The Burgum family history society is a member of the Guild of one name studies and researches the names

BURGUM, Friesland, Netherlands

There is a small town in northern Friesland, in the Netherlands called BURGUM. Is there a connection?

In 1992, while carrying out research into the Burgum family history, I found myself in a library in Philadelphia. While browsing the library's indexes I discovered a curious listing...

Vilet, H. van der. Burgum; wald- en wetterdoarp, Drachten, Laverman, 1964. 140p. illus., maps, ports. 24cm

The language was Dutch and I soon discovered that Burgum was a village in the province of Friesland, in the Netherlands. My next step was to write to the Burgum town council. My family have had to live with my Burgum obsession for some time and so it came as no surprise to them when I declared that we were going to Burgum. A few days later we received a telephone call from Mr Oppedigk of the Burgum town council and we made arrangements to meet him at the townhall; our plans to visit Burgum had begun.

On Sunday 25th October 1992 we flew to Schipol Airport, Amsterdam, and hired a car. We spent the first day travelling north, stopping off at any village or town that took our interest. Edam was one such town, full of old world charm. The Netherlands is made up of eleven pronences and two of these, North Holland and Friesland, are connected by the Afsluitdijk. This great dyke separates the Ijsselmeer (formerly the Zuider Zee) from the North Sea and stretches north-eastwards. As we drove along its nineteen mile length we began to question the wisdom of our visit. The heavy rain reduced visibility to a minimum and the biting wind exaggeratedthe freezing conditions. It was dark when we reached the city of Leeuwarden where we planned to spend the first night.

The next day we woke to brilliant sunshine for our drive into Burgum. It seemed strange to see our own surname displayed in large letters on road signs as we approached the area. We crossed the bridge passing over the Princess Margaret Canal and turned into the Burgum townhall. At the townhall, we were met by Mr Oppedigk. He offered us a tour of the townhall and told us that a search of the council records, strtching back two centuries, failed to find anyone with the surname Burgum. Mr Oppedigk hoped we didn't mind, but he had arranged for us to be interviewed by the local press. Then, he explained, in one hour we were to be interviewed by the local radio station!

The interviews seemd to go very well, although the radio interview proved slightly unsettling with its constant translation of questions and answers into Frisian. I explained that no connection had yet been made between our surname and the town of Burgum, but the radio journalist continued to demand proof of such a connection. We later received copies of the local newspaper; we had made the front page! We also received a tape of the radio interview.

After our tour of the townhall, we went on to explore the streets of Burgum. There is just one hotel in Burgum (closed on Sundays!) and we decided to secure a room for the night. My wife, Vicky, went to check in.

"What is your name?" asked the proprietor.

"Burgum," my wife replied.

"Ja, this is Burgum. What is your name?"


"Ja, but what is your name?"

Vicky eventually produced a credit card with our name on it and the proprietor hurried off to show it to others in the hotel. In a book shop, we found a book entitled "Burgum in grootmeders tijd" and a few postcards of Burgum.

"Do you have any more postcards?" we asked.

"Ja, how many do you need?"

"One hundred and fifty," we said. We were given a very strange look! Only when the shop assistant saw our name on the credit card did she fully understand. She, too, was surprised.

We visited the local church, with its pointed spire and its sprawling churchyard. I have spent many a day walking around churchyards, searching for Burgums. Here almost every head-stone was engraved to Te Burgum or Te Bergum.This was, of course, their place of origin and not their surname. In the church, a plaque of 78 Squadron RAF hangs high on the wall. An inscription reads- in proud and loving memory of Pilot Officer F. B. Thorpe RAF VR and his Commonwaelth crew who gave their lives September 6th/7th 1941. This tablet and the chandelier are given in gratitude to the people of Bergum who have honoured and tendered their resting place. The graves of Pilot Officer Thorpe and his four men crew rest beneath a tree in the churchyard.

On maps, on shop fronts and even on head-stones, the place name Burgum was sometimes spelt Bergum. Burgum is the Frisian way of spelling the name. Several years ago the town council had a meeting to discuss the duel spelling of their name. After a vote, it was decided that the Frisian way, BURGUM should offically be adopted as the correct spelling. Nevertheless, BERGUM remains much in evidence around the town. While staying in Burgum we visited the Burgum Museum, the Clog Museum at Noardburgum and the Burgum harbour, just off the Princess Margaret Canal. To the east of the town lies a large lake called the Burgumermeer. Canals feed into this lake from the north, south, east and west. Access to the lakeside is quite difficult as a barrier of tall reeds encircle the shoreline.

Just across the canal to Burgum, at Sumar, lies a grand windmill. Although it was being refurbished, we were permitted to climb its steps to the upper level. From there, in the shadow of the sails, we were able to observe the panorama of Burgum, the lake and the canal that feeds into it. Also in view, in the distance, was the power-station; a natural gas field sits beneath Burgum, quietly supplying the energy. Our tour of the area had extended eastward to Groningen and it was on our return that we stopped again at Burgum. I reflected on how friendly these people were as they nodded to us in the street. I was particularly flattered by the smile I received from the pretty girl serving in the cafe.

"Its very good," she said.

"I beg your pardon?"

"The picture. Your picture, in the paper. Have you not seen it?"

I was handed the local paper with our photograph on the front page and an extensive article about the Burgum Family History Society. That explained why so many people had been acknowledging us. Famous for a day!

Finally we said goodbye to Burgum, quite certain that we would return one day. On our way back towards Amsterdam, we continued to stop at places of interest. Sneek was interesting and the small village of Sloten was stunning in its beauty. In Amsterdam, we ate in nice restaurants, rode the trams and explored the city by canal boat. It was fun - we had a good week - but it was Burgum that had captured our hearts.

Yes, yes, yes. I know what you want to ask. Is there a connection between the town of Burgum and our Burgum families?

The answer is... I don't know!

There is no evidence at this time that a connection exists. Research in the city of Leeuwarden came to nothing. Since my return, I have continued my enquiries. While in Burgum, I also visited H. van der Vilet, author of the book BURGUM; wald; en wetterdoarp. Despite the language difficulties, we were able to discuss various aspects of his research and mine. His book was out of print, but I was shown the unfinished manuscript for a revised edition. Indeed, our visit was added to the final manuscript. The book was published in April 1993, commemorating 100 years of local government in Burgum. I was invited to the celebrations but sadly could not attend. Still, Fokke Broers, an English teacher in Burgum came to stay with us some months later and presented me with a copy of the new edition of BURGUM; wald; en wetterdoarp.

So, the fundamental question remains. Could there be a connection between Burgum, the place, and the Burgum families? We know that most, if not all of the Burgum families originated from the Forest of Dean and that our ancestors were residing there in the 1600's. Therefore, if there was a migration of Frisians to the Forest of Dean, it must have occurred before this date. Dutch expertise in the field of low-lying land-reclaimation did cause migration on a small scale from the Netherlands to areas such as the Fens, but not to the Forest of Dean. Individual families could, of course, have emigrated to the area and adopted the name of their village or town of origin, in this case BURGUM.

There is no evidence at this stage to indicate that any direct link exists between the family name and the place. The village name has passed through many changes over the centuries from Berghum and Birgum, to Bergum (the Dutch spelling) to Burgum. However, our surname has also passed through a similar transition beginning with Berhume, Bergome and Bergoe and continuing with Birgum, Bergum and Burgham.


My own view is that it is exactly that. A coincidence!

What do you think?