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Janie Riley is an avid genealogist with a habit of stumbling on to dead bodies. She and her husband head to Salt Lake City Utah to research Janie's elusive 4th great-grandmother. But her search into the past leads her to a dark secret. Can she solve the mysteries of the past and the present before disaster strikes? Available now on Amazon.com and the CreateSpace eStore
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New Netherland, New York Genealogy
Life in 16th and 17th Century Amsterdam Holland: Marriage Customs
Marriage in Amsterdam© Cor Snabel
If a couple went “through the red door” it meant they got married. The origin of this expression lays in the fact, the Old Church in Amsterdam used to have a red door, where the bridal couple had to go through. But in the 16th century most people did not get married in church. In the presence of family and friends the couple promised each other to be faithful, a ring was broken in two pieces and each partner kept their half. This engagement was as good as an actual wedding. The actual marriage was confirmed by sleeping together; after the wedding night the wedding party took place.
In 1580 Holland got a protestant government, it was stated explicitly, that couples had to get married in church or – for non-reformed – in the city hall. In 1584 they even stated, that couples who married in the “middle aged” way still had to register.
The promise of marriage was sacred, if a boy and girl promised each other to get married and one of them declined later on, one could summon the other party and the Commissioners for Marriage-Affairs would make a judgement. Parents could exercise their veto against the choice of their children, but what was considered inappropriate? A marriage, in which the class difference could be compromising, for instant with a servant, was impossible. Mixed marriages were not only unconventional but also illegal, as were marriages with Jews and Muslims.
The average age of the marrying couple was 22 for the bride and 25 for the groom. In the upper middle class the couples were a little younger. The life expectancy of the couple was about another 24 years, so it was unlikely they ever saw their grandchildren. Half of the brides and grooms had lost their father, mother or both at the moment of their marriage.
Because the spouses died young, remarriage was very common. A widower with children could hardly manage without help and because of the surplus of women he normally had no trouble finding another wife. But for a widow, especially if she had children, everything was depending on her attractiveness, not only her looks, but also her economic attractiveness. A widow with a shop or with money did not have to worry, but if her husband had been a journeyman or laborer her future was not enviable. Most of these widows had to appeal to charity in order to survive.
Although parents allowed their children to select their own partners, marriages of convenience were also arranged to protect business and financial interests. In those marriages the financial matters were regulated in contracts. Sometimes these contracts were very outrageous and ridicule. When Sara Hinlopen (1660-1749) widow of Mr. Albert Geelvinck, director of the WIC, remarried Mr. Jacob Henricksz. Bicker in 1695 she had quite some possessions and bonds of herself and her children. Their contract separated their possessions very strict, in case of divorce or death only their own blood relations could inherit. If he should die, a part of his wealth should be put aside as her new dowry ( ! ) and if Sara should die before Jacob the jewelry, worth 6.000 guilders, he gave her as a wedding present, would be returned to him or his heirs.
Normally the dowry became collective property, but if the man died, the widow could reclaim her entire part and was entitled to all she had gathered during marriage as personal belongings. All the wedding presents belonged to her; the children could not claim a part of it. Apart from death, other circumstances could be the reason for the woman to claim her part of their possessions. If she could prove her husband was spending their money in an irresponsible way, she could take legal steps to separate their possessions.
A proper marriage lasted at least three days; a “poor” wedding was a disgrace. Sometimes a few couples married at the same time in order to share the costs. But in the circles of the patricians the costs were enormous. When the young councilor Johan de Witt married a scion of the wealthy and powerful Bicker family, his father, who came from a more modest milieu, had to take out a considerable loan in order to pay his part of the costs.
In 1655 Dr. Tulp and Mayor Bontemantel did get a new law through the City Council to restrict these extravagant weddings. It was called the luxury-law, the number of guests had to be restricted to fifty and the party was only allowed for two days with a maximum of six musicians. Even the value of the wedding-presents was limited to 5% of the dowry. But this law did not have any effect, the fine was paid in advance and the wedding parties were as before.
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