Twisted family relationships in Nijmegen

In the 17th century, a genealogical riddle was published in Nijmegen.

The Nijmegen riddle

A painting hangs in the Nijmegen Town Hall showing a young woman with an old man lying in her lap, with six sons standing next to her: two in red, two in green and two in white.

The wife of the old man speaks:

“Remark and see that I declare
The two in red are my father’s brothers.
The two in green are my mother’s brothers.
The two in white are my children
and I, the mother, am married to the father of these six
That no degree of kinship can forbid.”

Two two sons in red say:
“We would have regretted if not
our niece had been given to our father
Because she is not our father’s niece
Which nobody would easily guess.”

The two in green say:
“It is remarkable to show in these figures
that he is our natural father
And has married our niece
Which we don’t regret.”

The two in white say:
“Our father is the old man.
Our mother is the young lady.
But tell us how it is possible
That our brothers are our mother’s uncles?”

Before you scroll down below the image to see the explanation, please take a moment to think for yourself how this could be.


Nijmegen Riddle, 1619. H.C. Megert, 1690-1710. Credits: Rijksmuseum (public domain)

The explanation of the riddle

Huybert the old man married as his first wife Anna, a widow with a prior son called Gijsbert, and procreates two sons in red: Adam and Arent. After this wife died, he married for his second wife a widow named Beel, who had a prior daughter named Jacomijn, and procreates two sons in green: Bertel and Barent. In the mean while, the prior son of the first wife married the prior daughter of the second wife and procreate a daughter named Charlotte, who then becomes the third wife and procreates two sons in white: Casper and Coenraat.

Truth to this story?

I think this is a wonderful riddle, which may have been inspired by an actual family situation. Despite the statement that no degree of kinship can prevent their marriage, I have to wonder if the third couple would have needed or received a dispensation, since the man would be the step-grandfather of the woman on both sides. The law did not make a distinction between blood relatives and relatives-by-marriage in terms of the forbidden degrees of consanguinity so I would think that she would be forbidden to marry the husband of her grandmother. For example, a man was not allowed to marry his brother’s widow because the brother and his wife would have become of one blood and she would have become his sister. Similarly, the old man would have become her grandfather when he married her grandmothers.

Another reason why I think the example is made up is it is unlikely that the three marriages would neatly have three wives with initial A, B and C and create sons with initials A, B and C.

Do you have any convoluted relationships like these in your own tree?

About Yvette Hoitink

Yvette Hoitink, MLitt, CG®, QG™ is a professional genealogist, writer, and lecturer in the Netherlands. She has a Master of Letters in Family and Local History from the University of Dundee, and holds the Certification of Genealogist and Qualified Genealogist credentials. Yvette served on the Board of Directors of the Association of Professional Genealogists and won excellence awards for her articles in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly and the Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly. Yvette has been doing genealogy for over 30 years. She helps people from across the world find their ancestors from the Netherlands and its former colonies, including New Netherland. Read about Yvette's professional genealogy services.


  1. Jerri Rudloff says

    Yvette: Indeed quite the riddle..I don’t have anything quite that complicated.. but in in the early years of the USA, when travel was so difficult and settlement area’s populations were small, I have a few men who married their brother’s widows and first cousins marrying first cousins which results in what is called here “pedigree collapse”…reminds me of a novelty song from years ago called “I’m my own grandpa”…

  2. At one point my father’s father was married to my mother’s brother’s wife’s mother. But the marriage only lasted for 2 weeks.

  3. Guys…remember historically in Judaism it is beholden for a man to marry his brothers wife should he die….

  4. sounds like my mother’s side lol… my grandfather’s mother was married twice. her second husband was my grandmother’s uncle and my grandfather’s younger half sister is my grandmother’s cousin. As if that wasn’t confusing enough, my grandfather’s full brother and full sister both also married relatives of my grandmother. We don’t have a family tree, we have a braid. 🙂

  5. How about an uncle and a nephew being brothers in law.

  6. j ohndeboer says

    My father with his first wife had two children, a boy and a girl, A1 and A2 .Their parents divorced .(I and my sister are the son and daughter of my father’s second wife. Call us C1 and C2).

    My father’s first wife married again, to a man who was also previously married. With his first wife he also had two children, a boy and a girl, B1 and B2.

    A1 married B2, and A2 married B1. So, they are brothers -in-law and sisters-in-law, in both pairs. What is the relationship of the brother-in-law to his sister’s husband, and the sister in-law, to her husband’s sister, and vice versa?

    A1 and A2 are step brother and step sister to me and my sister, right? And their mother, is she my step mother (before my sister and I were born)!?

    What are ALL the other relationships in this perhaps-not-so-unusual situation? What are the names of those relationships?

    Thank you.


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