During the bombing of Rotterdam in the second World War, the family home of my Pap was hit and all family records were burned. These included photographs, official documents, miniature portraits, even some old portrait silhouettes clipped from black paper with tiny scissors.Shortly afterwards, in 1947 when Pap was studying at Delft, his father said to him "Ik heb geen enkele photo meer van mijn vader en ik weet zelfs niet, wie mijn grootvader was." ("I don't have a single photograph of my father anymore and I don't even know who my grandfather was"). This was the point when they decided to do something about the family history. They enlisted the help of a family friend, an Archivist, who helped them find the first records in the official archives. Encouraged by early results, they continued.
Shortly after this, Pap was looking around a flea market in Den Haag when he came across a stall of old hard bound and leather bound books. Taking one in his hand at random, he opened it at the first page and there was a photograph of his grandfather, Jacobus Johannes Backer Dirks! He had picked up the Almanac of the Dutch Royal Marine of 1879. When he handed the book to his vader that afternoon, tears sprung in his father's eyes.
After Pap's studies in Delft there was a gap during his working life, but he continued immediately on retiring in 1983. Finally, the research took another 15 years to complete (if any such work is ever complete), took him (and sometimes me) on hundreds of kilometres of travel, scores of letters were written, countless searches of church records, graveyards (yes, it is true, I have occasionally used my toothbrush on gravestones to read the inscription), town halls, registery offices, archives, museums, relatives, personal letters, etc. The result is a truly impressive and personal record of the Backer Dirks family.