Genealogy: Going back many generations

How hard is it to find really old ancestors?

Raymond Meester
2 min readNov 12, 2020


The conclusion of my previous blog on genealogy was that finding ancestors with digital means have become easier. It doesn’t mean that things go by themselves. And when there is no data at all, it’s almost impossible to have an extensive family tree. At the end we all depend on how well our ancestors recorded the data.

When it comes to our own generation, it’s easy to find records. This is because of the extensive administration of local authorities and because of the internet. Almost anyone leaves traces online at websites or social media. But we can also just ask our relatives in an old-fashioned way. I try to record not only their date of birth and official names, but also what they like to eat, what pets they have and where they lived. These details give much more information who a person is and what they did.

With the digital opportunities I have a feeling to be more or less obliged to future generations to record this. So that they can learn more about their ancestor than we do now.

Genealogy in the Netherlands

Finding data of the first generations is thus relatively easy. In the Netherlands where I live, it remains easy until around 1810. In that year Napoleon Bonaparte annexed the Netherlands. Though the occupation didn’t last long, he initiated in 1813 that all Dutch people should get fixed surnames. On January 1, 1814 it was obliged to have a surname, but it took years to get everybody registered (long after Napoleon was gone).

In any case, from this date most administration are digitalized and can be found online. Before that time names are always registered and weren’t always fixed. For example my surname “Meester” (Teacher) was put into use by ancestor with a surname Groteman (Bigman), but as he was a teacher changed it.

To get data before 1800 in the Netherlands you are either dependent on other pedigree researchers who have their family online or search manually through manually search through church registers or baptismal registers.

So how do I found an ancestor 25 generations back? The answer is easy. In this generation there are many possible ancestors. To be precise 16.777.217. Below are statistics of 1008 ancestors in my family tree:

The first 5 generations are complete, then generation 11 has the most ancestors (180). At the end I found only two ancestors 25 generations ago.


Thus, one part of the answer is that there are many possibilities, the other part is to find the noble branch of the family. Most ancestors were farmers and workmen. For most of them I didn’t get further than the 17th century. Nobles were however much better recorded. Fortunately (at least in Europe) almost everyone has a noble branch.



Raymond Meester