Visiting The Netherlands
Going back to your roots
If your ancestors come from a city, you should explore this city on foot. Visit the local tourist office (sometimes called VVV) - they usually have descriptions of city walks, and they always have city maps. In many cities it is also possible to join a guided walking tour, a bus tour or a boat tour through the canals. Ask at your hotel or at the tourist office what is possible in your city.
In rural areas you are on your own. Many villages and towns have a tourist office, but they may not have any material in English (and occasionally they don't have English-speaking staff). A good way to explore a region is by bicycle. Bikes can be rented in many places, including large railway stations. Road signs specifically for cyclists lead you to your destination over bicycle paths and quiet roads.
When you want to see your ancestral home or your ancestors' graves, you may be in for a disappointment. Graves are often cleared and reused after ten or twenty years, and many houses were demolished to make room for traffic or large-scale building projects.
Looking for records
If you want to look up some records while you are in The Netherlands you will first have to find out where these records are kept. There may be a city archive or regional archive in the city or region you're interested in. If so, they will have birth, marriage and death (BMD) records (from 1811), population registers, and often church books (until 1811). Provincial archives have BMD records (these were created in duplicate, so they are often accessible in two places) and the church books that are not in local or regional archives. The province Zuid-Holland does not have a provincial archive, records are kept in the National Archive in The Hague. For a list of all Dutch archives, and their addresses, phone numbers and websites, see Archieven in Nederland (in Dutch).
The Central Bureau for Genealogy (CBG) in The Hague has microfilm copies of many Dutch BMD registers, church books and population registers. They also have some very interesting collections, like folders with notes and clippings on many Dutch families, and a large collection of death notices cut from Dutch newspapers. You can search their catalogue online (on family name or on place name).
Staff in the Dutch archives are generally helpful, but they cannot do your research for you. They will not translate acts for you, but they will help you when you are stuck on a single word. To do research in Dutch archives, you will need to understand Dutch (or take someone with you who does).
For more information, read Visit a Dutch archive.
Your visit to The Netherlands is not complete if you have not seen tulips, windmills and the night watch. Read all about the eight essential excursions you just have to do when you are in The Netherlands.