Saturday, 5 July 2014

Did your ancestors play a sport?

As I am watching the quarter finals of the World Cup Soccer, where the Netherlands is fighting to stay in the competition, I am wondering if sports played a part in the life of my ancestors. For most of them, sports would have been a luxury that they could not afford.

ADO-Telstar, 1965. Image credits: Nationaal Archief
However, I think a lot of our ancestors were involved in activities like archery, skating and clay pigeon shooting. Those activities were like sports in the sense that they exercised the body and had a competition element. But unlike sports, the goal wasn't simply recreation, but to develop skills necessary to work well and protect yourself.

Where to find evidence of your ancestors sports

Most of our ancestors' athletic achievements, if any, would have gone unreported. Towards the end of the 19th century, sports become organized, especially in the higher levels of society. You may be able to find archives of organizations like soccer clubs, archery societies and tennis clubs. Newspaper begin to report about matches in the 19th century as well.

For earlier periods, you may be lucky and find evidence in court records. Like today, competitions can lead to tension among the competitors and their fans, which may lead to injuries and court cases.
The closest thing I've found was an ancestor who testified about a quarrel between German and Dutch farmers after a friendly clay pigeon shooting match turned less friendly. They got into a fight. In the end, the Dutch had to promise to bring a keg of beer next year and that was the end of the story.

Your own ancestors

Do you have ancestors that played sports? Where did you find that evidence? 


  1. Hi, Yvonne - I enjoyed your choice of topic inspired by the World Cup. My father was a keen follower of football up to his death at the age of 91. He was offered a place in a junior Division One team but his parents would not allow him to take it up. He often regaled a story of being vice captain of his school team which won a regional cup, with a pigeon sent back home to tell of the victory - as told in my posting on my personal blog at However it was a sore point with Dad that the only photograph of the occasion was thrown out with other memorabilia following a family.death and I had only a vague idea of the possible date. I contacted the County Archives, and although they came up with a 1926 school log book entry naming the winning team, they were unable to help with the photograph. So I next contacted the local historical society and was so delighted when they came up with a copy of the photograph - the earliest one I have of my father aged 14. So needless to day, I am a strong advocate of the value of local historical groups - always worth contacting with any search. .

  2. Hi Yvonne I really enjoyed your post as well. It has got me thinking! I wonder how far back sporting records are kept and when did people actually start playing sport? This could be a good topic for my next blog !

  3. Until I inherited a medal that belonged to my maternal grandfather, Frank STEINKE, I had no idea that he took part in cycling competitions. I have since found references in Trove, and I have been given a photo of him on his bicycle.

  4. OK, I'll admit, I have no real sports information on the ancestors. Man has a bit, but, nothing back in our history. Another avenue to consider. Sports. Thanks for the suggestion.

  5. I have run across an ancestor who played on New Zealand's All Blacks rugby team in the 1930s and a U.S. professional football player in the 1940s. I also know there was a curling pond near the Dalserf, Scotland, farm of my Semple ancestors. Yet I have never thought to look in local archives to see what other types of sports they may have played. Something else to investigate. Thank you!


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World Wide Genealogy Team