Amazing find: Image of the Murder of my 16th-century Ancestor

Last week I made a fantastic discovery that underlines why you should always check the records of neighboring towns and not limit your research to the place where your ancestors lived. On a German map, I found a drawing of the killing of my ancestor Tonnis Willinck.

Many of my ancestors lived in Winterswijk, on the Dutch-German border. As you can imagine, there were several border disputes over the centuries. As a result, many records and maps about the boundaries were created on both sides of the border. The Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek [Digital Library of Germany] provides online access to some of the scans. Here’s a map that I found on that website:1

Map of Winterswijk and the neighboring German countryside, about 1590-1595

Map of the border between Gelderland and Münster in the area of Winterswijk, about 1590-1595

The map dates to the end of the 16th century. I zoomed in to admire some of the details and discovered the most fascinating detail:

Place where Tonnis Willinck was shot

Place where Tonnis Willinck was shot

The left part shows the Willinck creek and a post that marks the border. But next to the border you can see a skirmish between several men. The text translates to “Tonnis Willinck shot here.” The German word erschossen implies shot and killed, not just shot at.

Wait a minute, I know that name! Tonnis Willinck was my 11th great-grandfather several times over. He was a serf of the manor of Bredevoort and lived on the Willinck farm in Ratum near Winterswijk.

As a serf, Tonnis was bound to the farm and would have needed his lord’s permission to get married. He would not have been allowed to move without finding another person to take his place and buying himself free. The manor had a roll call every year, where each serf had to present himself and handle their affairs like getting permission for marriage or transferring the farm to a son or daughter, or paying a fine for marrying without permission or for marrying a spouse who belonged to a different manor. A special serf court, led by the lord but with several serfs as councilors, ruled in matters about serf’s rights to chop wood or the right to take over the farm.

Tonnis appeared with his wife Fije on the roll call of 15 July 1593, but the next year, he was listed as “mortuus” [dead] which indicates he must have died in the intervening year.2 That means that the map cannot have been made before 15 July 1593, so the date of the map can be tweaked to about 1593-1595. It was probably created soon after Tonnis’ death, when the memory of the event was still fresh.

Tonnis had been mentioned in the serf records since 1536, when he had received permission to marry Fie, who was a serf of the same lord.3 Since most people married in their twenties, he must have been born around 1510/1515, which would make him about eighty years old when he was shot.

Since some of the men on the map seem to have helmets, swords and guns, I expect that the shooting took place in a skirmish between soldiers and farmers. This shooting took place at the height of the Eighty Years’ War, when soldiers were marauding the countryside, trying to pillage farms or extort ransoms from the farmers. Before finding this map, I had no idea he was shot. I’m really sorry for  grandpa Tonnis that this happened to him, but what an amazing find for a genealogist!


  1. Unknown cartographer, “Südlohn (Südlohn) – Oeding (Südlohn) – Winterswijk (Niederlande) – Grenzgebiet,” map, about 1590-1595; Landesarchiv NRW Abteilung Westfalen, 3513; digital image, Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek ( : accessed 4 September 2015). The scan is available under a CC-BY license.
  2. Manor of Bredevoort, serf register, 1506-1598, call number 013B, p. 745 (15 July 1593) and 752 (15 July 1594); Nassause Domeinen, record group 0357; Gelders Archief, Arnhem.
  3. Manor of Bredevoort, serf register, 1506-1598, p. 144 (15 July 1536).
About Yvette Hoitink

Yvette Hoitink, CG®, QG™ is a professional genealogist in the Netherlands. She holds the Certified Genealogist credential from the Board for Certification of Genealogists and has a post-graduate diploma in Family and Local History from the University of Dundee. She has been doing genealogy for over 30 years and helps people from across the world find their ancestors in the Netherlands. Read about Yvette's professional genealogy services.


  1. Wow! What an amazing find!

  2. Great find!

  3. Yvette, Did you know that Tonnis had been killed or just that he had died on that date but didn’t know the cause? What a fabulous discovery. I love the hand drawn map.

    • I had no idea he had been killed. All I knew was that he died between these days, and him being an old man I did not suspect any foul play. Which makes this find even more remarkable.

  4. Yes, it is. It is sad to know he was likely killed in a dispute, but it certainly gives a picture of life in those times.

  5. What an amazing find! I also think it’s amazing that you can name a 11Xgreat-grandfather. 🙂

  6. Astrid Beugeling says

    Wow! what an interesting story! I live in Canada but was born in Amsterdam. i am starting out in doing my family history and the challenge is that as far back as I can go, all my ancestors were born in Holland!

  7. Tonnis Willinck was also my ancestor, 12x great grandfather. I enjoy finding out about the stories behind the people from whom we are descended. Thank you for putting this information online!

  8. I need to know if this is the same one that is in my genealogy. I have that he was born around 1510 and was married between 1534-1535 . I have is wife’s name different but similar. And his death around 1593. His parents were Hendricks Willinick and Dele. Please respond if you can help me with this

  9. I am sorry for the late comment on this fascinating find!

    I, along with all the Willinks in the UK, am descended from Daniel Willink (b. 29/7/1779 Amsterdam; d. 6/1/1859, Liverpool). My 9x g-grandfather is, therefore, Jan Willin(c)k (b. 1561, Bredevoort; m. Judith Busschers 11/4/1591; d. 24/9/1636, Groenlo). And there the information stops (even the ancient stambooms and family tree in my family’s possession go no further back.) So I’m very excited to hear about Tonnis. Can you help make the link – was he Jan’s father?

    I’d love to have any help you can possibly offer!

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