My father, Peter Christiaan Roovers
(1906-1974), had to do some genealogical research during the Second World
War. Holland being under German occupation one had to prove what was termed
in sickening pseudo-scientific cant one's "Aryan purity" in order to continue
in civil functions thought to be sensitive by the German administration.
Since these forced beginnings more than 50 years have passed during which my father as well as I on and off collected data about our ancestry. We were no professional genealogists and many details are possibly corrupt due to fallacies and mistakes in the past and due to the sorry state most archives were in until rather recently.
The ancestry presented here is somewhat
lopsided because we focused most of our attention and efforts on the Roovers
side of the family. Data on the Zeeland (Degens), German (Kruze) and Swedish
(Wenstedt) ancestors of my maternal grandparents were rather sparse untill
recently; more data have become available through the efforts of others
in the case of the Swedish Wenstedt's and through the ongoing digitalization
of provincial and state archives in the case of the Degens family. The
origins of the Kruze's still remain unclear.
my Rijsbergen-ancestors were farmers with hereditary rights to their tenancies
and some of them were the beneficiaries of direct grants by their overlord. A
charter dated August 26, 1468 by Dirk
Zebrecht Roevers (a son of nr 33846 in the family tree) records a grant
by mylord Nassau, lord of Breda (John IV, count of Nassau, 1410-1475).
A copy made around 1600 of this charter survived in
the lease register of the "Leenhof van Tichelt"; a transcription
(in Dutch) is available.
Note: This feudal grant ultimately formed the nucleus of a fund financing a charity at Breda providing housing and care for old Roman-Catholic women/ladies ("Gesticht voor R.K. oude vrouwen", better known as "Oude-Dameshuis").
Over the centuries such rights -even when of negligible value- secured that people had to register their inheritance with the relevant authorities and that we can trace them in archives dating back to the 14th century. Property also was a precondition to serve as an alderman on the local bench or as a dignitary in various village and church councils all of which kept their own records.
Civic registry offices were only introduced in the Netherlands during the Napoleontic period when taking a family name became compulsory. Before that period one has to rely on church records of births, marriages, deaths and burials which in this case go back till the beginning of the 17th century. Brabant was a predominantly Roman Catholic province and remained so during and after the Reformation.
Many people interested in genealogy
wonder whether they might have famous, illustrious or noble ancestors.
Well, in my ancestry nonesuch are to be found. Until the end of the
18th century all of those at Rijsbergen and Zundert were farmers who partly
owned their land outright, partly held it under various lease agreements.
Most were not exactly poor by the standards of their time and many of them
held non-heriditary offices in their villages. The men among them could
usually read and write and in testaments (e.g.
in 1689) parents insisted that their children, both girls and boys,
shall go to school.
Around 1800 the region and it's inhabitants had become so impoverished through consecutive wars, population pressure, extreme fragmentation of land ownership, cattle diseases and bad harvests, that many went elsewhere in search of a better life. My greatgrandfather and my grandfather did so by way of the army.
One early mention of the family name is that of Jan Roevers (van Rijsbergen), sheriff of Rijsbergen and Zundert for the Lord of Breda, who in 1431 became the focus of a dispute between the Lord of Breda and the mighty city of Antwerp which it took the Duke of Burgundy and Brabant years to settle. It is unclear whether Jan Roevers belongs to the family tree; for further details (in Dutch) on various "Roevers / Roovers" individuals born around 1400 see here.
The family name itself is derived
from the man's name "Roever" or "Rover". Various forms were in use:
the abovementioned sheriff Jan
Roevers was also known as "Rovers", "de Roevere van Rijsberghen", "Roevers"
and "de Rovers", depending in part on the language used. Time and again
one encounters these variations in the oldest branches. In our case patronymics
evolved at a relatively early date, around 1600, into true family names:
Roovers, Roevers etc.
In registers of baptisms a pidgin sort of church Latin was used: well into the 17th century one finds "Roverius" both as a christian name and as the family name.
Our family name and similar ones have nothing whatsoever to do with the Dutch word "rovers" meaning "robbers" nor with the English "to rove" or the Italian "rovere".
The association with the Dutch for "robbers" is a tenacious one as witnessed by my father's ex-libris designed in the 1930's by a then well known Dutch artist.
You will note that before 1600 the
last name is "de Jonge" resp. "Jongen". Actually this not a real last name
or family name but an addition to a patronymic meaning "the younger" and
used to distinguish between brothers with an identical first name (quite
common in those days) or between an uncle and his homonymic nephew.
For simplicity's sake all christian names and family names have een standardized in this publication.
Coat of Arms?
To confirm their signatures to deeds, contracts etc. many ordinary people in the 14th and 15th century used seals with their personal coat of arms. The abovementioned charter of 1468 by Dirk Zebrecht Roevers and it's annexes clearly state that he and his brothers used individual seals.
From other sources we know what the shield on these seals looked like:
three golden "antique" millrinds (fers de moulin) on a red-coloured shield.
The other attributes of the shield were largely a matter
of personal taste, status in society and local custom.
and non-related families used millrinds in their coats of arms in various
colours and combinations; see in this respect the searchable internet version
of Rietstap's "Armorial
général" (search in Blazons with "fers de moulin").
As far as "Ro(e)ver(s)"-families are concerned see the seals in the chapter (in Dutch) "Overige Roevers / Roovers" and the seals of members of the "(de) Rover" family at Bois-le-Duc ('s-Hertogenbosch).
As administrative procedures improved the use of seals by villagers became practically obsolete around 1600. In the 19th century the use of seals revived, as it did in my family.