Many visitors are looking for information about their family. The ‘Farewell to the Indies' digital collection allows visitors to perform a free text search for any words, including names, but this does not always provide the desired information. More background information is often required to be able to search successfully. The key to a successful search lies in the family story. How can you fill in the gaps in the family story, and how do you continue from there? This 5-step plan can help you along.
Step 1: The family story
Family stories are the starting point for every research project. Talk to family members (father, mother, aunts and uncles, great-aunts and great-uncles), and write down their stories. As you write, you will discover that some parts of the story are missing or that certain information spawns further questions. Try to formulate research questions regarding the information you would like to know more about. These questions are the small pieces of the puzzle within the family story; when you put them together, you can create a more complete image. Then you can go looking for the answers to your questions.
Conversations with family members provide a great deal of information. Try to sort out the objective data: what are the complete names and birth dates of your parents or grandparents, and where did they come from? Where did they live right before the Japanese invasion? What did they do for a living? These pieces of information are the building blocks for further research.
Step 2: Ask friends and acquaintances
It is also a good idea to consult with friends, acquaintances and colleagues as well as family members. What do they know about the family? Can they provide the names of places or other factual information? It is also possible that other people have gone looking for the same information before you. Stichting Pelita has therefore developed the website ‘Voorouderlijke Sporen' (Ancestral Traces). This website has been developed specifically to help people with an
Indies background find information about their family history.
Step 3: Ego documents
Family documents are an important source of information. For example, after the war people who had been released from internment camps or who had been driven from their homes were issued with ‘Displaced Persons' passes (KDP-passes). Are any diaries or letters available? All official documents can be valuable sources of information.
Step 4: Libraries and the Internet
Reading books about the period is also useful in your research. Many books have been written about World War Two in Asia, the Bersiap period and the decolonisation of the Dutch East Indies. If a family member was interned in a camp during this time, you can find a great deal of information in: J. van Dulm et.al., Geïllustreerde Atlas van de Japanse Kampen in Nederlands-Indië 1942-1945 [Illustrated Atlas of the Japanese Camps in the Dutch East Indies 1942-1945], Asia Maior, Purmerend, 2000. The book features photographs, maps and charts. Other sources of book titles or other information include the websites of more general institutions, such as public libraries, or more specialised institutes such as the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation (NIOD). NIOD also maintains an Indies collection and a collection of war diaries. Other specialised institutes include the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV), which maintains the ‘Indisch Knooppunt' website, and the Bronbeek Museum, which has an extensive collection relating to the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army. The Netherlands Red Cross Office in the Hague allows you to search for information about a specific person. In 2009, the Indisch Herinneringscentrum Bronbeek (Indies Remembrance Centre IHC Bronbeek) will launch a website which allows visitors access to institutes that can provide information on the war years and the Bersiap period.
The Nationaal Archief in The Hague preserves hundreds of meters of government archives containing information about the political, military and social history of the period. Some examples include the archives of the armed forces in the Dutch East Indies, the General Secretariat and the NEFIS/CMI archive. Most catalogues are available online; the original documents are available for viewing in the reading room. A small selection of the Nationaal Archief's collection has been digitalised for the Farewell to the Indies project.
Step 5: Farewell to the Indies digital collection
On the Farewell to the Indies home page, visitors can access the digital collection catalogue. This catalogue provides an overview of all of the documents that have been digitalised. If you wish to see one of these selected documents, click on the document summary and you can read or download the documents using a document reader.
There are four ways to search the collection:
1. Search engine
The documents can be searched by keyword, such as the name of a family member or a place. Enter the word and the results will appear on the screen. Click on the result to view the entire document.
Important events between 1940 and 1950 are indicated on a timeline. Move the mouse pointer over the line and you will be presented with a historical overview. For more information, click on an event and you will be shown a list of documents relating to that event.
The site also provides background information on a number of selected subjects relevant to the 1940-1950 period, such as Allied co-operation in the defence of the Dutch East Indies (ABDACOM), Republican internment camps, or the Recovery of Allied Prisoners of War en Internees (RAPWI). Each subject has a list of related documents which visitors can select and view.
4. Map of the Dutch East Indies
This map of the Dutch East Indies is divided into different islands. Click on an island to select documents relating to that particular region.
You may be able to find the answer to your question immediately using these four tools, but more often the answer is part of a larger puzzle - a building block for further research.