Worst case of pedigree collapse ever?

My father’s side of the family comes from a small village in the east of Gelderland called Winterswijk. Because so many of his ancestors came from that place, I am reconstructing its entire population. Doing such a one-place-study has given me a deeper understanding of life in that village and allowed me to make some interesting discoveries and observations along the way.

Roerdink family from Winterswijk

One of the families I am researching, the Roerdinks, belonged to the farmer elite of Winterswijk in the 19th century. From the late Middle Ages until the end of the 18th century, the Roerdinks were serfs of the Lord of Bredevoort. As serfs, their rents were fixed so when farming methods improved, serfs had to pay a relatively small share of the harvest compared to tenant farmers. When serfs were gradually given more freedoms, they could use the surplus to buy property. Feudal laws ensured their farms were never divided but passed intact to the next generation, making these the most prosperous farms in the neighborhood. In 1795, serfdom was abolished by the French. The serfs were given the farms that they lived on, instantly making them the wealthiest property owners in the area.

Roerdink farm

Roerdink farm in 1965. Image credits: Rijksdienst voor Cultureel Erfgoed

Cousin marriages

To keep all of this property within the family, it was convenient to marry a cousin. Marrying a first cousin required a dispensation from the Court of Gelderland and later from the King, but this was routinely granted.

When cousins marry, you get pedigree collapse: instead of having all different ancestors, the same couple appears more than once in your pedigree. First cousins share a pair of grandparents, for example, so any children they have will show one pair of great-grand-parents ‘repeated’ in their pedigree.

Example: Engelberta Harmina Roerdink

The person with the highest case of pedigree collapse that I have ever seen is Engelberta Harmina Roerdink, born in 1850. Her parents, Engelbartus Roerdink and Harmina Engelberta Roerdink, were first cousins twice over: Engelbartus’ father was a brother to Harmina’s mother and his mother was a sister to his wife’s father. To make matters worse, these two brother-sister pairs were themselves first cousins, as can be seen in the following diagram.

Roerdink family tree

Roerdink family tree

In Engelberta Harmina Roerdink’s pedigree chart, the boxes for her 16 great-great-grandparents are filled by just 6 different people, a collapse of 62,5% (10/16th). She descends from her great-great-grandparents Jan Roerdink and Clasina Rengerdink four different ways, as all four of her grandparents are grandchildren of this couple. Following the family tradition, she herself married her first cousin, another great-great-grandson of Jan Roerdink and Clasina Rengerdink.

Do you have cousins marrying cousins in your own family? What reasons might they have had to marry their kin? What is the ‘worst’ case of pedigree collapse you’ve found in your own research?

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About Yvette Hoitink

Yvette Hoitink is a professional genealogist in the Netherlands. She has been doing genealogy for almost 25 years. Her expertise is helping people from across the world find their ancestors in the Netherlands. Read about Yvette's professional genealogy services.


  1. Spanish King Carlos II of Spain’s ancestors used to marry the daughter of their sister (the one who had married her Austrian Habsburg cousin). Cleopatra VII’s ancestors, the Ptolemies, married their own sisters. Tutanchamon’s ancestors married half-sisters. Still, I must admit the scheme above is pretty horrifying.

  2. Teresa says:

    I love to hear about Winterswijk families and history! I hope you can find excuses to talk about it in this blog, a lot.

    My grandfather and his sister had a pair of “double cousins,” who were also a boy and a girl. Their parents and the parents of their cousins were siblings to each other. The double cousins were close in age and played together. I’m glad to say none of them were inclined to marry each other, though. It might have been legal, but would have resulted in a scary pedigree collapse.

  3. zoe stout says:
  4. Virgil Hoftiezer says:

    Hi Yvette,
    As you know I also have many ancestors from Winterswijk with many first cousin marriages — which continued after the families immigrated to the USA. While certainly not to the extent shown in your example, consanguinity is much more common that we thought. In genealogy I have found many more first and second cousin marriages than I ever imagined in many families. Doing all families, rather than just surname lineage, has uncovered these relationships which are missed by those who research only one surname. As always,
    a great thought provoking article.

    • Ruth Lindegarde says:

      Hi Virgil, I believe that there are ancesters of yours buried in the Oak Mound Cemetery in Alto WI. I am the President of the trustee and I ihave all of the history books. Your ancester was a founding member of the “old Stone Church” or Zion Presbyterian which is not on the Historical Society federal list.
      Ruth Oosterwyk Lindegarde

  5. I have a number of people from Winterswijk in my database too. And I’ve certainly seen the name Roerdink in my research, but none connecting with my people. One case of “pedigree collapse” I’ve found is a case in southern Gelderland where some distant Moll cousins married. Jan Willem Moll (1849-1915) married his first cousin Catharina Moll (1844-1921). Their child Jan Willem Moll (1883-1959) married his first cousin Johanna Wilhelmina Moll (1883-1955). (See my blog http://baumsuche.blogspot.ca/ for more cases of tangled interrelationships.)

