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John H. Somsen Jr.

Substantial book about the Somsen family from the Achterhoek

Daily paper `de Gelderlander' - August 3 1997


AALTEN - ‘Charming, but hard to prove, is the idea that the Somsens are descended from the Old Testamentary Judge Simson. In support of this idea one could put forward the same consonants and a number of outward, rather Semitic looks, to be found in certain branches of the family.’

Robust it is indeed, the book ‘Somsen, omnes generationes’ (all generations). The beautifully bound book, running up to 300 pages, which will be presented at the family-reunion in Lievelde on Saturday does not only consist of genealogical data. In more than 100 richly illustrated pages the composers Derk and Theo Somsen enter into the family history. In doing so a part is also given to the stories and myths of the family.

The explanation that the name presumably comes from the farmhouse ‘Sompsstedeken’ (the present Somsenhuis at the Westendorpweg), situated in the hamlet of IJzerlo near Aalten is less biblical, but certainly acceptable. A name which refers to the swampy nature of the soil on the spot. In the rent roll of 1609 the name Sumbs is mentioned (comparable to the German Sumpf).

The family name had been within an ace of dying out: Roelof Sumps (born about 1640) got two daughters. But as Geert Boeinck was willing to move in with Mechtelt Sumps, the name had been secured from that moment on. For in those days people still changed their names when they came to live on an other farm.

The Republic of the Netherlands, The Eighty Years' War and the Reformation come up only sideways in the book. But at the same time it is made clear to what extent these developments were essential to the simple peasants in IJzerlo. In this way it is made clear that the ‘Golden Age’ left the province out for the greater part. A high tax burden was necessary to finance four wars against Britain, the battle against France and the troops of the bishops of Munster and Cologne.

But in the 18th century, too, the Somsens did not have an easy time of it. A few years later the cattle-plague broke out, after British troops had been billeted at their expense for six weeks. Both in 1763 and in 1774 it caused a loss of a few hundred head of cattle. Moreover thieves and robbers were hanging about in the neighbourhood. Despite the continuous uncertainty and high infant mortality of that century, 70 Somsens were born, and the family had come to stay. They spread to Dinxperlo and Varsseveld.

It is not until the 19th century that some Somsens leave the province and even leave Holland. The first one was probably the young Somsen who accompanied Napoleon on his march to Russia. We lack all further information about this boy who was 20 years old in 1811 and about whom these family tales are told.

It is a sure thing that Garrit Jan Somsen, a regular soldier, fought in the Battle of Waterloo (June 1815). ‘This battle impressed Garrit Jan deeply, for he has never spoken one word about it during the rest of his life’, according to the authors. He did speak of the Ten Days' Campaign in August 1831, when he remarked that the Belgians were much meaner than the French soldiers at Waterloo. Two other, unmarried Somsens were in this campaign, too, witness the medals and the commemorative medal.

Before 1820 most Somsens were illiterate, but then they took a great fancy to education. At the end of the century many of them even became teachers.

In the second half of the last century a number of Somsens left for America, like Hendrika Johanna Somsen. In 1883 she married Berend Hendrik Fukking, who changed his name to Fern for semantic reasons. Later on Berend was expelled from the Christian Reformed Church. because he wanted to marry his step-daughter.

In 1881 her brother Jan Hendrik arrived and so a new, extensive Somsen-branch arose. A number of descendants will attend the reunion next Saturday, and they are bound to buy the family book ($75) which they can read in their own language (there is an English translation on the even pages).