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Why ancestor Siebe Sjoerds affirmed Van der GaliŽn as his surname

Biblical roots traced


Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

Was he of Jewish or of French origin? That question has pained the descendents of Siebe Sjoerds in recent years. Why did this elderly Akkerwoude man register the surname Van der GaliŽn as his own? If he had settled on Sjoerdsma the choice would have been obvious, Siebe, the son of Sjoerd. He did not, however, and declared before the 1811 clerk Gerrit Jimmes Kloosterman it would be Van der GaliŽn.

That the contemporary Van der GaliŽns are wondering about the origin of their surname is not surprising, many people do. The study of surnames is even an academic endeavour, called onomastics, a linguistic specialty belonging to etymology, the study of word origins, which relies on its own sets of dictionaries.

The idea that Van der GaliŽn could have Jewish roots is not so farfetched as it might seem at first glance. Many Dutch and Frisian Jews picked hard to trace surnames. Is there not a resemblance between GaliŽn and the Biblical topographical name Galilee? If so, the lack of Biblical or Jewish given names among the Van der GaliŽns generates doubt: Siebeís grandchildren (via oldest son Sjoerd), for example, are named Siebe, Sjouke, Meindert, Andries, Durk, Hendrik and Jan. There is not a Solomon, Samuel or Moses among them.

The suggestion of French roots could have more merit because there is a place called GaliŽn in eastern France, near Bresse, in the ancestral region of many Huguenots. Additionally, various northern Dutch towns were home to French-speaking Walloon/Huguenot Reformed congregations as far back as the 1600s. However, there is no trace among the given names mentioned above that suggest any French influence or roots. It is particularly important to remember that the Walloon congregations held on to the French language into the 1900s, which would have been reflected in the naming of their children.

Leeuwarden vicinity

With Jewish and French roots not so obvious, a Frisian origin ought to be explored as well. Siebe Sjoerds was ďimportĒ in Akkerwoude, having been born in 1743 on a farm near the village of Lekkum, in the Leeuwarden vicinity. To the fans of the Frisian marathon skating Elfstedentocht, Lekkum with its windmill Bulle on the Bonkevaart marks its finishing line. In addition to the grueling skating marathon contests, Lekkum is also known for another battle, back in 1583 between Spanish troops and their Dutch opponents. A report in old Dutch text describes the warfare as being nasty, and that the Spanish had burned down Lekkum and had laid siege, note this, to the monastery of Old-GalileeŽn near Leeuwarden. After taking the monastery, they stabbed everyone in it to their death.

The Old-GalileeŽn monastery Ė there were more monasteries who were known by this name, perhaps rooted in the Crusadesí history - did not survive as it was torn down but the name of its former location was already engraved in the minds of the local people by that time and was given a new lease of life when Leeuwarden named a relatively new district after this long gone monastery.

Back to Siebe Sjoerds and his declaration before clerk Kloosterman (cloisterman or man from the monastery). He very likely affirmed his surname in the Frisian language as being Fan de(r) Gaalje. In an age still without spelling conventions of the Dutch language, Kloosterman entered the information in his records Ė in proper Dutch - as Van der GaliŽn. And so it goes, a Jewish and Biblical topographical name lives on, via a religious order, in the surname of a clan rooted in north Frisian soil and now found throughout the Netherlands and very far beyond.

With thanks to Douwe Halbesmaís research, published in Dutch in the periodical De Sneuper of the Historische Vereniging in Noordoost Friesland. (or: 11 en 30 of the Genealogische Vereniging Friesland).