1. When did you first start researching your family history?

It was January 1988 when I first got bitten by the genealogy bug! I was 14 years old and heard stories from my great-uncle Harrie Boeren. He gave me some scribbles, showing names of his parents, uncles and aunts. Six months later I visited the local archives for the very first time. A teenager visiting the archives triggered the newspapers. They interviewed me and published my ‘search for ancestors’ story. For many years, genealogy was a very nice pastime. After I graduated law school, I attended the School for Archivists in The Hague. I worked at the local archives for almost ten years. Thus, genealogy and local history became part of my work. Later I had other kinds of jobs, mainly as a mayor’s aid. Genealogy was – again – a pastime. By the end of 2014 I decided to do more with genealogy and from January 2015 on I took on clients. I am one of few professional genealogists in the Netherlands. Genealogy has become a true passion!

2. What was your most surprising discovery?

 In the 17th and 18th century my family lived in a small town, just across the border with Belgium. When I was going through some church books I found out that the first generations of my family were buried in a grave in the town church. I had no idea how my ‘ordinary’ family could afford a grave like that, as it usually is reserved for the important and wealthy ones. One day I was visiting the church, hoping the grave would still be there. And there it was… I faced the names of my earliest ancestors, a thrill I will never forget.

3. Have you done a DNA test? Were there any surprises about countries of origins?

When I was visiting the Who Do You Think You Are Live Show in Birmingham in April 2017 – my first international genealogy event ever! – I spoke with representatives of FTDNA, Ancestry, MyHeritage and LivingDNA. I decided to take an autosomal DNA test right there, and my cheeks swapped. About two months later the results came in. They surprised me, as ethnicity estimates showed connections with Spain/Portugal and Italy. I have never found any ancestors from those countries before! What struck me more was the high percentage of Scandinavian DNA. Later I found out that this is very common for people in the Netherlands. After all, the results were not as big a surprise as I first thought. Although I did find some (very) distant cousins, DNA did not bring me much… yet!

4. What is the brick wall you would most like to break down in your family history?

My paternal line stops in the second half of the 17th century when a couple – the same man and woman who were buried in the church grave – registered the baptisms of their sons (in 1660, 1662 and 1664). I was not able to find their marriage, and I have no idea where they originally came from. I studied all church books in the area, tried many websites and databases but until now their origins are still a mystery.

5. What is your favourite part of researching your family history?

On a personal level, I like the ‘being a detective’ side best: searching for people, finding answers to questions. Besides the search-and-find moments, I also like the whole process of how to find different sources, analyze information and come to a theory of what happened to my ancestors. As a professional genealogist, I value the ability to help others find their past and connect to their (cultural) heritage. For this reason, I love to organize heritage tours: a wonderful way to show my clients the most interesting places in their family history.

Speaker Spotlight: John Boeren