We have Napoleon to thank for that. The French invaded the Netherlands in 1794/95. In some southern parts of the Netherlands, the civil registration of births, marriages and deaths was introduced at that time, but in most of the country it was introduced in 1811.
At that time, everyone who did not have a surname was required to take one. This includes people in the north who still went by their patronymics, people in the east who called themselves after the farm they lived on and most Jews. This forced taking of names gave rise to the myth that people in the Netherlands did not have surnames before Napoleon, which is untrue for most of the country. A casual comment to dis-spell that myth on a blog article introduced me to a wonderful client.
|Name taking record of Jelmer Sipkes Sipma.1 Image credit: Tresoar|
Napoleon also made a start with the introduction of a nation-wide property registration system, the Kadaster. It wasn't fully implemented until 1828, well after the French occupation, when the Dutch government realized the merits of knowing all (taxable!) lands. The first maps and ledgers are available online at the WatWasWaar website.
The great thing about understanding these registrations is that it's easy to do research in France, because the system is very similar. That is how I was able to help several visitors to Who Do You Think You Are? Live! find their French ancestors, despite not having much experience with French research myself.
Because the Dutch were used to good record-keeping since 1811, Dutch emigrants also had their vital events recorded much earlier than most of their new neighbors. In many states in the US, vital records were not mandatory until the early 1900s but you can often find records for Dutch people as early as the 1840s. Don't you wish for some Dutch ancestors yourself?