    Interesting though that so far I’ve found no “pedigree collapse” among my own ancestors. However, I expect to find some on the German side of my ancestry since I’m a descendant of 4 separate lines of Wullf’s.

  6. Elaine Meerdink Feldhacker says:

    I was just wondering did you find anything like this in the Meerdink families of Winterswijk?

    • To a lesser extent, yes. The Meerdinks were former serfs too but the male line ‘daughtered out’ so the farm passed to the female line by the time the serfs became rich landlords and only married amongst themselves. I will write about the Meerdinks in a future blogpost!

    • Teresa says:

      Meerdink, represent!

      Hi. 🙂 I have Meerdinks in my family, from Muscatine, Iowa.

  7. Larry Day says:

    I just lost a least a half hour writing here. Oh well.
    In short, I helped index a great deal of the the civil birth records of Winterswijk.
    Secondly, collapse is my family heritage of the Great Migration and two hundred years later early membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Both resulted in small, 60,000 people, populations that were left alone to intermarry.

    • I think your initial reply is here, it just doesn’t publish comments by new contributors automatically, I have to approve them first. Now that the system knows you, your comments will be posted immediately.

  8. Larry Day says:

    What software did you use for your chart?

    • I created it in Powerpoint (drawing text boxes and lines by hand). I don’t know of any program that lets you create charts like this automatically. I needed more control than an automatic tool would give me so I just created it myself.

  9. Larry Day says:

    Winterswijk was the very first place I helped to index when I first began. Since I was just learning I wasn’t able to get the insights that I learned to make later. Sometime later, after it was nominally complete, we were given a few later years to do to wrap it up. I would see here, and in other smaller towns, the same surnames come up through the years.
    In my own family research, beginning especially in the early 1600’s New England and Nieuw Nederland, where after the 60,000 or so immigrants of the Great Migration, for almost 200 years they were left to marry among themselves. So collapse is VERY common in my ancestry. Rarely first cousins, most often second cousins. When I run a relationship chart l often am related to someone in dozens or more of ways. It has been calculated that 40% of the early membership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were descendants of John Lathrop/Lothrop, a prominent Puritan minister. So that is one of the first questions I ask when meeting someone who might possibly be a distant cousin.
    So Utah is my second small population (60,000 “official” pioneers)

    • What a coincidence that you helped index Winterswijk records. On behalf of the many, many people using these indexes, thank you! Interesting to hear about the immigrants of the Great Migration and how they intermarried too. And then to realize that many of them came from the same small towns back home too!

  10. Kathy Lisowski says:

    I have a Christina Klien Roerdink in my tree. I followed the parents back from your Winterswijk site, and it leads to a Willem Roerdink, but his father is listed as Willem Kreijl 1670. Is this the same family? I also have relatives on my mother’s side from Rhode Island. They had large families who intermarried. There were also a lot of double cousins, and some intermarried.

    • Hi Kathy,

      This is a different family on a different Roerdink farm. “Klein Roerdink” means “small Roerdink” and was a younger farm than Roerdink. They are probably related through other lines though, most people in Winterswijk are 🙂

  11. pdunagan says:

    I am fairly new in the Dutch Genealogy world and reading this thread has me curious. So much is discussed abou the Winterswijk people, the stories, etc. What is it that makes Winterswijk so special?

    • Winterswijk was the village that saw relatively the most people emigrate of all municipalities in the Netherlands in the 19th century. It is also the place where my paternal ancestors came from and where I am doing a one-place-study, so I have more stories to share about Winterswijk than any other place. Most of the stories were pretty typical for Dutch communities anywhere though.

  12. I have two volumes of a book for my daughter-in-law’s ancestors. It is called “Famlie Hijink-Hyink Family: A Documentary and Pictorial Genealogy by Lawrence Hyink. I don’t know how accurate the book is but one of the early trees was made by Mr. Jan Albert “Ab” Warnelink in Winterswijk and presented to the Lawrence Hyink in 1990. I haven’t done any research on this family butI look forward to reading your blog posts and passing along some information to my daughter-in-law.

    • Hi Karen,
      I happen to know Lawrence Hyink and Ab Wamelink (not Warnelink) in person. They have been enthusiastic researchers for years. Ab Wamelink lives in Winterswijk and Lawrence Hyink in California (or he did the last time I spoke to him, which must have been over 15 years ago). If you want, I can put you in touch with Ab Wamelink, who is my friend on Facebook. I just Googled Lawrence Hyink and unfortunately found on obituary for him. He passed away two months ago.

    • I just read that book (well, skimmed it) at my local Historical Society last week! It was tremendously well done, I thought. I was mining it for the descendents of the Hyink who married Johanna Freers in Muscatine, Iowa. I got some good leads from it.

  13. Sarah Cherry says:

    The same thing happened here in the US with early religious groups. I am descended from early Anabaptist settlers in PA. My 7th great grandparents are all descended from the same couple and the ancestors who are not from that couple are from the same other line. It gets worse later on to where this couple are in my tree 13 times as far as my 8th great grandfather to 13th depending on which line you count through:) It makes it easy to find cousins all over the country.

