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Finding Your Roots – Dutch stories

Have you watched season 8, episode 1 of the TV show Finding Your Roots? In this episode the actress Rebecca Hall was one of the guests. If you did not see it then here is a preview. What the show did not mention is that Rebecca has a Dutch grandmother! If you did watch, you probably saw my name in the episode’s credits. That is because I spent a fair amount of time on the Dutch side of Rebecca’s family. Unfortunately, my findings did not make it to the show. Of course this is disappointing for me, but I understand how the making of TV shows like this works. But… the producer gave me permission to talk about my research! Thus I can give you a two examples of what you did NOT see on the show.

Pedigree charts

Let me first show you a quick overview of the family. Rebecca’s mother Maria Louise Ewing (born 1950) was the daughter of Norman Isaac Ewing and Hermina Maria Veraar. With the latter the Dutch story starts.
The parents of Hermina Maria Veraar (1915-2004) were Robertus Veraar (1889-1970) and Hermina Maria Vermeulen (1892-1954). Here are two pedigree charts: one for her father and one for her mother. Each chart shows four generations of ancestors, starting with her father or her mother. As you can see these four generations go back to the end of the 18th century!
(Note: A c before a birth year does not mean circa, but it is the abbreviation for christening/baptism.)

I was able to find some interesting stories for some of these Dutch persons. Let me give you two examples.

Story 1: Barend van der Steen

Robertus Veraar’s mother was Jannetje van der Steen. Her grandfather was Barend van der Steen (1776-1820). He married Maretije Jans (sometimes called Maretije Gijsberts) in Muiden in 1797. They first lived in Muiden, then in Ouder-Amstel and finally in Amsterdam. Three of their children reached adulthood: Geijsbert (1803-1885), Katharina Margaretha (1805-1847) and Hijmen (1811-1873).

Barend worked as a carpenter on board of the Dutch ship De Zeemeeuw in 1819/20. The ship’s captain was Hendrik Holger, who was born in Kristiansand (Norway) but lived in Amsterdam. A muster roll, dated 11 November 1819, shows a crew of 19 men. Barend van der Steen was one of them; as a carpenter he earned 45 guilders for a trip to Demarara (currently Guyana). Next to his name on the muster roll it says “dood”, which means he died. Barend was not the only one: the first mate and two sailors died as well.

Muster roll, showing part of the crew of De Zeemeeuw,1819. (credits: Amsterdam City Archives)


Under what circumstances did Barend van der Steen die? Most likely it was a contagious disease. In November 1819 Dutch newspapers reported a high death rate in Demarara. One article writes about the Yellow Fever in New York and Bermuda and mentions Demarara, Cadiz and Gibraltar. The article also says it was extraordinary warm in Demarara in September (1819).

In January 1820 newspapers write about the high number of sick people in Demarara in November. And on 23 March the Opregte Haarlemsche Courant writes: “It is reported from Demarara in the middle of December that there was still a considerable mortality in this colony, which as particularly felt among the white population.” By April the infectious disease had ceased at Demarara.

Newspaper article about high mortality rates in Demerara, 23 March 1820 (credits:

It was exactly in this period that Barend van der Steen died in Demarara on 2 February 1820. His death was recorded in Amsterdam more than one-and-a-half year later, on 25 September 1821! This recording was based on a notification by the police commissioner from 6 September 1821.

Death record of Barend van der Steen, 1821. (credits: Amsterdam City Archives)

Story 2: Willem Jubels

Another story comes from Hermina Maria Vermeulen’s family. Her grandmother was Petronella Wilhelmina Jubels (1821-1908), who married Johannes Jacobus Vermeulen. She was the daughter of Willem Jubels (1797-1829) and Pieternella Christina Hoogendorp (1793-1840), who married in Amsterdam in 1816. This couple had four children, of whom two died young. The surviving children were: the aforementioned Pieternella Wilhelmina and her younger brother Willem.

Father Jubels worked as the assistant of a shoemaker. He lived briefly at Tuinstraat 156 and Blindemansteeg 11. The last seven years of his life he lived at Madelievenstraat 13. It was in this house that he died – only 32 years old – in 1829, leaving behind his wife and two children.

Madelievenstraat in Amsterdam, 1920. (credits: Amsterdam City Archives)

After his death, his wife first lived at 3e Egelantiersdwarsstraat 6. Here she – then unmarried – gave birth to a daughter, named Catharina Christina in 1831. She later relocated to Bakkersteeg near Pijpenmarkt, where she officially lived when she died in hospital (Binnengasthuis) in 1830. At this time her children were still young: Petronella Wilhelmina was 19, Willem 16 and Catharina Christina only 8. Provisions for the minors were needed.


Petronella Wilhelmina was 19 years old and – most likely – considered to be an adult. She was not found in orphanage records. Unlike her brother Willem, whose admission was discussed by the board of directors of the Diaconieweeshuis (the orphanage under the care of the Dutch Reformed Church) on 18 August 1840. As he was a minor, insolvent and without any financial support from family or friends he was admitted. Willem entered the orphanage on 22 August 1840. A ledger shows that he stayed at the orphanage until May 1843. The orphanage spent 583 guilders and 25 cents on him, but also received 110 guilders and 65 cents for the work he did.

Entry in the orphanage ledger for Willem Jubels, 1840-1843. (credits: Amsterdam City Archives)

What happened to Catharina Christina, the other daughter of Pieternella Christina Jubels-Hoogendorp? She did not go to the Diaconieweeshuis, probably because she was not born out of a (proper) Christian marriage. Instead she suffered an even less favorable fate.

One month after the death of her mother, Catharina Christina was sent to one of the orphanages in Veenhuizen. In this small village in the Dutch province of Drenthe the private organization Maatschappij van Weldadigheid set up several ‘colonies’. Some of the settlements were intended for families who volunteered for a better life in the countryside. The majority of the settlements soon turned into places where poor people from the big cities – often beggars, petty criminals and orphans – were mandatory admitted. Living conditions were poor. Lack of nutrition and hygiene caused (contagious) diseases. A large number of residents died. Catharina Christina Hoogendorp (under the surname of her mother) was unfortunately one of them. She died in December 1842 at the age of 11.

Lithograph of the orphanage in Veenhuizen, 1827. (credits: Rijksmuseum Amsterdam)

Final words

These are two examples of stories that I was able to find about Rebecca Hall’s Dutch ancestors. I am certain that each of the other persons in the pedigree charts had their own stories. It feels just that I got the chance to tell at least two of these stories, in remembrance of Barend van der Steen, Willem Jubels and Catharina Christina Hoogendorp, who all died young and in such unpleasant circumstances.