52 Ancestors: A fresh start

Over the last ten years I have been researching my own family tree – mostly as a tool to discover more about the parts of Dutch history that are not taught at school. My interests expanded into the areas of demography and sociology, which is why I recently started a PhD at the Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute (NIDI), despite being trained as a Computational Scientist. It really was a fresh start.

For 2020, I want to start blogging a bit more. I want to blog about demography, history and how to interact with these, and explain more about my automatic population reconstruction software and database. But in 2020 I also want to try and tidy up my genealogical research, and to do that I want to try and participate in the 52 ancestors in 52 weeks “challenge”.

Hermen Hermens Boschman, my mothers’ mothers’ mothers’ mothers’ fathers’ mothers mothers’ father, is the first of those 52 ancestors. During the early 18th century, Hermen lived in Jutphaas, where he and his wife Gijsbertje made a similar fresh start as I did.


In the 18th century Jutphaas was a small farming town south of Utrecht, located in the middle of Vaartsche Rijn, between Utrecht and Vreeswijk (museumwarsenhoeck.nl). You could travel to Utrecht by boat in an hour (delpher.nl), or walk there in an hour and a half. As such most residents would have visited the city several times a year, going to the cities’ markets or doing business.

The original town center of Jutphaas was not located at the Vaartse Rijn, but at the Kerkveld. This old center was mostly inhabited by farmers and artisans, whereas the new town center was focused on the skippers and travellers on the Vaartsche Rijn. Because of this, more artisans and shops were located along the Vaartsche Rijn than in the old town center (museumwarsenhoeck.nl). Nowadays this area near the water is considered to be the old city center (nieuwegein.nl)

Move to Jutphaas

In 1721 Jutphaas needed a new skipper. The exact reasons for this need are unclear – maybe the village wanted to be less dependent of the skippers from Vreeswijk, or maybe an old skipper quit his job. My ancestor Hermen applied, and his appointment as a skipper of Jutphaas is still kept in the archives of the village of Jutphaas, which are now located at the Utrecht Archives (hetutrechtsarchief.nl).

The record mentions that Hermen Boschman was from Schalkwijk, and heard that there was a vacancy for a skipper from Jutphaas to Utrecht and Utrecht to Jutphaas. He was appointed by Pieter de Malapert, lord of Over-and Nedereind of Jutphaas on the 7th of April 1721. On the 6th of April Hermen lent a large sum of money from Pieter to buy himself a new barge, a so called “Rijnschuit” (hetutrechtsarchief.nl). According to this document, Hermen could not write!

This got me curious: where did this Pieter de Malapert live? This question was relatively easy to answer, as the Utrecht Archives manage the old archives of the “de Malapert” family as well (hetutrechtsarchief.nl). Pieter lived on Plettenburg castle near Jutphaas (kasteleninutrecht.eu), which was situated at the current location of the Jutphaas fortress. It would not only have been important for him to have easy transport for “his” citizens or the goods they produced to Utrecht, but this might also have been important in managing the castle itself.

Plettenburg castle, the residence of Pieter de Malapert.
(Casper Specht, 1698. Collection of the Rijksmuseum.)

Life as a skipper

So what was the role of a skipper in Jutphaas? As mentioned previously, these ships were very important to Jutphaas. Hermen quickly became known as “the Skipper” instead of his last name Boschman (hetutrechtsarchief.nl. His newly acquired nickname even makes it to the church records.

The ship he used was a “rijnschuit”, which seems to be a term used specifically for ships and barges used on the Vaartsche Rijn , with standard service times (debinnenvaart.nl). It is possible that his barge was horse-drawn, his horse walking along a sandy path next to the Vaartsche Rijn. Horse-drawn barges had become essential to Dutch inland travel and transport during the mid 17th century, so this would fit the timeframe (clubrhijnhuizen.nl). Newspapers of that time also report horse-drawn barges connecting Jutphaas to Utrecht throughout the day, with travel times of about an hour (delpher.nl, delpher.nl).

The route between Jutphaas and Utrecht
(Johannes Covens, Cornelis Mortier, 1699. Collection of the University of Utrecht.)

Hermen probably transported people and goods to Utrecht. The Vaartse Rijn was important for the trade with Utrecht and other cities further away (vaartindevaartserijn.nl), but we should look at Hermen as someone aiding local and interlocal traffic rather than interregional traffic. Traffic from Jutphaas always arrived at the Maartensbrug in the center of Utrecht, close to the cathedral (books.google.nl). People who wanted to go to Jutphaas could get in the boat if they wanted to. Hermen controlled this public transport line, in the early 18th century.

The Maartensbrug in Utrecht
(J. van Hiltrop, approx. 1770. Collection of the Utrecht Archives.)

All in all this must have been a real fresh start for our man from Schalkwijk, a town without major water ways. If anyone has any more information on the origins of Hermen, I would love to know! Hermen himself died in Jutphaas in 1763 (hetutrechtsarchief.nl), having rented a place for his boat, a house and some land between 1732 and 1746 (hetutrechtsarchief.nl , hetutrechtsarchief.nl), after which he moved to a farm (hetutrechtsarchief.nl).

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