Over the centuries, the history of the Roosa family has been intertwined with
legends and theories. This article argues why Gijsbert Goertsen and his descendants are probably not related to Jutte van Heukelum, Jutte van Culemborg and Arnt van Rosendaell. And why the traditional Roosa legend should get a little credit (although it’s wise to be careful).
The Roosa family is a well-researched family, both in the Netherlands and the United States. Many articles and webpages have been devoted to the story of Gijsbert Goertsen and his descendants. And it’s interesting to see how a strong
genealogical tradition is running through this family.
The ‘Family Tree’ of the Herwijnen farmer Engel van Zee (1775-1868) was the first to cross the ocean and inspire many 20th-century researchers. But Engel’s stories were second-hand stories, very shortened, incomplete and sometimes wrongly summarized versions of the stories captured in a much bigger work: the genealogical manuscript and the letters of Arien van Rijckhuijsen (1671-1750) and his son Gijsbert van Rijckhuijsen (1707-1772).
Since the connection with the Van Rijckhuijsen manuscripts was rediscovered, genealogical researchers consulted this extremely rich source regularly. No wonder, because by using it they could not only attach a name and a birthdate to several 17th and 18th-century ancestors, but also a background and a story.
Traditional and modern Roosa origin legends
The most popular of Van Rijckhuijsen’s stories turned out to be the first and most ancient, the Roosa origin legend. It’s the illustrious tale of the very first Roosa ancestor, who (for faith’s sake) fled the distant Spain to settle in the Dutch village of Herwijnen, on the banks of the river Waal. There (as tradition has it) he became the family’s founding father. The story is mentioned in Engel van Zee’s ‘Family Tree’ (1844). But Engel’s great-grandfather Arien van Rijckhuijsen was, as far as I know, the first to write it down, about 1730:
The aforementioned Aeldert Roosa, or his ancestors, because of the religous persecution fled from a city called Roosa (or, as others have it, Rosas, Roses or Rose etc.), located in the kingdom of Spain, in the eastern part of the north of the region (or province) Ampurdam. I found in the old documents that they have been people of wealth, the oldest family I know of, according to what old people say.
These few sentences in the Van Rijckhuijsen manuscript became the source of much speculation and mythologization. They provided the background for the remarkable story of the settler Alert Heymens Roosa (who left Herwijnen in 1660 and crossed the ocean to build a new life in ‘New Netherland’). On several genealogical internet forums the Spanish connection moreover led to a lot of speculation about a possible Jewish origin for the Roosa family, though that debate remained undecided. In short, the Roosa origin legend crossed the world and led to a lot of discussion and further mythologization.
In the meantime, professional researchers steered away from the traditional Roosa legend and referred all Spanish and Jewish connections to the realm of fairy tales. They pointed out that the 16th-century Roosa family seemed quite settled in Herwijnen. The names of the first generation Roosa’s sounded as Dutch as you can have it, and they seemed to have inherited a considerable amount of land in Herwijnen and other places in the district of Tielerwaard, a clear sign that earlier generations also lived in this region. That sounded very convincing. But on this solid foundation recently a somewhat shaky construction has been built. And as a result, a new legend is circulating the internet.
Its roots can be traced back to Engel Roza’s very informative book De Roosa’s van Herwijnen (2004) and his
article ‘De Herwijnse Ro(o)sa’s en de herkomst van hun familienaam’ (2007). In these publications, the author suggested that Gijsbert Goertsen (the Roosa’s first known ancestor) could have been the son of Goert Reijersen, in which case it became possible to trace the ancestry back through Jutte van Heukelum and Jutte van Culemborg to a certain joffer Arnt van Rosendaell. And because the name Rosendaell looks a bit like Roosa, he suggested the Roosa name might originate from there. This theory was presented very thoughtfully and carefully, while the author provided his readers with lots of new information.
But although Engel Roza emphasized in his publications that it was only a theory, not sufficiently proven, many a genealogist took the hypothetis for a fact, and embraced Goert Reijersen and Jutte van Heukelum as Gijsbert Goertsen’s parents and the name Roosa as a variation of Rosendaell. It all sounded like stuff to build a new legend on, circling around the romantic theme of the ‘noble ancestor’.
The suggested reconstruction of Gijsbert Goertsen’s ancestry is, however, highly unlikely. I touched briefly on the
subject in my book De hoeve en het hart (The Homestead and the Heart), and as a result got a lot of questions: ‘Did you know that Gijsbert Goertsen’s father was Goert Reijersen’ or ‘Why do you think Gijsbert Goertsen’s father was not Goert Reijersen?’
