Methodology Spotlight

Was it the butler? No, he was the gardener!

We love those detectives in which the question rises: did the butler commit the murder, and why? And we love TV shows like Downton Abbey, in which we meet the family from upstairs and the staff who lives downstairs. Records that name the employees are valuable, both for genealogists who want to know more about the wealthy family as for researchers who are looking for their own ancestors who served others.

Dutch Reformed Church (Baarn, Utrecht, Netherlands), burial register 1775-1811, folio 52v, Jan Bos, 27 August 1795; “Personen,” database with images, HetUtrechtsArchief ( accessed 22 August 2020), image 4 of 8.


Today’s record shows an entry in a burial register in the year 1795. It says: “on 27 Aug[ust] was buried in the church Jan Bos, formerly gardener at Drakenburg”.


Unfortunately this entry does not say much about the person. To be precise: we only get to know his name. And Jan Bos is a rather common name in the Netherlands. Funnily enough, his family name means forest in Dutch. What an appropriate name for a gardener!

Other entries in the database are not very helpful. The name Jan Bos appears only three more times before 1800.

  • Anna Maria, daughter of Jan Frederik Bos and his wife Armgoda (sic!) Willens was baptized in Baarn on 10 February 1732
  • Jan, son of Seger Bos and Jannetje Jans, was baptized in Baarn on 28 August 1748
  • Jan, son of the same parents, was baptized in Baarn on 21 February 1751

We do not know if the gardener was perhaps one of these three men. Most likely, he was not the second Jan. Seger Bos and his wife had two sons named Jan and it is very plausible that the eldest of the two died as an infant.

Was Jan perhaps a local who died at the age of 44? Or was he, as a staff member, not from Baarn but from a completely different region?

Drakenburg House near Baarn, drawing by L.P. Serrurier, 1729 (photo credits: HetUtrechtsArchief, collection item 201183)


Baarn is mostly famous because of Paleis Soestdijk. In the 17th century one of the mayors of Amsterdam built himself a stately country house on the road from Baarn to Soest. The name of this road was the Zoesdijc. Stadtholder William III, later also King of England, bought this house in 1674 and expanded the building. After he had moved to the new Paleis Het Loo, the king-stadtholder hardly ever used Soestdijk anymore.

Nevertheless, the house remained property of the royal family. Several members of the Orange-Nassau family lived at Soestdijk through the centuries. Queen-Mother Emma used the palace as her summer residence. After her death in 1934, the building was thoroughly renovated and modernized so that it could serve as the permanent residence of Queen Juliana and her family after their marriage in 1937.

Older Dutch people still remember the parade on 30 April when a large crowd passed before the palace steps and greeted the Queen and her family for her birthday. Both Queen Juliana and her husband Prince Bernhard died in this palace in 2004.

The following clip gives an impression of the annual event.


Are you curious if one of your ancestors worked for the royal family? If so, we recommend you to take a look at two websites.

The first one – the Royal Collections – gives details of the staff registers (stamboeken) in the collections of the Royal House. The website has several links to these registers, that are digitized and published on the internet.

Finding an ancestor in these registers is quite a challenge. The second website we recommend is a welcome addition to the digitized stamboeken. The Netherlands Center for Family History (CBG) has made an index on these registers. You can use their – general – database to search for a family name. Type in the family name you are looking for and then choose ‘Koninklijke verzamelingen’ from the list of organizations. This will narrow down the results to only entries in the staff registers.

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