Sunset at Gowanus Bay

Sunset at Gowanus Bay
Sunset at Gowanus Bay, Henry Gritten, 1851

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Search for Adam Brouwer in Early 17th Century Cologne Church Records

Some background: Although the date on which Adam Brouwer of Gowanus, Long Island was born is not known, we do know that he was born in Cologne. The marriage banns for Adam Brouwer and Magdalena Verdon reads, "Adam Brouwer, j. m. Van Ceulen, en Magdalena Verdon, j. d. Van N. Nederlt."* The minister writing this record in 1645 was writing in Dutch and the preposition Van, as used in the vernacular of this time and place and in the context of these marriage records, referred to the place where the groom and bride were each born (as opposed to a place where each had lived). Adam Brouwer was born in Ceulen (a Dutch spelling of that time for Cologne) while Magdalena Verdon was born in New Netherland.

It is generally accepted that Adam Brouwer was born ca. 1620. This date is in line with his marriage in 1645, as young men during this period generally married in their mid to late twenties. He could have been born later than 1620, as the Reformed Dutch Church of the Netherlands allowed men as young as fourteen to marry**. However, we also know that Adam Brouwer was employed as a soldier with the WIC in 1641 and so likely at least age 16 in that year, so born no later than 1625. Adam Brouwer died during the first three months of 1692. If born in 1620 he would have been aged 72 at his death. There is no report of his age at death and so it is conceivable that Adam was born earlier than 1620, perhaps as early as 1610 (if so then 82 in 1692) or theoretically even as early as 1600 (if so then 92 in 1692). I take the time to run through this exercise for the purpose of finding a range of years in which to search in the Cologne church records for a baptism of a child who may be Adam Brouwer. Choosing a range of 1600 to 1625 should cover it.

Background on Cologne: In 1620, Cologne (Köln in German) was a free imperial city. That is to say, Cologne was self ruling but subject to the Holy Roman Emperor. It was not subject to the over-lordship of a Duchy or a Principality. It was subordinate only to the Holy Roman Emperor himself. It had been that way since before 1475 (in practical terms it was a free city as early as 1288) and would remain so until 1794 when annexed by France. In terms of political boundaries, in 1620 the city of Cologne was surrounded by the Archbishopric of Cologne, but the later had no authority within the city. Economically, Cologne in 1620, situated as it is on the west bank of the Rhine River, was an important city along the North Sea and Baltic Sea trade routes of the Hanseatic League, and at the time was one of the largest cities in northern Europe. In 1600 the city's population has been estimated at 40,000.

Köln und Deutz um 1636 (Cologne is in the background), Wenceslaus Hollar von Prachna (1607-1677) (Public domain, from Wikimedia Commons)

Cologne was in 1620, and for the most part in it's entire history, a predominantly Roman Catholic city. Churches of Protestant denominations, such as the Reformed Church of the Netherlands, were there, but they were the minority both in number of churches and in number of members. For evidence of this one only has to look at a list of Cologne Church records filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah and found in the Family History Library catalog. Just considering the churches on this list that existed in 1620, we can count three Protestant churches (Nederlands Hervormde, Hochdeutsche-Reformierte, Französisch-Reformierte), and eighteen Catholic (Katholische) churches. The Roman Catholic, Cologne Cathedral (the High Cathedral of Saints Peter and Mary), the largest Gothic church in northern Europe and the dominating land mark of the Cologne cityscape is physical evidence of the importance of Cologne as a Roman Catholic city. Construction began in 1248, was halted in 1473 and not resumed until the 1800s. It was completed to the original plans in 1880.

The initial search: As seven of Adam Brouwer's children were baptized in the Reformed Dutch Church in New Amsterdam/New York, which frankly between 1646 and 1672 was his only option, I chose to first search the records of the Protestant churches of Cologne for Adam Brouwer's own baptism.

