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Transcribed Dutch admiralty records a treasure of genealogical data

Frisians sailed for Zeeland commanders

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

LEEUWARDEN, the Netherlands – The employment records of the various pre-1800 Dutch admiralty offices in recent years have become a new but largely untapped source of genealogical information. Due to the tireless efforts of former Dutch navy officer and researcher P.F. Poortvliet, the records of Zeeland’s admiralty have been transcribed from handwritten seventeenth and eighteenth century lists, published as ”De bemanningen van de schepen van de Admiraliteit van Zeeland” (The crews of the ships of the Admirality of Zeeland).

Poortvliet’s painstaking work also reveals that the crew members who served on Zeeland’s war ships came from many countries, including from those at war with the Dutch Republic. A world naval power for an extended period of time but one with a small population of its own, the Dutch Republic could use many adventurers and others needing employment.

The Dutch navy did not have a centralized command structure. Instead, a number of towns, each representing a province or region had an Admiralty of their own. In 1597, these seats were located in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Hoorn-Enkhuizen, Middelburg and Dokkum, and were each governed by a council of seven men, although policy and statecraft were the responsibility of the States-General in The Hague.


The ”monsterrollen” (crew registries) and ”betaalrollen” (payroll) list the hiring date, the full name (most seamen used a patronymic surname, such as Auke Claesz, Auke the son of Claes), place of origin, job title, and the ship on which they served.

The publication 11 en 30, published by the Frisian chapter of the Netherlands Genealogical Society (NGV), gleaned a list of Frisians who served as crew members aboard Zeeland ships between 1610 and 1699 from Poortvliet’s publications. Except for the years 1633-1642 and 1648-1665, the records are reportedly fairly complete.

For example, the list shows that Franeker resident Jan Cornelissen was a cook aboard an unnamed war ship that sailed for Brazil in 1644, under the command of Joost van Trappen Banckert, a highly respected naval officer. The commander is one of a few men on the list with a non-patronymic surname. Another exception to the general rule is Dokkum resident ”busschieter” Dierck Jacobs de Vries, who deserted Nieuwe Fregatte on February 27, 1631. Dirrick Schipper, also ”busschieter” (old Dutch for cannoneer) served on an unnamed ship commanded by Captain W. Block.

Makkum a labour pool

On April 1, 1692, Zeeland’s admiralty took on 25 sailors who all listed Makkum as their place of origin. Other Frisian towns well represented on the list of about 100 sailors are Harlingen and Leeuwarden. Kollum, Worckum and Dokkum seemingly play a less important role with the Zeeland admiralty.

It is unclear why Frisians took these jobs in Zeeland but it is possible that the southwestern Dutch admiralty lacked a sufficient labour pool of its own.

Poortvliet’s publications suggest that it may be worthwhile to search admiralty employment records for missing ancestors or their kin, especially if there is a seafaring tradition in the family and certain family members have faded from view without a trace.


Admiralty records certainly should contain information about the plight of those who disappeared, since the Dutch navy system, so reports his historian Jonathan Israels in his book The Dutch Republic, in 1645 started paying predetermined amounts of money for the loss of limbs and injuries to entice sailors to serve on the fleet. In 1653, the compensation schedule was improved, a lost left arm merited 266 guilders (roughly a year’s wages for an artisan) and 333 guilders for a right arm. They paid 1,066 guilders for both. Unlike the English, Dutch admiralty could not compel the men to serve and faced difficulties raising crews after a defeat at sea.