Sunday, March 6, 2011

Records from Beth Haim at Ouderkerk aan de Amstel

One of the greatest online sources for people researching their Sephardic ancestry in Amsterdam are the records for Beth Haim of Ouderkerk aan de Amstel. Beth Haim is the oldest Jewish cemetery in the Netherlands, being purchased in 1614 by the Jewish Community of Amsterdam. Most Sephardic Jews from the Jewish Community in Amsterdam were buried at Beth Haim cemetery. The records from Beth Haim have a lot of great information and can really help you expand your tree, especially once you learn how to manipulate the search system.

The URL for the directory is (has been updated to this link). I would suggest bookmarking this website so you don’t have to scroll through the stenen archief website looking for the directory. At the top of the page there is a scroll bar for Taal, which is Dutch for Language. The directory is in 3 languages; Dutch, English, and Hebrew. Most of the documents are written in Dutch with a little Hebrew spread throughout. Many of the dates are listed according to the Jewish Calander, but Jewish Gen has a great tool to translate the dates to the Western calendar at

Now the key to manipulating this directory is to learn about Sephardic surnames and their history. To get the basics on naming traditions and common surnames and their variants you can check out some pages provided by Sephardic Gen; and Many of the Sephardic Jews who settled in Amsterdam had stayed in Spain or gone to Portugal in the 15th and 16th centuries, often pretending to be Catholic while still secretly practicing Jewish customs. Since they needed to seem less Jewish, many of these families used Spanish and Portuguese surnames but changed them back to their Jewish variants once in the Netherlands.

Another common occurrence in Sephardic surnames is the double surname. These double surnames were often created with the marriage of two families, often tracing back to pre-Inquisition Spain. This is actually an important factor when accessing the database because the records are listed according to two family names. For males and unmarried females the column for #1 family name is the first name of their surname and the column for #2 family name is their second surname if they have one. For married females and males with listed aliases the #1 family name is their married surname or proper surname and the #2 family name is their maiden name or alias surname.

For an example I will use Abraham Nunes Vaz (1799-1863). Similar to how one is called up to read the Torah, the column for the first name lists the name of the person and their father. Abraham’s father is Jacob, so Abraham is listed in the first name column as Abraham v. Jacob (meaning Abraham van Jacob, also Abraham son of Jacob). To search for him the best thing to search for would be his most uncommon name in all three of his names. Since his surname will be split up separately we can search for either Nunes or Vaz, but do not search for Nunes Vaz because it will only come up with Nunes Vaz members with another married name or alias. Something to note is the illiteracy of the world before modern times. Many people didn’t know how to spell their own names, let alone their surnames, so documents will have little changes such as Nunes Vas or Nunes Vaaz or some other variant because the record taker guessed at the spelling. In our case we can see Abraham listed at the bottom of page 5.

Once you click the view button a new tab will pop up in your browser with all the basic information on the record along with a little picture of the document. Just click on the picture to view the full size document. The document is pretty straight forward to understand and usually only requires a little knowledge of the Dutch language to interpret.  At the bottom of this blog I will include a reference list for common terms in these documents. 

For Abraham we can see that he had 2 wives; Sara Lopes Dias and Rachel Henriques Coelho. As we can see in Abraham’s record, the Beth Haim documents usually distinguish the surname from the proper name by putting the surname in all capital letters. We can also see that Abraham had at least 12 children, but not all of the children are always listed. If he had children with both wives there will usually be a distinction between each set of children, but it is always good to check the marriage date or even death date of the last wife against the birth date of the children to distinguish mothers. Children are usually listed in the records for father but have been be listed in the mother’s records from time to time.

There is a lot of other information which can be found in these records; including parent’s names, spouse’s parent’s names, biographical information, names of other relatives (cousins, aunts, etc.), birthplace, immigration information, occupation, and many other random tidbits. Some of these records also include photos of the tombstones or links to more information about the person. If this is the case then it is likely that person was prominent in some way and could even be in one of the books written about the cemetery. For more information on the cemetery itself you can visit their website at

Reference Terms:
Aantekeningen - Notes
Alias - Other names
Begraven – Date buried
Dochter – Daughter
Geb. – Birth date
Geh. met - Married to
Geslachts naam –Family name (married)
Geh. – Marriage date
Gev. - Dead of birth
Moeder – Mother
Naam –Name
Taal – Language
Vader - Father
Zerk – Tombstone
Zoon - Son

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Origins of The Henriques Pimentel Family of Amsterdam

Record from Beth Haim cemtery in Ouderkerk
For David Henriques Pimentel
The Henriques Pimentel family of Amsterdam traces its roots to David Henriques Pimentel (1631-1696) and Abigael Henriques Pimentel (?-1701). It is unknown where David or Abigael were born, but their son Emanuel was born in Malaga, Spain in 1657. When the family came to Amsterdam Emanuel changed his name to Isaac because he could be outwardly Jewish without fear of persecution.

In 1674 Isaac received a declaration signed on behalf of the King of Spain Charles II that Isaac was entitled to use the ancient arms of Pimentel. This is quite interesting because it would indicate that Isaac had proof of descent from the House of Pimentel. A distant relative of mine through this lineage had a copy of the document and said that David Henriques Pimentel was the grandson of the 8th Count (5th Duke) of Benavente, Juan Alfonso de Pimentel.

Portrait of Juan Alfonso de Pimentel
Juan had many children from 2 marriages, but it is unknown which son David descends from. It is also unclear when the names Henriques and Pimentel were put together. While it could be that David’s mother was an Henriques or Enriquez, we can find two instances in the House of Pimentel where an Enriquez was married in; The 2nd Count of Benavente, Rodrigo Alfonso Pimentel married Doña Leonor Enriquez de Mendoza.  The 6th Count of Benavente, Antonio Alonso de Pimentel married Luisa Enriquez.