Historical Research in Amsterdam

Here is an example of research, not frivolous, that can be done entirely online. It yields information, including photographs, providing color and context to light up descriptions of the Kokernot’s family life in Amsterdam. It requires finding an address (in this case, of David Kokernot’s mother’s family), or at least a street; finding that location on an old map; and finding actual drawings from the time and photographs of the neighborhood with the original houses still standing.

An online source is the “name adoption registers.” The Dutch were among the last western Europen countries to insist on hereditary surnames. Many used them already, but others, especially Jews, used a patronymic instead–their given name plus their father’s given name. In 1812 all citizens were required to register their surnames. That document provides a snapshot of the family–parents, grandparents, children, even married daughters acquiring a maiden name–and included their address. An online database for Jewish Amsterdammers is here. Click “Search” at the top of the page and enter “Beugel” in the “New Adopted Name” box (David’s mother’s family adopted the name “van der Beugel”). A couple dozen names pop up, almost all kin to David’s mother, who is “Beletje” on the last page, archive number 57C. Clicking on her shows her address as “lange Houtstraat,” a street only two blocks long. The document for Betsy’s (as we call Beletje) brother, Salomon, gives an actual address in archive number 81vB on the first page. He’s at lange Houtstraat 8, which may be the same house or a different one, but in any case they are no more than two blocks apart.

Where was 8 lange Houtstraat? Modern maps are no help because the street no longer exists. A street map of Amsterdam from 1795 is available online at the city archives. Put 010094000928 into the search box and press “Zoek.” Click on the only resulting map and zoom in to the small island at the coordinates between C and D and e and f. This is the Jewish Quarter. Lange Houtstraat bisects the small island and Korte Houtstraat (shown, but not named) bisects it again at right angles.

What did the neighborhood and house look like? Again the Amsterdam Archives help. Enter 5221BT909307 into the search box for an architectural drawing of 8 Lange Houtstraat in 1885 and 010003012159 for a photograph of the street in 1930. Number 8 is the narrow building, two windows wide, on the near side of the large building on the corner. Zoom in if you are uncertain the building is over a century old and was the home of the van der Beugels in 1812.

This neighborhood was thoroughly cleared out during World War II and the city began tearing down the buildings in the 1950s. Amsterdam consumed two more decades deciding exactly what to place on the site. The canals on two sides of the island had been filled during the nineteenth century and have since been used as a popular flea market, the Waterlooplein. The streets Lange Houtstraat and Korte Houtstraat today underlay the city’s new Opera House, visible on Google Earth at lat/lon 52.3674, 4.9015.

Countless hours can be squandered in the Amsterdam Archive’s site searching for old photographs and sketches. High quality scans are available and they can be published with payment of a permissions fee.

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