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#5YearAntecedentia – Best Project 2015/16

This month I am celebrating the 5 Year Anniversary of my business. In a sercies of articles I am looking back on what I have done and what I have learned in those five years. This is the second article, that focuses on one of the best projects I did in 2015 and 2016.

When I started my genealogical business in 2015, I had no idea what kind of requests to expect. I was very much pleased when later that year a very interesting question landed in my email box. David from the United Kingdom sent me a short email, in which he explained that he wanted to know more about his Dutch grandmother. He had already found information about her from the point of her marriage in 1914. He was now looking for information about:

  • place of birth (he believed it was Amsterdam)
  • names of her parents and siblings
  • names and dates of birth of the children of her siblings
  • anything else which is known about her life before her marriage
Psychiatric hospital Meerenberg in Bloemendaal

In August and September 2015 I delivered my first report, divided into three subreports. I was able to answer all of David’s questions. I found out that his grandmother was indeed born in Amsterdam (in 1884). Her father was Christiaan, born in 1832. He married three times in 1854, 1859 and 1870. The first marriage ended after two years, when he and his wife divorced. His second marriage lasted five years, until his wife’s death. With his third wife he had six children, of which David’s grandmother was the youngest. When Christiaan died in 1905, he was living in a psychiatric hospital in Bloemendaal. Population registers and civil records provided very interesting information about her siblings. One brother, who worked as a housepainter, died at the age of 18. His death record says he was found dead in the streat. A sister worked in a laundry, was unmarried but had five children in four years. All the records make clear that the family lived in poor conditions.

What was more shocking were the further details I found for Christiaan. It turned out he was in prison for some crimes. In 1894 he was sentenced twice to three months imprisonment, both convictions were for petty theft. In 1899 he was accused of two incidents, was found guilty and was sentenced to one year in prison. A prison register mentions his arrival in ‘s-Hertogenbosch in January 1899. Less than four weeks later he was transferred to a psychiatric hospital in Medemblik. The best part of all these terrible life events is that one of the records has a mug shot of Christiaan. What an incredible find!

Christiaan’s mug shot

David was very happy to read the results of my research project, although the information must also have shocked him. He now knew that his grandmother grew up in bad conditions and that his great-grandfather was a poor fellow who ended up in prison and died in a psychiatric hospital. Nevertheless, David wanted more. In the beginning of 2016 he asked me to look for more details of Christiaan’s admission to the psychriatic hospital. I visited the Noord-Hollands Archief in Haarlem and found two patient files, one for Christiaan’s stay in Medemblik and one for his stay in Bloemendaal. The Medemblik file clearly states Christiaan was suffering from ‘dementia senilis’. It also describes his behavior in the first days and weeks. Christiaan stayed in Medemblik from 1899 to 1901. He was then transferred to the psychiatric hospital in Bloemendaal, where he died in 1905.

The mug shot was already an amazing discovery, but the Medemblik patient file held an even bigger surprise. The file contains a handwritten and signed letter from Christiaan, addressed to his doctor in Medemblik. In this letter he describes his life. It starts with details of his primary education, and of his hard time as a seaman when he traveled to the Mediterranean Sea. It also provides information about his three marriages (and wives) and about the companies he worked for. In the last paragraph he refers briefly to the crime he was convicted for.

Christiaan’s handwritten letter to his doctor in Medemblik

Christiaan’s life story is rather saddening. However, as a genealogist I enjoyed working on this case very much. I found real genealogical gems in the files that I researched and I was able to help my client find answers to the many questions he had. In his own words: “I approached John Boeren to find out some very important details about my Dutch grandmother’s family […] He took great care to understand what I wanted and delivered a very high quality set of reports at agreed intervals and reasonable cost.  I would very highly recommend John Boeren to anyone who, like me, needs to understand their past to help understand their present.” These words not only pleased me. They also made me realize how important my genealogical research can be for certain clients. Not everybody is interested in family history ‘ just for fun’. Some of them are looking for answers to deal with issues from the past or to heal wounds. That makes genealogical research very valuable.

Today’s giveaway…

Thank you for reading this second article. As promised in my previous article, there are several giveaways to make this anniversary a real party. Today’s giveaway is… One PDF-version of Jennifer Holik’s book The Tiger’s Widow. The book is based on a memoir, letters and interviews.

If you want to know more about Jennifer Holiks books or her workshops and webinars about World War II research, please take a look at her website:

Her second – and most recent – website demonstrates how important historical and genealogical research is for those who deal with issues from the past and are looking for healing. She has named this proces the Finding the Answers Journey.

The question to win this free PDF-book is: In what place did Christiaan write his life story? Send me the answer in an email or through a private message on social media. Do not be afraid: it is all for free (it is a party after all!) and there are no strings attached.