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From Agterhorst to Zwiekhorst

Horsts early farmsteads on elevated former wooded locations

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill Genealogy

Just picture the Lowlands without dikes, canals, ditches and other water-control mechanisms such as waterlocks and sluces. To many people, such a floodprone Delta region would not be very appealing as a habitat. Excess water can be a problem on higher plains too when it cannot drain away, making the wet surroundings difficult to access. Still, inaccessibility can offer protection from intruders and maurading bands. It does not have to surprise anyone that Lowlanders picked the most favourable locations in water-logged regions to settle, at spots that lay just a bit higher than the surrounding area.

It is those elevations, the ‘horsts,’ in the landscape that Lowlanders chose to farm, that so many centuries later, in vastly changed circumstances, still play a part in the identity of numerous people with Dutch roots. Think of all those with surnames ranging from Agterhorst to Zwiekhorst and the much more numerous Van der Horst, which all refer to one location or other that gave ancestors a reasonably dry spot to live and work.

Horst, an elevated sandy, tree covered spot surrounded by wetlands or moerasses that early settlers burnt to cultivate for farming, observes surname historian Meertens, a point repeated in an article on farm names, particularly dealing with those located in the central Dutch region of the 'Gelderse Vallei.'

Surviving early documents reveal entries on horsts in various parts of the Lowlands. An example from the tenth century – going back over a thousand years - is a place called the Binkhorst near Losser in Overijssel. Another one, simply called De Horst, dates from before 1188 when its first was noted in surviving records. The place at Gerinkhoekweg 19 near the village of Twekkelo, still is known as such today. As noted, Twekkelo’s De Horst, has a physical address on Gerinkhoekweg, as do all other horsts today (with the Global Positioning System (GPS) era upon us addresses in addition to postal codes soon will have another electronic dimension to them.) Before the rise of country-wide postal services, the farm names were the only address as in, for example, De Horst, Twekkelo. This is also the reason why surname experts (naamkundigen, onomasticians) call names such as Zwiekhorst an address name.

Farmsteads in general, and those with other name endings other than horst, have abundantly contributed to the ‘inventory’ of Dutch surnames, of which a significant part dates from medieval times or even earlier. The group of horst names is itself significant. This installment identifies well over 200 different surnames but rest assured that this number could easily double or perhaps even triple, if a more exhaustive search was made and farm names that over the centuries were changed or disappeared, were also included.

The number of surnames that include the syllable horst and that were researched for this survey totaled nearly 230. Together they represented in all over 37,000 households in the Netherlands census of 1947.

The above is a much digested version of the original article. Copies of the original, fully illustrated article, which is the fourth in a series, can be ordered by contacting the Windmill Herald / the Windmill Post office, see also contact information.