Ancestry fun

One of my uncles has been digging into the family history to see how far back he can trace our ancestry. Pretty far, it turns out, in particular on my paternal grandmother’s side. My uncle (her youngest son) managed to go back seven generations from my grandmother, to a certain Govert Claeszoon Boekesteyn born in 1677. Googling, I found a genealogy website where some distant relatives had dug even deeper, extending the direct lineage by another four generations. That’s a total of 13 generations up from me, all the way back to the mid-16th century. My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather was called Claes Pieterszoon Verhouck and he was probably born in 1555. His middle name means Pieter’s son (just like the English Peterson), so we can reliably say what my 14th-generation ancestor was called.

Why can my paternal grandmother’s family be traced back so much farther than that of my other three grandparents? Well, for one thing, her maiden name, Boekestein (pronounced approximately as book-eh-stine), is a pretty rare surname, so there’s not so many false positives when searching old records. For another, her ancestors stayed in the same small village for many generations. Finally, it looks like the family had fairly high standing in the 16th and 17th centuries: they lived in a large house (more on that later) and my 12th ancestor was a member of what would nowadays be called the city council. As such, there are a relatively large number of records (sales acts, titles, wills) in which the family name appears.

Based on the information my uncle gathered, and on what I found in related family trees, here’s the full list of 13 generations of my direct ancestors. My parents and grandparents are still alive, so for reasons of privacy, I’m not giving their full names.

  1. me (surname Visser)
  2. my parents
  3. my paternal grandfather (surname Visser) and grandmother (maiden name Boekestein)
  4. Cornelis Boekestein (1900-1983) and Hendrika Catharina Zwart (1903-1988)
  5. Pieter Boekestein (1851-1905) and Jansje Boxman (1858-1942)
  6. Adrianus Boekestein (1815-1857) and Trijntje Heijer (1810-1883)
  7. Pieter Boekestein (1785-1821) and Johanna Kinas (1787-?)
  8. Abraham Boekestein (1754-1817) and Neeltje Vroom (1755-1832)
  9. Pieter Govertszn. Boekestein (1720-1806) and Heiltje Abrahamsdr. van Dorp (1719-1788)
  10. Govert Claeszn. Boekestein (1677-1725) and Baaltje Michielsdr. van der Meyde (1674-1773)
  11. Claes Pieterszn. Boekestein (1639-1682) and Marrigje Govertsdr. van der Maas (1643-1719)
  12. Pieter Pieterszn. Boekestein (1614-1655) and Maartje Willemsdr. van Sant (1616-?)
  13. Pieter Claeszn. Verhouck (1580-1652) and Pleuntgen Aryensdr. Backer (1580-1640)
  14. Claes Pieterszn. Verhouck (1555-1626) and Maritgen Jorisdr. (1556-1635)

Dutch names commonly included a patronym or matronym until the early 19th century, hence the abbreviations “zn.” (zoon, son) and “dr.” (dochter, daughter). Spelling of names was flexible before the 19th century, yielding variations like Boekestijn, Boekesteyn and Boeckesteyn. (In Dutch, ij is a diphtong closely related to y.) I kept it simple here and used only the modern spelling.

Going through the list, it’s clear the family had a liking for the name Pieter (pronounced Peter): including the unlisted father of the 13th ancestor, it appears six times. Of greater interest is the change in surname between ancestors 12 and 11. Remember that “city council member” I mentioned above? That piece of information comes from documents quoted in one of the other family trees I found. Pieter Claeszoon Verhouck was schepen of his hometown De Lier (pronounced roughly as the titular character in Shakespeare’s “King Lear”). According to a written history of the region, De Lier had a couple of fortified houses in the middle ages, and one of them was called Boekestein. Although there don’t appear to be any surviving records linking Pieter Verhouck to the Boekestein house, it’s likely he lived there. In any case, all of his seven children adopted the surname Boekestein. The family stayed in De Lier for the next few generations, some of them quite possibly living in the same house, and the name stuck.

I haven’t found any evidence of what the name means, so I’ll speculate. The second half, stein, is related to modern Dutch steen and English stone and simply means house, or something a little stronger. For the first half, I see three possibilities. The first one is to link boek(e) to modern Dutch boek and English book, which would suggest the family was known for its collection of books. The second and third possibilities relate boek(e) to modern Dutch bok, which has two different meanings: it could be a male goat (related to English buck) or the driver’s seat of a horse-drawn carriage (English box). This would suggest the family had made their fame as goat farmers or as builders, or drivers, of carriages. However, the etymology of bok in the dictionary shows no spellings with oe, so I favor the first explanation. In which case the family name essentially means library. Of course, I’m neither a linguist nor a historian, so I could be totally wrong.

In contrast to the name Boekestein, my own last name (meaning fisherman) is very common in Dutch, making it much harder to trace the lineage on that branch of the family. Combining information from my uncle and from public civil records, I can only recover five generations:

  1. me
  2. my parents
  3. my paternal grandparents
  4. Pieter Visser (1903-1987) and Emma Maria Rooth (1904-1999)
  5. Klaas Visser (1864-1939) and Etje Jonker (1866-?)
  6. Jan Visser (?-?) and Geertruida Maarssen (?-?)

2 thoughts on “Ancestry fun”

  1. Nicely done! I guess I’ve the same family tree. And we’ll probably never know where the names come from, even Visser. Would be nice to found out which generation was fisherman.

  2. I am related to you through Claes Pieterszn. My Dad’s Name is William Boekestein from Kalamazoo Michigan. My great- great grandfather is the only Boekestein who ever emigrated to America. Actually, we know what Boekestein means, it means “beech estate”. boeke is the spelling for “beech tree” from the Middle Dutch, found in the dictionary of etymology. “stein” means “estate” or “manor”. I find this whole thing fasinating.

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