Oh yes, I am the great procreator

One of the great things about genealogy is that it gives one a chance to reconstruct bits and pieces of social history from the point of view of — it seems — randomly chosen individuals; they just happen to be your ancestors. Here's an example of such a reconstruction.

My grandmother, Catharina Geurdina ten B√∂hmer (Renkum 1903 - Arnhem 1990) was the daughter of Geurdina van Santen (Renkum 1865 - Arnhem 1929), in turn the only daughter of what was reputedly the last witch in Renkum (West of Arnhem on the Rhine), Wilhelmina Berendina Arnoldussen (Renkum 1833-1914). There were good grounds for this suspicion: like her mother, her grandmother, great-grandmother and so on, she worked as a midwife, and collected herbs and knew how to use them. In addition, she predicted the future (having been born "with the helmet") including the precise moment of her own death — she even sent out my grandmother with her last money to buy her a final bottle of beer. She was also suspected of having the evil eye and of being able to set houses on fire using mind-power only. What really did it, though, was the fact that she, like her mother and mother's mother etc., was able to read and write.

To make things even more colourful, my grandmother descended from a long line of broom makers: her father Karel ten Böhmer (Renkum 1866-1952), her grandfather Karel "de Pruus" (the Prussian, Renkum 1832-1909) and her great-grandfather Heinrich or Hendrik (Wyler, Germany 1806 - Renkum 1886) were all in the business — not to mention several brothers and uncles. Heinrich's father Mathias ten Böhmer (Kranenburg, Germany 1772 - 's Hertogenbosch 1844) seems to have been less respectable: he was a farm labourer who died in prison. He was caught penniless and begging in the streets of Grave, on his way (as he claimed) to a daughter in Flanders after his home in Germany had burned down. He died two days before he would be released - which in all honesty I find fairly suspicious.

Mathias was a son of Heinrich Böhmer, born in Alt-Calcar in Germany in April of 1717, deceased in Kranenburg on 7 Thermidor of the year XII according to the Revolutionary Calendar, or (if I'm correct) 26 July 1804 by the outmoded Christian calendar. His age at that moment was estimated at ‘in his tenth decade’, but 87 turns out to be closer to the mark. Heinrich was a farmer who, it seems, was obsessed with the ideal of a stable family. His first marriage in 1741 to Anna Maria Ludgoris (1716-1747) ended with her death shortly after the birth of their third child. His second marriage in 1748 to Sybilla Tillemans (1723-1761) ended the same way, with her death after the birth of Heinrich's seventh child. His third marriage in 1762 to Johanna Thijssen (1739?-1794) was more successful: Johanna gave him another 10 children without dying all too prematurely - making a total of 17 children (my criminal ancestor being number 14). That is, 17 children that I could trace — there were more, as we shall see in a moment.

By the time he was 79, and his youngest recorded son 16, he tried again — for some reason. On 12 April 1796, he married Catharina Jansen (1760?-1831) in the Catholic church of Kranenburg. As far as can be established, this marriage added nothing to his score — but he had already set a regional record. The text in the marriage register (see picture below) reads as follows:

"12ma aprilis matrio juncti sunt Hendricus Bömer et Catharina Jansen. NB in perpetuam rei memoriam: hic homo 84 annorum hoc quartum contraxit matrimonium cum ex tribus prioribus 24 genuisset proles".

Roughly translated:

"On 12 April, Henricus Bömer and Catharina Jansen were married. Note for all eternity that this man, 84 years old and now marrying for the fourth time, had 24 children born alive from the preceding three".

Facsimile of the original text in the marriage register. Heinrich and Catharina's entry is halfway down the page.

(Click to see full size; 99 KB)

Marriage register entry of Heinrich Boemer - click to see full size (99 KB)