My search was conducted back in 2008, prior to the creation of the FamilySearch website. Searchable indexes and digitized images of microfilmed record were not available online in 2008. Research consisted of ordering microfilm from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and then viewing the film on readers at a local FHL center. I began with FHL film #187154, which is the birth (taufen) and marriage (heiraten) records of the Reformed Dutch Church in Cologne (Nederlands Hervormde Kerk Cöln). The film covers the years 1571 to 1739. Here is an example of a page from the film:

A page from FHL film #187154
The above page includes a few entries from 1620. Not familiar with Dutch and having no previous experience with the handwriting of this period, I had the help of Prof. Willem Frijhoff who was introduced to me by William B. Bogardus, in translating and deciphering the format of each entry. Prof. Frijhoff's response was that although the handwriting of this period was often difficult, the records here were actually well written, and were in Dutch (as opposed to German). The minister performing the baptisms was Johannes de Mourcourt, and that the names of both parents, the christian name of the child, and the names of two witnesses were in each record. He also commented on the small number of baptisms as evidence that the Dutch Reformed community was very small. More importantly (to Adam Brouwer researchers anyway) the surname Brouwer, or any variation thereof (Brower, Bruer, Brewer) was completely absent from both the baptism and marriage records I viewed for the years 1600 to 1625. 

In the years since 2008, FamilySearch has created many internet accessible searchable databases and many other image only databases, including one titled, "Germany Births and Baptisms, 1558-1898." This searchable database functions as an index to many of the birth and baptism records found within the modern day political boundaries of Germany. The churches of Cologne, now a city in present day Germany, are included in this database. However, not all of them have yet (as of this post) been indexed and included in the database. Among those not yet included is FHL film #187154 which I searched "the old fashion way" back in 2008. But we are fortunate in that Cor Snabel has transcribed baptisms from the Reformed Dutch Church in Cologne, for the years 1571 to 1650, and has placed them online at the "17th Century Hollanders" website created by Liz Johnson. Cor has also included an introduction. By using your web browser's search or "find" tool as search of Cor's transcriptions can easily be done using variations on the name Brouwer. Doing so confirms that are no baptisms records in which the name appears. Searching with the given names Adam, and Adolph (Adolf) does not provide any viable leads either. If you scroll down to the year 1620, you can count that only eight baptisms took place in that year. There were 12 in 1619, 10 in 1621. In the year 1639 in the New Amsterdam Reformed Dutch Church (the first year for which we have these records and when the colony was still quite small) there were only six baptisms***. In 1639 in Cologne's Dutch Reformed Church, there were only four. So, you can see, the Reformed Dutch congregation at Cologne in the early 1600s was in fact, small.

To honest, back in 2008 I did not expect to find the baptism record of Adam Brouwer in the Cologne Dutch Reformed Church records. That would have been too easy, and certainly someone over the course of the previous 100+ years would have looked there and reported something had it been found. But still, it would have been imprudent not to look myself. There are still two other Reformed Churches in Cologne - a German and a French church. And of course, there are eighteen Catholic churches to search through.

To be continued.

*Purple, Samuel S. Records of the Reformed Dutch Church in New Amsterdam and New York; Marriages from 11 December 1639 to 26 August 1801. Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, reprint 2003, original 1890 NYG&BS, p. 13.
**Purple, Records of the Reformed Dutch Church in New Amsterdam and New York, p. vii, "according to the eminent Dutch historian Van Leuwen, 'that the persons who may contract a marriage must be young men above the age of fourteen years, and young women above the age of twelve years...'" See also, Harry Macy, Jr., "Some New Light on Aeltje Braconie and Maria Badie," New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, vol. 142, no. 1 (Jan 2011), pp. 21-36, who suggests that Magdalena Verdon may have been as young as age 13, when she married Adam Brouwer. If so, and it is possible and would imply that Magdalena was born ca. 1631, then I would suggest that the odds are that Adam Brouwer was born much closer to 1620, than 1600.
*** Evans, Thomas Grier (Ed.). Baptisms from 1639 to 1730 in the Reformed Dutch Church, New York. Collections of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, Vol. 2. New York: Printed for the Society, 1901, page 10. Of the six baptisms in 1639, three were families of Dutch origin, one belonged to free African-American family, one appears (to me) to have been Portuguese, and the sixth appears to have been either German or English ethnicity.

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