Now, my book is about the Roosa’s indeed, but it’s not a genealogical study. You could call it an example of microhistory: it describes the mentality and culture of farmers in the Dutch province of Guelders in the early modern period (1600-1750). So in that book there was only room in the footnotes to explain a few things – that’s why I thought it would probably be best to clarify the matter in a seperate article.
Below, I’ll list the arguments which led me to the conclusion that Gijsbert Goertsen was not born in Herwijnen and wasn’t the son of Goert Reijersen and Jutte van Heukelum.
Argument 1: Surnames didn’t spontaneously change
Let’s start with the names. In 16th century Herwijnen, many people (like Gijsbert Goertsen) had no surname. Those names developed in most families only in the course of the 17th century. A few prominent families, however, did have older surnames, probably because their ancestors were notable people who played an important part in the local or regional government. Such families were the Herwijnen families De Rouw, Spiegell and Sterck (not counting noble families like Van Haeften, Van Herwijnen and others).
Now, Goert Reijersen was a member of the Sterck family. It would have been very unlikely for his son or grandson to ditch the old and renowned name of Sterck in favor of the still unknown name of Roosa. I’ve read through all the regional archives of the 16th and early 17th century, and I couldn’t find an example of such a change. Many families were, admittedly, in the middle of the process of adopting a surname, and such names weren’t fixed at the time, but it’s a different story with real surnames, in use for generations.
Of course, it happened sometimes that a son took the name of his mother (especially when his maternal grandfather had no male heir). Using the name of a grandmother, however, was much more unusual – and a leap of five or six generations was never the case. Moreover, I really can’t believe that whoever descended from the old and noble Roosendaell-family, would adopt this name only to change it to the totally new and unrecognizeable ‘Roosa’.
Argument 2: First names and patronymics changed with the language
With first names and patronymics it’s a different story. Several authors have pointed out that Gijsbert Goertsen and his sons Alart, Heijmen and Abraham seem to have ‘really Dutch names’. But the problem is: many German and English soldiers or immigrants who married a Dutch woman in a Dutch town also seem to have ‘really Dutch names’.
Jurrien Michielsen originated from Germany (where he probably was called Jürgen Michaels), Joris Bateris must have been called George in his English hometown and Dirck Jansen, Thomas Backer and Jan Jansen Clerck
[Derrick or Thierry Johnson, Thomas the Baker and John Johnson the Clerk] originated from England as well.
So first names and patronymics always tended to be translated, and that’s why the argument about ‘Dutch names’ isn’t valid.
Argument 3: Gijsbert Goertsen was not born in Herwijnen
Engel Roza missed one important document in the impressive collection of archivalia he based his theory on. I’m talking about the declaration of reputation, issued by three elderly inhabitants of Herwijnen on behalf of Gijsbert Goertsen’s descendants in 1633. After finding and reading this document, I was convinced that Gijsbert Goertsen did not originate from Herwijnen and that he therefore couldn’t be the son of Goert Reijersen.
In the document in question, Wouter Otten (76 years of age) and Cornelis Jan Herberens (66 years of age), inhabitants of Herwijnen, declared by their oath as municipal officers, on behalf of Abraham Gijsbertsen and the other children and heirs of Gijsbert Goertsen [the name is spelled Goortsen here]
‘…that during more than forty years they’ve known the aforementioned Gijsbert Goortsen as one of their fellow neighbours, and they’ve associated with him on many occasions, and therefore they know perfectly well that he [Gijsbert] was an honourable and a loyal man during the course of his life, sincere and honest in his comportment, who behaved himself in his trade so [well] that no one ever heard that he -knowingly and willingly- caused harm to anybody, or treated anybody unjustly; let alone that he should have committed fraud or should have left some
As Wouter Otten and Cornelis Jan Herberens themselves were born in Herwijnen, this must mean that Gijsbert Goertsen was not born there. Wouter and Cornelis have known him for over forty years – but not his whole life (he was born about 1545-1555, married (shortly) before 1579 and died somewhere between 1619 and 1630).
Argument 4: Gijsbert’s possessions were either newly bought or inherited from his wife’s family
Gijsbert Goertsen owned a considerable amount of land in Herwijnen. The names of the former owners of his different plots of land however suggest that he was probably a newcomer in the village.
