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Toronto workshop on Dutch genealogy a rarity in North America

A first for longtime Maryland family historian

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

TORONTO, Ontario – The series of Dutch genealogy workshops recently held by the Toronto branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society last month, were fully booked and lauded as an overwhelming success. The workshops attracted people interested in family history and roots from far beyond the Ontario borders and received raving reviews from participants. Elaine Obbink Zimmerman, whose great-grandfather left Aalten, Gelderland in 1867 for Cedargrove, Wisconsin, and her husband Ken, both professional genealogists in Maryland, had during their career never attended a conference in North America with a lecture on Dutch genealogy. The Toronto group of the OGS hopes to schedule a follow-up event in the future.

Current director Rob van Drie of The Hague’s Centraal Bureau voor genealogie (CBG) introduced his organization’s role in a changing family history landscape. Computers and the internet already have had a tremendous impact on genealogical research by literally bringing the information to the kitchen table of hobbyists. Also the scope is changing since groups everywhere have sprung up to compile information from overlooked sources (gleaning information from cemetery headstones being just one example). CBG’s colourful and informative Dutch-language bulletin regularly updates genealogy enthusiasts on the latest.

Van Drie was joined by Anthony Hofstee whose English-language Dutch records’ step by step research guideline originally appeared in the Windmill Herald which continues to attract numerous viewers online at In his talks to various genealogical groups, Hofstee often highlights such important information as regional Dutch naming conventions and other, sometimes obscure traditions – road signs to genealogists - which can provide important clues when research is hampered by lack of written material.

Hofstee’s longtime St. Paul, Minnesota correspondent Jay Fonkert specializes in Midwest (Dutch and East Frisian) family history. In his workshop he looked at such aspects as cultural, social, religious, and linguistic similarities and differences that can help one understand ancestor’s reasons for migration and settlement.

Dr. John de Vries (Ottawa), a Professor Emeritus (Sociology) at Carleton University, Ontario. Originally from Eindhoven, the Netherlands, he immigrated to Canada in 1961. He shared with his audience the way genealogical research can come alive by checking into a range of sources which are available now. He used as example the research into the life of his great-grandfather Wytze Petrus de Vries, a principal and teacher who also wrote and translated children’s books.

Few of the participants of the Toronto event came away as upbeat as the participants from Maryland. Already very glad to have attended the workshops, Elaine Obbink Zimmerman who traced her Obbink lineage back to the early 1500s, got the surprise of her family history career. Striking up a conversation with fellow attendee Sid Looyenga, the latter remarked he had Obbinks in his family. They soon established their family connection. The real surprise came a few days later, when the pair figured out they were related two ways, also via a Heusinkveld link.