The student who searches the early Dutch records meets with many difficulties, none of which are more vexatious than their personal names. The majority of the First Settlers ordinarily used no surnames, some evidently had none. In these cases individuals were often distinguished by personal peculiarities, trades, etc., which, though sufficient for the time, give little or no aid to one tracing the pedigree of a family. It is only after great familiarity with the early writings and a careful noting of the use of surnames as they are sometimes subscribed to wills, conveyances, and other important papers that any connection can be established between a first settler and his later descendants.
But while many individuals had no surnames whatever apparently, a few families had two or more. Marcelis Janse Van Bommel was farmer of the burger and tapster's excise of liquors in Beverwyck many years. Some of his children took Marcelis as their surname, others Van Iveren; without a knowledge of this fact it would be quite impossible for his descendants to trace back their pedigree to him. A similar case occurred in the Albany branch of the Bratts. In the passage over from Holland one child was born at sea in a storm and he was named Storm Van Derzee, which epithet he and his descendants have since used as a surname.
It was not uncommon for the same individual to have two or more surnames and to use them indifferently. Jan Barentse Wemp (Wemple) was sometimes called Poest; he had a mill on the Poesten-kill which perhaps derived its name from him rather than from the Dutch word poesten. After his death in 1663 his widow Maritie Myndertse married Sweer Teunise. He had two surnames, Van Velsen and Van Westbroeck. Jan Fort of Niskayuna had the following aliases: Jan La Fort, Jan Vandervort and Jan Libbertee.
The change in the spelling and pronunciation of names is likewise a source of considerable embarrassment. Who would recognize the ancient Du Trieux (pronounced Du Troo) in the modern Truax, or Beaufils in Bovie, or Barrois in Barroway, or finally the familiar name of Jones in such laughable disguises as TSans, TJans, and Shawns.
The system of nomenclature in common use among the early Dutch settlers consisted in prefixing the child's to the father's Christian name, terminating in se or sen; in baptism but one name was usually given; the patronymic was used by custom in all cases, and in the absence of a surname was sometimes adopted as such. Thus the children of Rutger Jacobsen (Van Schoenderwoert or Van Woert) were respectively Margaret Rutgers, Engel Rutgers, and Harmen Rutgers, and Rutgers was subsequently assumed as the family name. The two sons of the First Settler Wynant Gerritse (Vander Poel) were Melgert Wynantse and Gerrit Wynantse. The First Settler, Harmen Tomase Hun (Van Amersfort) had a son named Tomas Harmense and a daughter Wyntie Harmense. The First Settlers Philip and David Schuyler, were more commonly called Philip and David Pieterse, being sons of Pieter Schuyler.
Occasionally two patronymics were used, as Samuel Arentse Samuelse Bratt; i.e., Samuel Bratt the son of Arent, who was the son of Samuel.
The use of surnames gradually increased among the Dutch from the time the Province was occupied by the English in 1664, and after the first quarter of the following century few names were written without the addition of a family name.
The following list is intended to serve as a key to such surnames as are occasionally or almost constantly omitted in the ancient Dutch Records of Albany and Schenectady. It is as nearly full as the compiler, after a somewhat careful reading of these docuyments, can make it. The names of persons without surnames, or if having them were not entered in those records, will not of course be found here; unfortunately these are somewhat numerous. Another embarrassment in the identification of persons arises from the fact, that some bear the same Christian name. When such cases occur in the following list, the dates annexed will sometimes aid in solving the difficulty. Thus the surname of Jacob Abrahamse, found in documents dating 1665-84, was Vosburg alias Kuyper; in those of date 1705, it was Van Deusen. But where there is little or no difference in the dates this help fails, and all is left to conjecture.