The Roosa legend: conclusion
This brings us back to the traditional Roosa legend. Is there some grain of truth in it? Honestly, I don’t know. But I’ll give you my personal thoughts on the subject.
Maybe Gijsbert Goertsen or his parents came from abroad, but not from Spain. Maybe they fled Spain, but not for religious causes. Maybe they were religious refugees indeed, but not Protestants (as their descendants assumed). That’s the way it works with oral tradition: there may be a grain of truth in the story, but it’s very likely some false elements also have slipped in. So my conclusion is: we really don’t know. But the traditional Roosa legend is an old story, even older than the Van Rijckhuijsen manuscript. It deserves some respect.
© Enny de Bruijn
August 31, 2019.
More about the Roosa family and the Van Rijckhuijsen manuscripts in my book De hoeve en het hart. Een boerenfamilie in de Gouden Eeuw.
 Enny de Bruijn, ‘Genealogie in Herwijnen. De geschiedenis van een handschrift’, in: Gens Nostra 53 (1998), 23-44; cf. Gijsbert van Rijckhuijsen, Copye-brieven over de Geslachtsregisters van Gijsbert Ariensz. van
Rijckhuijsen (manuscript, 7 volumes), Erfgoed Leiden en omstreken, Bibl. LB 7000-04; Engel van Zee, Geslagt-Boom (manuscript), Herwijnen 1844, private collection.
 GvR Ia, 52: ‘De voorn[oemde] Aeldert Roosa, of zijne voorouderen, zijn om de vervolginge over de religie gevlugt, uijt een stadt Roosa geheeten (of zo anderen willen Rosas, Roses of Rose etc.) gelegen in ’t koningrijk Spangien, in ’t oosterdeel van ’t noorden des landschaps (of in de provintie) Ampurdam. Ik vinde in d’oude papieren, dat het zijn geweest luijden van vermogen, en het outste geslacht dat bij mijn bekent is, volgens het seggen van oude luijden.’
 Engel Roza De Ro(o)sa’s van Herwijnen. z.p., 2004; Engel Roza, ‘De Herwijnse Ro(o)sa’s en de herkomst van
hun familienaam’, in: Gens nostra 62 (2007), 1-34.
 Gelders Archief, ORA Bank van Tuil, 0201/10, 10-11-1633: ‘…dat sij den voors. Gijsbert Goortsen als hunnen mede nabuer geweest sijnde over de veertich jaeren gekent ende veeltijts met den seluen geconverseert hebben, ende dat henluijden midts dien seer wel bewust ende kennelick is dat de selue alle dagen sijns levens geweest is een eerlick vroom man in sijnen handel ende wandel sinceer ende oprecht, ende hem in sijne coopmanschap soo gecomporteert hebbende datmen tot egeender tijt van hem heeft verstaen of hooren seggen dat hij willens of wetens ijmants vercort of ongelijck gedaen heeft, veel weijniger dat hij eenige betaelde of afgereeckende obligatien tot nadeel van sijne debiteuren ondergehalden ende ongecasseert soude hebben gelaeten.’ (The third witness, Boudewijn van de Velde, lived in the neighbouring village of Hellouw since 1602, although he was not born there. He declared to have known Gijsbert Goortsen ‘lange jaeren’ [long years, many yaers] and characterized him as a very loyal, sincere and honest man).
 Let me correct here a small mistake on the otherwise very informative website ‘Some Herwijnen Residents’. The authors write: ‘The most often repeated is the legend as to the forefathers of Geurt Aldertsz Rosa is that they fled from the town Rosa located in the Kingdom of Spain in the eastern part of the north of the province of Catalonia, Ampurdium. The 18th century antiquarian, Gijsbert Ariens Rijckhuijsen, himself a Rosa descendant,
may have been the first to put this in writing and has often been quoted. What is often left out is that he himself did not seem take much stock in the story, saying also that the name may originally have been Roos, a Dutch
name known in the area.’ Although one of my own early articles is presented here as the source, the concluding sentence is certainly not mine. Gijsbert thought for one moment the name of the Roosa family could originally have been Roos (not a name known in the area, by the way). But his father Arien, the real author of the manuscript, corrected him on this subject – and after that, Gijsbert seems to have returned to Roosa. Both Arien en Gijsbert believed that the story of the Spanish origin was true. Gijsbert only asked himself if there might have been various spellings of the name, and if the name might have its origins somewhere up a female line.
Illustration: Herwijnen on a map from 1632 (source: Gelders Archief, Hof van Gelre en Zutphen 0124/5130-60).