Matrilineal Monday: The Springsteen Family Origins

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Springsteen Word Cloud

Springsteen Family, Beerbower Family (Click for Family Trees)

The Springsteen surname is one you may have heard all your life, but it has not really been used for least 3 generations in our line because it was a matrilineal name. Abram Springsteen, “the youngest drummer boy in the Civil War,” was famous in our family. (Actually, there were quite a few drummer boys just barely into the double digits of age, and you can read more about Abram in our many previous posts- just put “Springsteen” into the search box.) The name “Anna Missouri Springsteen” (1854-1939) was quite a favorite- she likely was named for her paternal aunt, Missouri E. (Springsteen) Scotten, and was the sister of our young drummer boy. Anna M. married Edgar Peter Beerbower (1849-1916) in 1873, ending the name in our line (though they did name their son “Edgar Springsteen Beerbower”). They finally moved to Missouri too- wonder if that had been a dream, thus they used the name ‘Missouri” for daughters? I am so lucky to have one of Anna M.’s rings to wear everyday, and honor her memory.

According to the Dictionary of American Family Names, the surname Springsteen comes from the Dutch or North German language. It is what is considered to be a ‘topographic’ name, which is a name based on a place or a landscape object, such as the surname, “Hill.”

A ‘springsteen’ is a specific type of stone that is used as a stepping stone between houses or on unpaved roads. That seems somewhat foreign to us today- why were such things common? For a moment, time travel and put yourself into the context of older times: muddy, unpaved and rutted roads; no lawn services to provide a lush lawn; horses both with riders and pulling wagons, herded animals coming to market through town, dogs and cats running free through town and the farm, and all those critters leaving their mark on the road in piles that get run over and splashed- yucch. Let’s add in human critters spitting tobacco and etc. everywhere. (They were generally of the male species but there were some interesting female ones doing this as well.) Don’t forget that chamber pots were often just dumped outside, slop buckets of leftover food thrown out for the rummaging dogs and pigs, and wash stand water thrown out the window as well and into the street. Children and even adults may have had chronic vomiting or diarrhea due to parasites, infections, etc., with no antibiotics to make their life easier and reduce the filth being put outside the house. Now pretend you are a genteel lady with a long skirt that drags in the dirt- heavens, you would be a hussy if you showed your ankles, even with laced up shoes- and there is no such thing as an electric washing machine…

Yes, easy to see how they needed those ‘springsteens’ to keep out of the filthy muck.

Not sure that I like the idea of our family being compared to a rock, but maybe it was because the members of our family were useful and tough?

Our oldest Springsteen ancestor documented thus far is John Springsteen, the father of Jefferson and thus grandfather of our Anna Missouri (Springsteen) Beerbower; she was the mother of Anna May (Beerbower) Helbling who was born in 1881 and died in 1954. (Click on the family tree link at the beginning of this post for more details.) We believe John was born about 1782 in Poughkeepsie, Dutchess County, New York, but do not know his wife Mary’s maiden name nor the names of either of their parents. New York is a tough state to research, so it has been hard to trace John and Mary. The family did migrate to to the new frontier called Ohio, and then to the newer frontier, Indiana, where their son Jefferson and his brother Abraham were living by about 1839.

Springsteen families in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1896. R. L. Polk & Co., via Ancestry.com.
Springsteen families in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1896. R. L. Polk & Co. Indianapolis, Indiana City Directory, via Ancestry.com. Note that siblings spell the name differently: John W. has changed the last ‘e’ to an ‘i’ and thus his son Harry spells his name the same way.

There are stories that Jeff had returned to New York (which he did) but also visited in New Jersey where possibly his grandfather lived. There are quite a lot of Springsteens in New Jersey and New York, so more research will need to be done to sort them out and find the ancestors of our Springsteen line.

Looking at early immigration records, there are very many Springsteens who came to New Netherlands, which was Dutch New York. The first and middle names definitely look to be Dutch, such as “Joost Casparse Springsteen” or “Geertje Jans Springsteen.” Later arrivals who could possibly be John Springsteen’s parents immigrated to Long Island, New York, or possibly Orange or Albany. Jefferson did live in Brooklyn, New York, for a time, where he married his wife Anna Connor, so they may have had family there- have not found any information yet, but NYC is a good place to start researching again.

Ancestry.com has an interesting page on the website where one can research a family name. Using census data, they state 10-18 Springsteen families in 1840 lived in New York, and 4-9 in New Jersey, but this surely does not take into account all the spelling variations of the name. (Springsteen, Springsted, Springston, etc.)

By the 1880 US Federal Census, Ancestry.com shows 85-167 Springsteens in New York state, 29-84 in New Jersey and Michigan, 1-28 in various other states including Indiana. In 1920, Ancestry.com lists just 36-69 Springsteen families in New York, 13-35 in New Jersey and Michigan, and 1-12 in Indiana, Ohio, and 21 other states.

Ancestry.com also looked at the 1880 US Federal Census for Springsteen occupations, and compared the percentage to that of the general public. Slightly over one-third of Springsteens were farmers in 1880, similar to the general population. Springsteen’s also had a similar number of laborers (9%), 1% less farm laborers at 2%, 1% more working as blacksmiths, at 2% of Springsteens, and 5% working as painters when the general public was just 1%. (Both Jefferson, his brother Abraham, and his father John worked as painters at various times in their lives.)

Keeping house (6%) as an occupation was the same as in the general public, but this makes me wonder how these statistics were generated- they are probably only counting ‘head of household’ Springsteens, as theoretically there would be about the same number of wives named Springsteen as husbands.

Ancestry.com has 54 Civil War service records for Springsteens, and all fought on the Union side. (Not really a surprise since all lived in northern states.)

The inevitable question? Are we related to Bruce Springsteen? Possibly, since there is that New Jersey connection, but no link found as yet. We’ll keep you posted.

 

Notes, Sources, and References: 

  1. Ancestry.com

 

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