassau!

Military William Order, the highest royal decoration in the Netherlands

The three most important Dutch royal orders are (in order of importance):
– Militaire Willemsorde (Military William Order), founded in 1815;
– Orde van de Nederlandse Leeuw (Order of the Netherlands Lion), founded in 1815;
– Orde van Oranje-Nassau (Order of Orange-Nassau), founded in 1892.
Each order has several grades, for example Knight Grand Cross, Officer, Knight or Member

What do royal decorations have to do with genealogy? Everything! As genealogists we want to compile stories about our ancestors. Not only do we want to find out where family members were born or with whom they married. We also want to know what they did for a living, what societies, churches or foundations they were involved in, or what bravery they showed in wars or disaster situations.

Lintjesregen 2018, Goirle (Noord-Brabant, Netherlands)

Often it is difficult to find information like this in official records. That is where files on royal decorations come in handy. Each file contains several forms, letters and statements. For example: a resume or cv with all activities and projects the person volunteered in. Or a letter from the society’s president describing the person’s well behavior or character. Facts and details that are rarely found in government records.

If you want to find files on royal decorations for your Dutch ancestors, you need to look in the archives of the municipality where the person lived at the time he or she received a ‘lintje’. The mayor is the prime advisor in this often lengthy and time-consuming process. Since the final decision about royal decorations comes from the King, you can also find files in the archives of the various ministerial departments. Keep in mind that these files are only public after seventy years, to protect the privacy of the person involved.

A complete list of decorated persons is not available on the internet. However, there are a few websites that help.
– Database with persons who received a royal decoration between 1814 and 1995, created by the National Archives.
– Official publications in the Staatscourant (Government Gazette) by the various ministerial departments.
– Dutch Wikipedia pages about the various orders (Militaire Willemsorde, Orde Nederlandse Leeuw, Orde Oranje-Nassau).
– Announcements and articles in local, regional or national newspapers. Each newspaper has its own website. Older digitized newspapers are found on Delpher.
– Those who received a decoration for bravery are entered in the Database Dapperheidsonderscheidingen.