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Resources for Dutch-American law

So you’ve listened to The Legal Genealogist‘s reasons for thinking colonial American women would all have been better off if they’d worn Dutch wooden shoes.1

And maybe your interest in all things early-Dutch-American was piqued by the transition of power this week from Queen Beatrix to her son, then-Crown Prince and now-King Willem-Alexander. (Her abdication after 33 years of rule made him the first king the Netherlands has had in 123 years.)2

Now, you’ve decided, you want to know more about those colonial Dutch laws.

Boy, are you in luck.

The resources for research into the Dutch colonial period are excellent. And that may be a bit surprising since that really was a very short time frame in American history. The Dutch first arrived in North America early in the 17th century, landed the first serious colonization effort in what is now New York City in 1624 and ended up surrendering New Amsterdam to an English naval force in 1664.3 And even more surprising considering that the records were housed in the New York State Capitol — which suffered a fire in 1911.

The fact is, New York has done a terrific job of preserving and archiving them, and making them accessible to modern researchers. Despite the devastating fire at the New York State Capitol in 1911, some 12,000 or so pages of Dutch Colonial records survived and — even though many have charred edges — they were saved, stabilized and preserved.4

Casual genealogists won’t generally access those original records, though — not only are they exceedingly fragile, but — well — they’re in Dutch. Fortunately, the New York archivists over the years have ensured that there are English translations of many if not most of those early Dutch records. And nobody has done it better than Charles T. Gehring.

Director of New York State’s New Netherland Project, Gehring has overseen the translation of some of the most valuable surviving records from the Dutch colonial period, and the establishment of the New Netherland Research Center at the New York State Library to share those resources with the public.

And if that wasn’t enough, there’s also the New Netherland Institute, a non-profit organization that supports the New Netherland Project and the New Netherland Research Center, with a wonderful website to lead researchers into the Dutch colonial records. Check it out —

And if that wasn’t enough, there’s a wide array of published materials, including (but not at all limited to):

     • Arnold J.F. Van Laer’s translations of New York Historical Manuscripts: Dutch5

     • Charles T. Gehring’s translations of New York Historical Manuscripts, Dutch : Volumes GG, HH & II : Land Papers6

     • Gehring’s Laws & Writs of Appeal, 1647-1663 7

     • Gehring’s two-part translations of the records of early Fort Orange8

     • E. B. O’Callaghan’s Laws and Ordinances of New Netherland, 1638-1674.9

And specifically on the subject of women under early Dutch law, Linda Briggs Biemer wrote her doctoral dissertation at Syracuse University on the changeover of women’s rights from the Dutch to the English system; it’s been published and is a great research tool as well.10

Sigh… almost makes me wish my ancestors were Dutch instead of Deutsch!


  1. See Judy G. Russell, “Colonial women and the law,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 2 May 2013 ( : accessed 3 May 2013).
  2. Andrew Higgins and Alan Cowell, “A King Takes the Throne, and a Nation Celebrates,” The New York Times, online edition, posted 30 Apr 2013 ( : accessed 3 May 2013).
  3. The Netherlands and Scandinavia in North America,” Historical Timelines, New Netherland Institute ( : accessed 3 May 2013).
  4. See “New York State Archives,” Heritage Preservation, National Institute for Conservation ( : accessed 3 May 2013).
  5. Arnold J.F. Van Laer, trans., New York Historical Manuscripts: Dutch, 3 vols. (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Pub. Co., 1974).
  6. Charles T. Gehring, New York Historical Manuscripts, Dutch : Volumes GG, HH & II : Land Papers (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Pub. Co., 1980).
  7. Charles T. Gehring, Laws & Writs of Appeal, 1647-1663 (Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1991).
  8. Charles T. Gehring, Fort Orange Court Minutes, 1652-1660 (Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1990), and Fort Orange Records, 1656-1678 (Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 2000).
  9. E. B. O’Callaghan, Laws and Ordinances of New Netherland, 1638-1674 (Albany, New York : Weed, Parsons and Co., printers, 1868), also available on microfilm and microfiche in many libraries.
  10. Linda Briggs Biemer, Women and Property in Colonial New York : the Transition from Dutch to English Law 1643-1727 (Ann Arbor, Mich. : UMI Research Press, 1983), available in many libraries or for sale from ProQuest’s UMI Dissertation Express.
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