When one of your Dutch ancestors was in the military, there are two things you need to know before you can really look for records. First, you need to know what time period your ancestor served. There are three time periods when it comes to military records: pre-1795, 1795-1813 (the French ruled the Netherlands during that time period), and post-1813. And then there’s the military branch your ancestor served in. He could have been army, navy, air force, or marine. But, there’s a catch! We also have people serving in the KNIL (which is the Royal Dutch Indies Military), a military branch which served in the East Indies – and not only Dutch people served in it. And you’ve got separate records pertaining to the military serving in the West Indies – meaning Suriname, the Dutch Antilles, and off the coast of Guinea in Africa.
It seems fairly easy to find records once you know who, when, and where. But looks can be deceiving, as I found out when searching for the military records of my great-grandfather Salomon Mulder. He was born 28 November 1900 in Leiden, Zuid-Holland. From my grandmother, his daughter-in-law, I learned that he’d been a marine and he’d served in the Dutch East Indies, where he’d been a POW during World War Two.
The very first thing I did was request information about him from the Netherlands Institute of Military History (NIMH). They’ve got genealogical as well as historical information about the Dutch military. I do have to add that as far as genealogical information goes, they’ve mainly got information about the navy and the marines. But since Salomon was a marine, I requested information about him. They send me twenty pages! His complete military record as they had it. I couldn’t have been happier.
But the NIMH is not the only place that has military records. Another place I could look for records was the National Archive. For one, his militia records – mandatory service in the National Guard for those who were selected by drawing lots – reside there. As an aside, this brought a bit of a surprise about Salomon’s occupation before going into the military, which shows that it’s never a good idea to forgo looking at records just because you think they can’t give you anything new.
However, it’s also there that I got a bit confused. There were two archivists there that day, one of whom was an expert in the military records, and both of them had never heard of someone serving in the Dutch East Indies and not being a member of the KNIL. However, nothing in the records from the NIMH showed him being transferred to the KNIL during his multiple tours in the Dutch East Indies. Still, I looked in the KNIL records for Salomon – and did not find him. So my initial assumption was right, Salomon never served in the KNIL. When looking at the records for the navy – which includes the marines – I didn’t have much luck either. Salomon’s records are among those that were lost. There’s a gap of about a few years and only an index of names of the people whose records were lost remains. Salomon’s name was among them. Actually, there are two S. Mulder’s, and one of them has a military number that matches the records I got from the NIMH.
So, in the end, I’ve got Salomon’s militia records and twenty pages of … well, military abbreviations in atrocious handwriting comes closest to describing the records I got from the NIMH. In the coming Amanuensis Monday’s I will try to decipher these records page by page, transcribe them, and analyze them. I’m probably going to get stuck sometimes, either with understanding the abbreviations or with reading the scribbles the people making the records call handwriting. But I’m sure I can find the help I need to decipher things. Figuring this out will kick off my research into Salomon Mulder.