From Norway to New Amsterdam:

A story of genealogical discovery


It is the 15th of September 2016 and one of the hottest days of the year in Amsterdam. At 3 o’clock in the afternoon an elderly American lady, accompanied by her brother, visits the Amsterdam City Archives with a seemingly simple question: she would like to visit the streets of Amsterdam where her ancestors once lived. She intends to walk “in their footsteps” and look through their eyes.

The simplicity of her request shrinks rapidly once she lays out the information available: A certain “Roelof Jans,” together with his wife “Anna” and three children (two daughters, one son), should have arrived in New Amsterdam around 1629. Unfortunately she does not know any of the children’s names and she can only add that Anna must have been born around 1605 in Flekkerøy, Norway to a mother called “Trijntje.”  

Any Dutch archivist will by now realize we have a challenge. Numerous Scandinavian sailors called “Olav” translated their name to “Roelof” upon arrival, and his surname “Jans” was in the seventeenth century the most common male name in the entirety of northwestern Europe! Additionally, the female members of the family were not blessed with exceptional nominations either, as “Anna” and “Trijntje” feature high in that era’s most used top ten.

However, by cleverly optimizing the available searches of the genealogical databases, we managed to identify the right family within minutes. Anna Jans, born in Flekkerøy and accompanied by her mother Trijn Roelofs, indeed married Roelof Jans in Amsterdam on the 1st of April 1623. Roelof came from Marstrand, now located on the west coast of Sweden, but part of Norway before 1658.

From 1623 Roelof and Anna lived in a rural area outside of the Amsterdam city wall by the Sint Antonispoort, most likely in one of the many wooden cottages that stood there. Their home was closely located to the neighborhood of the Ridderstraat and Krom Boomssloot, which was then known for its Scandinavian migrants. The exact area where they lived, outside of the Sint Antonispoort, has changed beyond recognition since 1623, but in the current Krom Boomssloot one might still find a reminder of what it looked like back then.

Enriched with this information, the American lady and her brother set upon visiting this particular part of Amsterdam, where her Norwegian ancestors settled 400 years ago, and which they later left to depart for “New Amsterdam.” 

Story by Harmen Snel, Amsterdam City Archives

NYC Municipal Archives