The Herlyn family

Wappen Familie Herlyn

The Herlyn Family have their origins in the former Burgundian and later - since 1522 - Spanish Netherlands (nowadays the Départements Nord and Pas-de-Calais in France). In the direct line they can be traced back to the beginnings of the 15th century. As regards some of the female lineages (de Croix, de Wavrin), lineal descent can be verified until the turn of the first millennium.


The earliest proven ancestor, Simon Herlin, is referred to in the files of the town of Arras in the former Burgundian Netherlands (nowadays northern France) as being a citizen of the town in 1427. There he is said to have been a “rellier”, i.e. a bookbinder and bookseller. Many of his descendants were prosperous craftsmen and merchants in and around Arras. A few generations later, the family had become positively wealthy by trading in wine. This enabled them to acquire land and estates in the vicinity of Arras.


During the Reformation in the first half of the 16th century in the Spanish Netherlands (since 1522), many members of the family turned to the reformed protestantism strongly influenced by Calvin. Since the Spanish King did not sympathise with the reformation, the Calvinists were severely persecuted and many of them were forced to emigrate. For this reason, the landowner Claude Herlin (great-great-grandson of the above mentioned Simon Herlin) and his young wife fled from Arras to Antwerp, which at that time belonged to the free part of the Spanish Netherlands. When Antwerp was taken by Spanish troops in 1585, Claude and his little family (his children having been born in the meantime) fled to Bremen and settled there for good. Thus he became the first ancestor living in Germany.

His half-brother Michel Herlin, who lived as a wealthy merchant in Valenciennes (Flemish: Valencijn), did not listen to the warnings and stayed. He and his sons even helped to defend his hometown Valenciennes against the Spanish troops, but, when the town had been taken by the Spanish, he and his eldest son were captured and subsequently sentenced to death. Michel Herlin was beheaded on the square of Valenciennes on 31 May 1567. His son suffered the same fate some time later.

Today’s Family Branches

After Claude Herlin and his family had settled down in Bremen, several family branches developed from his descendants in Northern Germany. Some of these can no longer traced back, but two lines still exist:

  • The Friesian (Ostfriesische) branch, whose ancestor was Philipp Herlin. After he had finished his theological studies, he became the vicar of the reformed parish in Visquard, Ostfriesland, in 1654, and he continued to work there for many years. All his descendants spell their names Herlyn.
  • The Dutch branch, whose ancestor Nikolaus Herlin had moved from Emden to Delfzijl in 1680 and had stayed there. Nikolaus’ father was Jaques Herlin, the above mentioned Philipp’s brother. His descendants vary the spelling of the name widely (Heerlien, Heerlein, Heerlijn, a.s.o.)

Today, about 420 family members going by the name Herlyn live in Germany. Another 50 live in the USA. In the Netherlands live about 100 members of the family, but the spelling of the name differs to some extent.

The Family Chronicle

The Herlyn family have a Chronicle bearing the title “Histoire généalogique de la très ancienne et très noble Famille de Herlin” which on first glimpse seems to verify descent down to the first millennium, but which might be flawed to some extent. The original version of this chronicle was published in Leyden (today: Leiden, NL) in 1667. It had been commissioned to the renowned historian Jean le Carpentier by a grandson of the above mentioned Claude Herlin and probably had the purpose of demonstrating the family members’ noble birth to the public. In this chronicle Jean le Carpentier presents the old aristocratic Herlin family which can be traced back to about the year 980, and then draws a somewhat obscure connection to the ensuing bourgeois Herlin/Herlyn family.

Since there is no definite proof of such a connection to be found within that chronicle, family members in France have been researching into the family history extensively and thoroughly in the recent years, but they didn’t succeed, a connection between the families could neither be verified nor ruled out.
For the time being, therefore, two groups of people are registered separately in the electronic database of the family:

  • A first group of people including all those who are descendants of Simon Herlin. This would be the verified genealogy going back to about 1400.
  • A second group of people including those mentioned in Jean le Carpentier’s Chronicle, whose connection to the family has not been verified so far. This might prove interesting data for the future, in case there can be found a connection between the families one day.

The Family Database

Today, the electronic family database registers about 28,500 persons, including the female lineages. For reasons of privacy policy, the database is not fully accessible to the public. To gain full access, you have to register personally. The most frequently mentioned names in that database are Herlyn, Janssen, Heerlien, Herlin, Immer, Heerlijn, Jacobs, Müller, Harms und Hinrichs.

Family Traditions

Every three years, the Herlyn family meet in Ostfriesland to keep traditions alive. Of course, not only those family members going by the name Herlyn are invited, but also those descendants of female lines bearing other names. It is a great event for all members of the family who love the opportunity to exchange news and stories and in general entertain friendly relations with one another.