Searching in Old Newspapers

Old newspapers are a useful source for the genealogical researcher. They can lead you towards sources you didn’t yet research.

All records in the civil administration give the occupation of my GGG-grandfather Jacobus van der Laaken as shoemaker or tanner in Leyden. If we would be satisfied with that description, we would do him injustice. His story was an exiting one.

A routine search on the Dutch databank of old newspapers showed the following article in the Leydsche Courant.

One of the veterans of this city [Leyden], Jacobus van der Laaken, who participated in the celebration on last Thursday, died the day before yesterday. Living in needing circumstances, charity enabled him to appear well-dressed on the celebration. To prevent too much fatigue, he was brought with a carriage to the place where the celebration took place. He walked from there to the church, but it seemed that he asked too much of himself, because he needed help to return to his house. He participated in the evening meal, but could eat only little. When he returned to his home, he got to bed and died during the night.1

Two days later the newspaper reported about his funeral.

Yesterday morning the body of the veteran J. van der Laaken, whose decease we reported in the last issue, is buried with military honour at the cemetery at the Heerenpoort. The veterans who live in Leyden accompanied him to the cemetery. The skirts of the garment, on which the Waterloo Cross was laid, were carried by veterans. 2

A veteran in 1865 probably fought in the Napoleonic wars of 1813–1815. Further research in the registers of the gratification that the veterans of 1813–1815 got, resulted in an inscription for “Jac. van der Laken” of the Batallion National Militia no. 10.3

The number of his military unit was enough to continue the research in the military archives. The result was an interesting story of a tanner who at the age of 24 was conscripted in the militia and was involved with the battle against Napoleon. The campaign took him from the Netherlands to Waterloo, where he fought against the French, to Paris and back to the Netherlands. And everything by foot! Back in Leyden, he took up his old occupation.

Fifty years after the Battle of Waterloo a silver medal was awarded to the veterans. Jacobus was between the first who received it during a large commemoration service in Leyden. The commemoration was recorded in detail in a book.4

Stories like this colour our ancestors. Without the search in old newspapers, this story might never have surfaced. It is always worth the effort to check old newspapers. You never know what you will find.