My main area of research is the family name Westerbeke/Westerbeeke. Naturally, I also try to map out the family trees of myself and my wife.
Almost all persons with the name Westerbeke/Westerbeeke are descendants of Jannis Adriaense Westerbeke who lived in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, in the town of Westkapelle in the province of Zeeland in the Netherlands.
In Germany, the name Westerbeke was also occasionally used in the 17th century, but this was a corruption of Westerbecke. Even today, some descendants of these Westerbeckes live in the United States under the name Westerbeke. As of yet, no connections have been found between the Westerbekes from Germany and Westkapelle.
The name Westerbeek is common in the northeast of the Netherlands. No connections have been found between Westerbeke/Westerbeeke and Westerbeek. Only some descendants of a Westerbeke family that moved to the province of Drente have had their name changed to Westerbeek due to a mistake by the civil records office.
The earliest known fact about Jannis Adriaanse Westerbeke is that, on 30 October 1686, he married "with a letter of transfer of Westkapelle" in the church of the village of Aagtekerke. Likely, therefore, he already lived in or near Westkapelle. His place of birth is unfortunately unknown. There are some vague suppositions that he came from the Westerbeek farm that was situated between the town of Vlissingen (English: Flushing) and the village of Koudekerke. Another possibility is that he may have been a son of Adriaen Beke who lived in the hamlet of Boudewijnskerke at the time. However, no evidence to support this has been found. He may possibly be a descendent of Jan Westerbeke who was christened in Mechelen (Belgium) in 1620.
The main problem in Zeeland and especially the island of Walcheren is that many old church, municipality and provincial records have been partly or completely lost due to floods and war. It is therefore often impossible to find old data.
The origins of the name are not certain. Books about Zeelandic family names state that the name comes from the village of Westerbeke that lay near the Belgian city of Gent (Ghent). As far as I know, there is no proof of this. What is known, is that many people moved from the region of Brugge-Gent (Bruges-Ghent) to Zeeland in the 17th century.
Nearly all Westerbekes lived in and near Westkapelle until the middle of the 19th century. Many were dike-workers, helping to build and maintain the famous sea-dike of Westkapelle. Dike-worker families were poor at the time, because there often was not enough work to be done on the dike to support every dike-worker. For this reason, several Westerbekes moved to America between approximately 1845 and 1900, most taking their families with them. Most eventually ended up in the state of Wisconsin, mainly in Sheboygan County. They initially worked as farmers or farm laborers. Some families remained in New York state, often in the town of Islip. They were mostly active in (clam)fishing. Many descendants of these people still live in the United States.
In 1844, Marinus Westerbeke and his family moved from Westkapelle to the so-called "peat colonies" in Drente, a province in the northeast of the Netherlands. They went together with three other families from Westkapelle, as part of a kind of employment program, to work in the peat industry. As it turned out, work conditions and pay were worse than in Westkapelle, and they would gladly have moved back, were it not for the fact that they simply did not have the money to do so. Some of their descendants still live in Drente.
From around 1900, Westerbekes also moved to other provinces. However, most still live in Zeeland, mainly in Westkapelle and surrounding villages.
Have fun browsing through my data.