Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Breaking Down the Wall

About a year ago, I started my search for Salomon Mulder, my great-grandfather. I did not have a lot of information. In fact, all I had was his birth year and place, the known fact that he was in the military, the fact that he’d been a prisoner of war in the Dutch East Indies during World War Two, and an approximate date of death. I did know the name, birth and death dates of his first wife, Adriana Versloot, but nothing about their marriage.

His death certificate is not public yet, and because Mulder is such a common surname, I didn’t dare ask for a persoonskaart, since I could end up with a huge pile or nothing at all and I have to pay for each copy and the enquiry itself. I searched for his birth record, but I couldn’t find it, even though it had to be there. This was resolved much later in the search, but back then, it was still missing.

I had no idea where he was married, both times, so the only option for research I had left was the fact that he was military, so I wrote to the Nederlands Instituur voor Militaire Historie (NIHM, Dutch Institute of Military History) in hopes of finding out if there maybe was a record because he’d been a POW during WW2. I’d hoped to find his exact birth date on that, his marriage date, maybe the name of his parents, anything, something, to give me a clue as to where to look for him.

I got so much more than that! I got his entire military record! It’s chockfull of information; just mindboggling. I’ll spare you all the details, many of which I am still working out myself. I’ve learned to both love and hate the military through this record. I love the military because they wrote down everything, really everything! You’ve got to love bureaucracy. On the other end, being the efficient types they are, they use a lot (!) of abbreviations, many of which are still a mystery for me. Not to mention cramming as much information on a piece of paper as possible in some of the earlier records, so the handwriting is difficult to decipher. But, there are some real gems in there that blew my brick wall up, with tons and tons of the genealogical equivalent of C4 bombs!

I'll take you through the most important facts, as writing it all down would take at least ten posts. Clicking on the pictures will enlarge them.

Bomb #1: His full name and birth date, along with his military number.

Of course, this had to be on his records, but still, it was nice that on all his records the date was consistent. Salomon Mulder, born 28 November 1900 in Leiden. It was his birth date that enabled me to find his birth record.
I was also very happy with his military number, or should I say, military numbers! Apparently, he had two, and one replaced the other. This is very important information when I am looking for him in other military records!

Bomb #2: Both his marriages, along with his children and stepchildren

Both of his marriages were listen. His spouses full names are there, as well as the marriage dates. His three biological children from his first marriage, including my grandfather, are named as are their birth dates. What surprised me was that his three stepchildren, from his second wife, are also named with their birth dates. I knew they were there, I even have a picture of them, now I have names to go with the faces.

Bomb #3: His faith

You wouldn’t think this was such a big shocker. He was Roman-Catholic, so what? Well, my grandfather is not a Roman-Catholic. In fact, nobody in the family even knew he’d been a Roman-Catholic until his teens! Well, my grandmother knew, and she told me about it after I asked her, but I never would’ve asked if I hadn’t found this document.
The implications for further research into my Mulder line is staggering. Changing faith was not done much in the Netherlands and society was very much separated by faith. I would’ve been looking in all the wrong places for my ancestors if I hadn’t found this document!

Bomb #4: Parents

His parents were named, which helped in identifying the correct birth certificate later on. Not to mention, more sources is always good. His parents are Wilhelmus Johannes Bonifacius Mulder and Johanna van Wezel.

Bomb #5: Description

Yes, a description. It’s supposed to be in the records, but is not always present, so I was happy there was one. My great-grandfather was 1.78 meters tall, had blue eyes and blond hair. He had a scar on his left ring finger. This was recorded in 1946.

Bomb #6: Deployments

All of his deployments can be found in this record, from his enlistment on 7 May 1919 until his pension on 1 Februari 1949. What was very interesting to me was the very complete record of his journeys to and from the Dutch East Indies, where he served several times.

Bomb #7: His POW record

There’s a special section that details how Salomon fared during his last deployment to the Dutch East Indies. He was stationed in Soerabaja from 26 April 1940 onwards, until he was transferred on 1 March 1942. Four days later on 5 March 1942 he was captured by the Japanese and put in a prison camp. He was transferred at least once, seeing that he was liberated on 14 August 1945 in Singapore. He was brought to flight base Priok in Batavia on 8 October 1945 and to the repatriation camp Doorn, the Netherlands on 14 Januari 1946. From there he was transferred to the base in Voorschoten.

Bomb #8: Medals

Yes, it says medals, plural. He got to wear the ‘Oorlogsherinneringskruis’, for his service during World War Two, with three pins, all of them having to do with specific battles during that war. He also got the ‘Kleine Gouden Medaille’ for long, honorable and faithful service. The ‘ereteken “orde en vrede”’ and the ‘erdemedaille verbonden aan de Orde van Oranje Nassau in zilver met de zwaarden’ were also awarded to him. Four medals for military service, it’s quite an honor.

Bomb #9: Two personnel reviews

Two personnel reviews jump out at me because of the extra remarks they carry. The first review is dated 1 October 1946, and the review was ‘very good.’ As remark it is said: firm and correct in bearing, gives the impression of being somewhat nervous.’ I’m sorry, but after spending years in hell and not even being back in the Netherlands for a full year, I think he’s entitled to be a bit nervous!

The second review is from 1 July 1947, and this time it’s ‘excellent.’ The remark this time is: ‘Because of the diligence and the decisive actions several thefts were cleared up.’ Intriguing!

In the end, even though this document is ‘only’ 20 pages and I’ve had it in my possession for several months, there is still much to glean from this document. So much information is great, and what was once a brick wall is now a wide open road into the past.


  1. It is a fantastic feeling when one of the brick walls fall. This has happened to twice this year. One when I found a cousin in Germany and her mother was still alive and able to identify the sisters in a 1927 era photo.

    The second when I got a death certificate of my Irish great grandfather and the names were not those who family lore had given. With that death certificate and a search of the Irish records I was able to go back one generation and find his siblings.


  2. Wow - this is more than anyone would have expected to be in a single set of documents - and a piece of history, too.

  3. @Claudia: yes, it's quite a feeling. Congrats yourself on the two brick walls in one year!

    @Great: Yes, it tells history and so much information. I was over the moon when I got it.

  4. Congratulations on such a great find! Thanks for posting it.