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?

More information

About Yvette Hoitink

Yvette Hoitink is a professional genealogist in the Netherlands. She has been doing genealogy for 20 years. Her expertise is helping people from across the world find their ancestors in the Netherlands. Read about Yvette's professional genealogy services.

Comments

  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.

    • I’ll try to throw in some more Winterswijk stories, glad to hear you like them!

      In the Netherlands, until pretty recently marrying your cousin required a royal dispensation. I’m sure the Roerdinks had standard forms for this :-)

  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.

Leave comment

*