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Researching family history is a popular way to connect with the past and one’s own heritage. This workshop will give an introduction to conducting family history research, aiming to help participants dig into their own family past.
Event details of Workshop: Finding foremothers and forefathers
20 September 2023
15:00 -18:00

Please note: this workshop will be held in Dutch.

While genealogy used to be focused on the acts and positions of men, nowadays family researchers pay increasing attention to the role of women in their histories. Moreover, there is a growing awareness that you can conduct research into your own family history regardless of your age. It is not always easy to conduct such research, however, especially if you have ancestors born in a colonial context. 

This workshop will be given by historian and writer Suze Zijlstra. When she was a student, she interviewed her own Dutch-Indonesian grandmother about her memories of living on Java (Indonesian Archipelago) during and after Dutch colonial occupation, and her migration to the Netherlands. About fifteen years later, Zijlstra used these recordings and many other archival and family sources to write her book De voormoeders, in which she searched for the Asian and Eurasian women in her own family history. While some women could be easily found, and appeared relatively frequently in the sources, others were harder to trace. Inequalities in colonial society are reflected in the colonial archives, and influence what stories we can find and ways in which we can tell family history. But how to start, and where to look?

In this workshop, Zijlstra aims to give a practical introduction to conducting family research, with special attention to both family stories and sources and Dutch (colonial) archives.

About the workshop

This introductory workshop into family research consists of three parts. During each part, there will be time for questions and conversation.

  • In the first hour, Zijlstra will share how she researched the stories of the women in her own European-Asian family, and reflect on her position as a historian and a descendant of a family of colonizers and colonized people.
  • The second hour will focus on objects, family sources and oral history methods that can be used to conduct research into your family history. The objects that participants will bring, will be part of the discussion of ways to enter into your family’s past (see below, ‘what to bring’).
  • In the third hour, Zijlstra will provide and discuss practical tips to conduct research into the Dutch (colonial) archives to trace your own family history. Where to start, and how to proceed?

What to bring

Participants are asked to bring an object/source that relates to their family history, or reminds them of their family heritage. For example (but not limited to): a historical or present-day object, a picture, a written source. You are welcome to bring it in actual or digitized form.


This workshop will be given in Dutch. Please note that the archival examples will be taken from Dutch sources (a translation will be provided). The practical archival tips of where to start researching one’s own family history will focus on the Dutch (colonial) archives (mainly the third part of the workshop).

About the instructor

Suze Zijlstra is a historian and writer specialized in Dutch colonial history. She is the author of De voormoeders. Een verborgen Nederlands-Indische familiegeschiedenis, in which she writes about the Asian and Eurasian women in her own family history from the period of the Dutch East India Company up until the present day. Zijlstra studied history at the University of Amsterdam and University College London. She obtained her PhD degree at the UvA in 2015 and has taught, researched and written on colonial history in the following years.

If you have any questions, please contact