    • Are the Anabaptists connected to the Pennsylvania Dutch in some way? ( I do know the PA Dutch were German, not Dutch) I have a line that dead-ends in 18th century Pennsylvania, and am trying to understand more about settlement patterns.

      • William Penn and his Quakers invited people from similar religions to come and join their new colony. I think he invited Anabaptists, Pietists and other non-conformist groups, including many from Germany.

  14. Claire Toynbee says:

    My grandmother Dina Maria Herderschee was a 3rd generation Brit, her Dutch grandparents having been naturalized. She once told me they had the same last name, and were cousins, but still many years later I was surprised to learn they were 1st cousins, moreover their shared grandparents were also Herderschee 1st cousins. These marriages took place in Amsterdam.
    I was lucky that another branch of the family had our ancestry researched for Nederlands Patriciaat 60 (1974), where I also learnt that our unusual surname Herderschee got its spelling in late 18th century Amsterdam for a family of orphans from Doetinchem, and the name was originally Hettersche / van Hetterscheijt.
    I’ve seen one other 1st cousin marriage in that line, and suspect others, so I was interested to read here that the practice was quite common.

    • Werner Hetterscheidt says:

      Achtung! Die Hetterscheidt – familie stammt aus Rheinisch – Westfälischem Uradel.
      Die erste Erwähnung 847 “Wolf in hestratescethe Hetterscheidt” schenkt sein Erbe daselbst …

      • Claire Toynbee says:

        I’ve read that the farm at Hetterscheidt was known as the Abbots Kitchen (Abstküche) and belonged to Werden Abbey, which was a major landowner. I’ve imagined that the van Hetterscheidt/van Hetterscheijt family who were established in the Achterhoek by the 16th century were descended from someone who had moved to Gelderland in connection with farm or abbey business.

  15. My husband’s family is loaded with double and triple cousins. They were free blacks since 1686 who migrated from Virginia to North Carolina. It was an area locked in by water on one side (many creeks, the Neuse River, and the Atlantic Ocean), and the Croatan Forrest on the other side. After Emancipation in the 1860s, many freedmen moved to the area and mixed with the free blacks. You can literally say that if your surname is X, Y, or Z, don’t marry anyone else with one of those surnames or you’ll be marrying a cousin. After a while, the pedigree becomes so disjointed, it’s better to begin a new pedigree just for them.

  16. Barbara Houtenbrink says:

    With the assist of a gentleman from Den Heller, who helped me discover my Houtenbrink Line in the Netherlands…. back to the mid 1700(s). My 3rd Great-Grandmother was Cornelia Houtenbrink, born on 17 July 172, die 24 April 1851 in Schiedam. Her parents were Ferdinandus Houtenbrink and Anna Maria Gent. Cornelia had 4 children. I am descended from Antonius Houtenbrink (1816-1896). It is confusing: It appears that Cornelia passed the name of Houtenbrink from him to me. I have found no evidence of marriage but found that her 4th son’s (died in infancy) father was called a partner,. Were there instances when women married and kept their own surnames? Was this due to Cornelia owning property? Thank you for your insight.

    • After 1811 (introduction of the civil registration), if a child has the name of the mother, this is usually an indication that the child was born out of wedlock. Dutch married women always kept their maiden names in official records, but until recently, children from a lawful marriage would get the name of the father. Before 1811, it would depend on the region, but in Schiedam it was pretty common for children to get the father’s last name even before 1811. Where did you find the reference for “partner”? Was that in an official document or in an index? Many indexes use the word for the husband/wife/widow/widower of a deceased person. A more correct translation would have been ‘spouse’ but not all Dutch translators are familiar with that term.

  17. Doris Waggoner says:

    What a fascinating post, Yvette, and a fascinating discussion. While I’m aware of the subject of pedigree collapse, I’ve never seriously examined it in my families. I have some early New England families, where I suspect it happened. And multiple early Nieuw Nederland families, where I’m quite sure it did. My relationship calculator only gives me the closest relationship, so it won’t pick out the others for me. I do know that my ggg grandmother Neeltje Schermerhorn, b. Schenectady NY 1781 is the granddaughter of another Neeltje Schermerhorn b. Schenectady in 1725. But their most direct ancestors are two different sons of the immigrant ancestor, who arrived in the 1630s. Other family names show up multiple times, too. ( know this example isn’t directly one of pedigree collapse, as they didn’t marry the same man, or a cousin!)

    In early days, there were too few marriage partners (women) and cousins had to marry each other in order to marry at all. And in the case of both New England and Nieuw Nederland, the colonies were too far from the officials who were supposed to give permission, and too much in need of both spouses and the resulting children to be particularly fussy.

  18. What a fascinating post! And I’ve never heard of someone reconstructing an entire village—that’s amazing.

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