What’s the Difference Between Holland and the Netherlands?

18 Mar 2013

Finding out that your ancestors were Dutch would be a great breakthrough, wouldn’t it? After all you would know where in Europe your ancestors came from, right? Would you believe that perhaps you wouldn’t? And perhaps, they weren’t from Europe at all?

The first problem we run into is whether your ancestors might have come from the Netherlands or from Germany. Those that come from the Netherlands are Dutch. Germany’s name in German is Deutschland. Her citizens are Deutsch. When Germans came to the mid-Atlantic, they became known as the Pennsylvania Deutsch, which morphed into the Pennsylvania Dutch. I did some research on a friend’s family awhile back. His great-grandfather’s nickname was Dutch, and he claimed to be of German descent. Other family members claimed that they were from Holland. My suspicions were that they were actually Dutch and not Deutsch (the first clue was that the family name begins with “Van der”), and I was eventually proven correct.

The next problem was to figure out exactly where in the Netherlands the family came from. Because, while we presume that the country is in Europe, the Kingdom of the Netherlands is composed of twelve provinces in northwestern Europe and as well as islands in the Caribbean. The provinces are: Drenthe, Flevoland, Friesland, Gedlerland, Groningen, Limburg, North Brabant, North Holland, Overijssel, Utrecht, Zeeland, and South Holland. The islands include Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, Sint Eustatius, and Sint Maarten.



When researching my friend’s family, I determined that they came to upstate New York from Holland, Michigan. And from there, they came from the Netherlands. Many people confuse Holland with the Netherlands. As seen above, North Holland and South Holland are provinces within the kingdom. Saying that someone is from the country of Holland is like saying that they come from the country of Arkansas.

Knowing geography is critically important in genealogical research. The smallest of details can make a crucial difference in finding your answers. In the instance of my friend, knowing that the family was from Holland restricted my research to only two of the twelve provinces. This made it far easier to locate their village of origin.

C.G.P. Grey is a physics teacher in England. He has produced a number of videos explaining different subjects. Among them is the highly entertaining The Difference Between Holland and the Netherlands.