The thing that amazes me most about visiting archives in Holland is that you can get your hands on some really old documents, and it’s not considered a big deal. This is because the Westfries Archief has a staggering amount of archived material (9 kilometers long, if you put side-by-side like books in a library), and lots of that is very old.

It’s slowly dawning on me that there is so much material here, that putting the puzzle together about our Zee family in the 1700’s is a matter of effort – the stories are here, but they are somewhere in a pile of papers.

One of the first things I looked at was the archive of the old orphanage in Medemblik. This is where three daughters of Bruno Zee, our rebel-sailor-family-founder, lived between 1753 and 1764. It’s not an archive that’s indexed or sorted – it’s literally a (big) pile of old paperwork, and it’s up to you to sort through.

One of the documents I found was related to an auction held in the orphanage on Tuesday the 6th of May, 1760. Anna Bruijn Zee was one of the three sisters that were sent here, and the only one not to survive the orphanage. She died on April 2nd, 1760. The auction was for her the things that she had owned, and was standard practice.

It gives us a detailed glimpse into her life, albeit just after she passed away.

The first items to be auctioned were what they call rommel, just bits and pieces that could be anything, but without great value. What is initially striking is how many people turned up to this young girls auction in the orphanage. As the auction progresses, the more valuable items come up for bidding, and here we can see some of Anna’s most treasured things:

  • Two dresses, each 5 guilders, sold to Neeltje Claas and Cornelis de Zee (no relation)
  • An apron, at 5 guilders to Maartje Tijsz, and one for fl. 9 to Dirk de Kuijper
  • A silver beugel or clasp, for a handbag, sold to jan Kos for 17 guilders 4 cents and 12 stuivers.
  • 2 hair pins, valued at 13 cents
  • A book with silver (likely a clasp), sold to Neeltje uijt de Spiegel for 6 guilders
  • A necklace, 9 guilders – bought by her surviving sister Mietje (Bruijn) Zee.

In addition to 2 guilders and 5 cents that were found in Anna’s bag, the total income from the auction was a little over 144 guilders. This is quite a large amount of money, and indicates that the stereotypical view of orphans may not be appropriate here. It would have taken her father a year to earn that amount of money when he was working for the VOC. After deductions, the net proceeeds were 92 guilders. It’s not clear who got this money, but most likely the orphanage itself.

The next item I found was a handwriting demonstration from Frederik Zee in 1792. Frederik was one of the three well-known Zee brothers who all became teachers, and the son of Bruyn Bruynzoon Zee, the boat builder in Noord Scharwoude. In 1792 he would have been 22 years of age, and he was at that time a teacher in Velsen. He was applying for the position of teacher (apparently in Sijbekarspel), and applicants were asked to present a portfolio of their work. This original work from him demonstrates a real mastery of calligraphy, and again I’m amazed to be able to handle a piece of artwork 230 years old!

An interesting surprise was a Zee Family Tree.

This one was apparently completed by Piet Kistemaker in Andijk, a well known local historian, and it looks to be from around 1972. It shows the genealogy of the Andijk branch of the Zee family, including the much loved Fokke Zee. It shows again the “dead end” that existed even then, where we didn’t know anything about Bruno Zee other than that he maybe came from Germany, and married Anna Margaretha Meijers.

When you talk about Zee’s in Noord Holland, one name that everyone knows is Piet Zee “de Slager”. For as long as anyone can remember, he’s been a performer. Professionally, he was a butcher in Twisk for 40 years, but the thing everyone knows him for is optreden. Somewhere between comedian, storyteller, and guardian of the Westfries language. In the archives, then, I wasn’t surprised to find some Piet Zee material.

Last week, with another Piet Zee (a close cousin of his, and a more distant one of mine), we went to visit Piet Zee in Twisk. We found him sitting quitely in his back garden doing a crossword puzzle, but it didn’t take much encouragement to get him into his stand-up routine. Even though he’s now in his eighties, the twinkle in his eye is as bright as ever, and his sense of humour is the same as ever. Piet Zee has a museum at home what was once the butchers shop, which ostensibly displays the butchery items, but is really the museum of Piet Zee. Our tour guide: Piet Zee.

Twisk is the origin of the majority of the Zee family around today – it was here in 1834 that Pieter Zee, just returned from the Belgian Campaign (with a medal), married Neeltje Veer, who had been appointed midwife of the village. They had twelve children, and some of those had twelve as well!

Unsurprisingly, the Twisk folders in the Westfries archief hold some Zee material, but I was surprised at some of the unexpectedly fun things I found.

Twisk Gallery: Andries Zee’s writing in 1852

Andries Zee’s exercise book, apparently for handwriting practice, from 1852 – “den 9 January Anno 1852“. Andries Zee, born 1841, was a son of Pieter & Neeltje mentioned above, and is great-grandfather to a good number of Zee’s around today.

Twisk Gallery: 1875 Marriage Poem for Pieter Zee & Geertje Zijp

‘Allen met de naam van “Zee”‘ – that was the wish of Piet Bobeldijk in 1875 for the newly married couple of Pieter Zee & Geertje Zijp – lots of little children named Zee. He wrote a poem for their wedding, and it’s preserved here in the archives.

Indeed Piet & Geertje would go on to be the great-grandparents of lots of little Zee’s! Their two children were Klaas Zee, born in 1877, who married Trijntje Wijdenes, and Pieter Zee, born 1881, who married Gezina de Graaff and moved out to Westfall, Oregon. To these two brothers, the Zee families of Dr. Klaas Cornelis Zee, and the California Zee’s, can trace their ancestry back to.

Also in the Twisk section is this letter from October 7th, 1833, detailing the appointent of his mother Neeltje Veer as midwife of the village. Her annual salary was to be 150 guilders. In addition, she would get 14 tons of turf valued at 7 guilders. Neeltje is for many of us our great-great-grandmother, and for fifty years was the midwife of Twisk.

The next item was a lovely poster (A3 size) showing the family of Willem Zee and Geertje Bakker. Willem was born in 1820, and was the mayor of Venhuizen for a time. His son Willem married Cornelia Bakker, and the “other” (other than mine!) New Zealand Zee family decends from here.

Inside the archive: the reading room. 16th August, 2022.

What’s really fantastic – and different to just researching online – is the help that you get from the people that work at the archives. Their helpfulness, and knowledge level, is immense, and I found myself pointed in directions I had never considered, even though I like to think I have a good understanding of how to research things!

Gallery: Dirk Zee, 1889 – A Playwright?

I didn’t know that we had a playwright in the family, but Dirk Zee seems to have been one. He was born in Twisk (technically Opperdoes) in 1872, and these books of his are from March 1889, when he had just turned 17. His father and mother were Andries Zee & Neeltje Leeuw. His younger brother Andries Zee junior, wound up opening a Cafe in Twisk called De Hoop.

Some of the material is from others, but maybe he wrote this play. I’ve copied this part here in its entirety, so if your Dutch is good enough, take a look and see what you think.

More to come from the archives soon!

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