April 12, 2010 Leave a Comment
Crossroads writer Dr Hennie Reuvers was asked by two friends, Monique and Sabine, to undertake some research into their ancestry in Maastricht. He now shares the results of his findings.
Monique’s aunt Nicolette was a ‘typical’ Maastricht lady. And could she tell stories! Seated in a lazy chair and enjoying the coffee and chocolates she had provided me with, I listened to her all night long. I’m usually not a night-reveller, but in the aged lady’s company I forgot about time and could only say goodbye when it was already way past midnight.
She told me about her father, a baker who used to hold the banner during religious processions and sing the Tantum Ergo at the top of his voice. She also spoke of her mother who fled from Belgium to Maastricht in the First World War, creeping underneath the electric fence at the frontier. How courageous! Her mother’s father looked like a Greek god, and would bring marlstone to Maastricht by horse and cart. Her other grandfather would sell Singer sewing machines throughout Limburg. This grandfather had a lovely bass voice and a long beard. He sang his beautiful German songs even on his death bed.
Aunt Nicolette inspired me to do research in the archives of Maastricht and Limburg. I learned that the plateau of Margraten was only populated in the second half of the middle ages, when there was no more space in the valleys. I cycled to the monastery of Hoogcruts near Noorbeek where you can still feel the breath of olden times. A greatgrandfather of Monique’s was a servant there. I realised that the ancestors of typical Maastricht residents like Monique’s aunt were once new in Maastricht. They stayed outsiders for quite a long time, because the people in the old city centre of Maastricht often considered people from the countryside as ‘farmers’.
As a child, Monique’s mother Isabella lived on the Market square, where the greengrocers’ wives from Sint Pieter and Vroenhoven would sell their vegetables. Isabella’s parents originally came from the little villages to the south of Maastricht, in the valley of the Jeker river and on the hills of Sint Pieter and Wolder. I discovered that there were close relationships, up to the 19th century, between the greengrocers from Sint Pieter and the inhabitants of the Boschstraat neighbourhood. The latter represented the former inside the city walls. This only changed when the pottery master Regout began to buy the houses and replace them with barracks for his workers. The neighbourhood became impoverished in those years, and its residents had to fight cholera outbreaks.
The people of Maastricht eventually tore down the oppressive city walls and built the Villapark outside. The same walls which had offered protection to the city when it had been besieged. In times of war, it was safer to live inside the city walls rather than in the countryside, because the enemy would demolish any house that happened to lie in their cannons’ field of fire.
There was a gun factory near the watermill of Lombok in Biesland back in the 19th century, connected to the weapon industry in Liège. It can be said that war brought work and income to some Biesland residents, although more often than not it only brought taxes, quartering and contagious diseases.
General ‘t Serclaes de Tilly
When looking for Monique’s ancestors I also found the famous name of Tilly. At the spot where Brusselsestraat becomes Grote Gracht, there is a university building known to elderly people in Maastricht as ‘hof van Tilly’. It was here that, long ago, representatives of the Prince-Bishop of Liège deliberated with representatives of the States General of the Dutch Republic about Maastricht issues. The house was built for a count of Tilly who was governor of Maastricht in the Pigtail period (roughly the 18th century).
The most famous descendant of the Tilly lineage is Johan ‘t Serclaes, count of Tilly. During the 30 years war, he served the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation as a general. Johan ‘t Serclaes may have been a grandfather of one captain Tilly whose grave could be seen in the former Saint Nicholas church on the present day OnzeLieveVrouw square. Later on, among the bearers of the name Tilly I found a number of soldiers and gardeners, all located on Boschstraat and surroundings.
It is possible that Monique’s ancestors include some counts of Tilly. But, even if this were the case, the descendance was never accepted. Indeed, Monique’s ancestors didn’t belong to the High Society. Her grandmother was born and bred in a simple house near the Jeker mill of Lombok. She married a simple cab driver whose father was a simple engine driver at the Societé Céramique. Nevertheless, their daughter, Monique’s mother, looked very posh. She could easily pass for a Spanish photo model.
