When my grandfather was a young boy, he liked to climb out of bed, climb halfway down the stairs and listen in on his family digging up (and sometimes making up) old stories late at night. Particularly on the rare occasions that his father's three brothers or his grandfather were there, the conversation would turn to family history. And when I was a young boy, staying with my grandparents, he enjoyed repeating them - as old people do. Strangely enough, none of it was boring: what to say of his mother's father, who died on the day of his 50th wedding anniversary, sitting on a wheelbarrow? Of his father's father, who time and time again travelled from Germany to his family in the Netherlands with knickerbockers filled with coffee and sugar without ever being caught by customs? Or of his death - standing near a hedge relieving the pressure on his bladder, when a tramcar overran him, his fly still undone? Or of the horrors of WWII - of special interest to me since I grew up in a village (Renkum) and a city (Arnhem) still strewn with ruins, bomb craters and bullet holes?
In the early 1980s, my then girlfriend got tired of me repeating these small tragedies and comedies, and gave me a book, an introduction to genealogy. I spent the next ten years in archives. Well, part of it. And of course I had the same interests any other genealogist has, however much he or she may deny it: is there a family coat of arms? The answer, so far, is no - so I invented one for my father’s 70th birthday. Is there nobility in my family? O yes, you bet: the Van den Eyndes of Holland and Zeeland, the Van der Zype family from Ghent, the Pijlijsers from Tilburg and many others, all descending from Charlemagne, through the empress Theophano possibly also from the Persian kings Darius and Xerxes, and through others, supposedly, from Atilla the Hun and the prophet of Islam. So what?
Yet the real fun lay elsewhere: in the reconstruction of biographies. If you're already interested in your family, there is no thrill like discovering that your great-grandfather and his three brothers married on the same day, or to read the newspaper clippings. And nothing as silly as discovering that your great-great-grandmother and one of your best and oldest friends' great-great-grandfather (I won't mention any names, but he owns Tarma) were once neighbours.
Over the years, I collected data on (give or take) 100,000 people. Even disregarding links to Charlemagne’s descendants, I traced back ‘normal’ ancestors who lived as long ago as 1250 - although there is so little documentation on them that they are often nothing more than names attached to approximate dates. My very extended family included people from Gelderland, Brabant, Holland, Zeeland, Fryslân (Friesland), Flanders, Danmark, Sweden, Norway, Russia, Poland, Silesia, East-Prussia, the German Rhineland, Bavaria, France, Italy, Spain, Asia Minor, Egypt, Greece, Israel and so on. Some were poor (one even died in the poorhouse), some rich; some heroes, some criminals, one was even an executioner (and barber). They were Catholic, Old Catholic, Dutch Reformed of all flavours, Lutheran, Baptist, Remonstrant, and so on - one (in the 1770s) was even officially "nothing". Some were day labourers, some colonels, cheese traders or manservants. And they all left traces - signatures, buildings, tramways, documents.
Unfortunately, I got a decent job in 1990 and have not found enough spare time (and energy) since then to continue my research in earnest. In the best of years, I have about a week to spend on it - usually with little success, as I've already gone through virtually all of the more easily accessible archives. Lately, that is, since 2007, I've begun to pay more attention to the origins of the Wissenburg family. So far, I’ve identified Jürgen Weissenburg (c. 1690 – 1755) as my oldest agnatic ancestor – he was a Catholic and probably a common laborer living in the Rhineland. Genetic research has, however, proved that I’m an agnatic relative (i.e., we have the same Y-chromosome) of Lutheran families named Weisenberg and Weisselberg and, through a common forefather who lived around 4000 years ago and whom I’ve given the appropriate name Wodan Wissenburg, also to founding father Alexander Hamilton and Icelandic politician, poet and historian Snorri Sturluson.
Anyway, I won't bother you with a complete family tree. There is no fun in that. But here are a few of the gems I dug up, or created, in those ten years among the dust:
- Kwartierstaten Marcel Wissenburg
My ancestors, or as many of them as I could unearth so far, including details about their lives and families. In Dutch only.
- The descendants of Johann Heinrich von Weissenburg a.k.a. Albicastro (c.1660-1730)
Part of the results of a joint research project that aimed to identify the (still elusive) origins of this (unrelated) baroque composer; updated after I discovered the place and date of his death. Main bits in German.
- Family reconstructions
Various family reconstructions and research notes collected as part of the research into my ancestors and my elusive forebear Peter Wissenburg. In Dutch only.
- Genealogical publications
The things I've written about genealogy (well about my own ancestors, mostly) since 1984.
- Oh yes, I'm the great procreator
About my descent from a line of witches. Also about one of my ancestors who fathered an estimated 24 children and married for the fourth time at the respectable age of 84 (to a bride of 36).
- A pub brawl
Transcription of a pub fight involving one of my ancestors, a gold coin, a hearth fence-wielding lady innkeeper, and Uncle Gerrit.
Probably the best place to start genealogical research on the Internet is Herman de Wit's site:
For a brief version of one of my lines of descent from Charlemagne, see Series 177 on the Charlemagne site:
To contact me on genealogical subjects, please use the email address below. You will have to type it in, because I'm getting too much spam as it is without exposing my email address to robots.