I also searched for the ancestors of another winsome lady called Sabine. Long ago her uncle Pierre worked as a civil servant for the provincial administration of Limburg. He enjoyed life like a Burgundian prince, and would have fitted the stereotypical image of the people of Maastricht in the rest of the Netherlands. He often travelled as ‘chef de mission’ with the Dutch national football team, because the directors of the Royal Dutch Football Association had noticed that he was a pleasant leader.
Sabine’ s paternal ancestors came from the village of Geulle, which saw the passage of the first steam train in 1865. The event attracted a great deal of attention. It was a sign of the progress Limburg needed. Indeed, elderly people still remembered the times of superstition, when the presbytery of Geulle was haunted in the old fashioned way. Gin distillers and salt smugglers gratefully abused the situation. When in danger of getting caught, they played the ghost.
The earliest ancestor I found in this branch of the family was a miller at the Geulhem watermill in Berg en Terblijt. The miller served food and drinks and his descendants have been running various hotels and restaurants in southern Limburg ever since. The Geulhem watermill is still a popular tea garden in the beautiful Geul river vale. From the pavement one can see the well-known dwellings-in-the-marl.
Sabine used to call her maternal grandmother ‘Bomma’. The first part of this name is the French word ‘bon’, which means ‘good’. This suited her grandmother, who raised fifteen children by herself. It was in the palmy days of Roman Catholic life. For instance, in 1947 the whole of Maastricht was intensely involved in the festivities in honour of the Virgin Mary. One of Bomma’s daughters became a nun: she was carried off to Brussels in a car with blinded windows. An image of the virgin Mary as ‘Star of the Sea’ shines on the mourning card commemorating Bomma.
Bompapa ran an upholstery on Wolfstraat. His ancestors had acquired a small fortune as tailors. They manufactured clothes for soldiers. Their business already began in 1750, when the first of these ancestors took the oath as a new citizen of Maastricht. He was born in 1711 in the Flemish-Brabant village of Hoeleden, and took part in the great battle of Maastricht at Lafelt in 1747. Then he decided to settle down in Maastricht and sell fabrics to manufacturers of soldiers’ clothes.
Bomma’s fifteen children used to play on OnzeLieveVrouwe square. However, they were not allowed to play on Stokstraat, where some poor children of Maastricht were living: “They might contaminate you with lice and other filth!” One had to pray for them and could save pennies for them, but one was not supposed to play with them. There were separate schools for the children of high, middle and low classes.
Prussians in the family
While some of Sabine’s ancestors came to Maastricht from Hoeleden in Flemish Brabant, others came from the region of Liège, bearing the name of Petitjean. Although I found out there once lived in Liège an infamous woman poisoner called Petitjean, I’m sure she wasn’t closely related to Sabine’s ancestors.
Ancestors from German speaking territories like Prussia and Bohemia also contributed to Sabine’s DNA. A certain Bolms from Gardelegen was a grandfather of Bomma. He was a facteur (an independent salesman) for a steam boat company, and settled down on Grote Gracht at number 51. Later on, he lived on Bouillonstraat. His wife came from Bohemia, today’s Czech Republic.
As we can see, each city is populated by people whose ancestors once settled there as foreigners. For such foreigners it’s not always easy to become accepted citizens of the new city. Their tongue or the colour of their skin shouldn’t hinder the process of integration. But there is hope: let’s keep in mind that, one hundred years ago, the famous carnival of Maastricht was organised by a certain Alphonse Olterdissen: a Protestant with a German father and a mother from the province of Zealand!
By Hennie Reuvers
Dr Reuvers (1951) is a retired teacher of mathematics from Maastricht. He likes to solve math problems, but is also interested in history. He is married and the father of four children. Visit his website at http://www.petericepudding.com.
(original article in English, Dutch version)