Bruce Springsteen Family History


Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen was born on September 23rd, 1949 to Doug and Adele Springsteen in Monmouth county, New Jersey.

He grew up awkward in Freehold township in a lower middle-class household.  He struggled at school, first at the Catholic school because of the strictness of the nuns and then at the local high school because he felt he really didn’t fit in.  A former teacher said that he was “a loner who wanted nothing more than to play his guitar.”

In 1965, at the age of sixteen, his mother had seen musical potential in him and borrowed money to buy him a $60 Kent guitar.  He began to perform locally with friends who would later form his E Street Band.  His nickname “The Boss” came at this time.

In 1970 Bruce left his hometown in the back of a truck and headed for the Jersey Shore, for a new life and for whatever came with it (his song Thunder Road recreated the freedom he felt then).  The rebellious and artistic side of him was drawn to its rock band scene and boardwalk life, both high and low.  He started out as a busker in Asbury Park.

Bruce might have left Freehold, but Freehold really never left him.  In the music that he developed, he combined rock with poetic and socially conscious lyrics that told a narrative about working-class American life.

Born To Run was his breakthrough album in 1975.  This was followed by his even bigger hit Born in the USA in 1984.  The anthemic sounds of the Born in the USA title track reverberated around America at that time.

Bruce Springsteen has sold more than 140 million albums worldwide, making him one of the best-selling music artists of all time.  In April 2023 the Governor of New Jersey issued a proclamation announcing Spetember 23rd, the day of his birth, as “Bruce Springsteen Day.”

Bruce and Early Days

In his 2016 memoir Born to Run Bruce recalled:

“I was sitting in my Freehold South Street home one afternoon when a knock came at our front door. It was George Theiss, a local guitarist and singer who had heard through my sister Ginny that I played the guitar. He told me there was a band forming and they were looking for a lead guitarist. While I hesitated to call myself a lead guitarist, I had been hard at it for a while and had worked up some very rudimentary ‘chops.’”

That was in 1966 and the band was the Castiles.  In 2018 George Theiss died of cancer and Bruce was at his deathbed.  Bruce recalled: “He only had a few days left to live.  And I realized that his passing would leave me as the last living member of that band of guys that got together in that house so many years ago.”

He dedicated the song Last Man Standing from his 2020 album Letter To You to George.

Dutch Antecedents

Bruce’s surname Springsteen is clearly Dutch in origin.  The name came from the Dutch province of Groningen in the northern Netherlands and was topographical in nature.  It literally translated as “jump stone.”  This meant the stepping stone that was used on unpaved streets or between houses.

The Springsteen name is rare in Holland today; and it numbers little more than 1,000 in America.

These Springsteens seem to have been all the descendants of Caspar and Geesje Jans Springsteen from Groningen.  Caspar died in Holland.  His widow Geesje came to New Amsterdam (as it was then) in 1652 with their four children.  The Springsteens today descend from the three sons – Joost, Johannes and Melchior.

The Springsteen numbers spread to Brooklyn, Long Island and upstate to Albany.  By the time of the 1840 census, New York state still had the most numbers, followed by New Jersey.  The website following provides an analysis of these early Springsteens in America:

Bruce’s Ethnicity.  Dutch would predominate in his genes.  The early Springsteens in New York would usually have married with their own kind.  And the first of Bruce’s line in New Jersey married Catherine Van Pelt, clearly a Dutch name, in 1783.

But later marriages brought in Irish and Italian lines.  The Irish came from his paternal great grandmother Martha O’Hagen and grandmother Alice McNicholas and the Italian from his mother Adele Anne Zerilli.

Bruce has said that his ancestry has been a source of inspiration for his music. His Dutch heritage gave him a sense of independence, his Irish heritage a sense of humor, and his Italian heritage a love of food and music.

Springsteens in New Jersey

There must have been a path from the Springsteen forefather who arrived in New York in 1652 and the John Simon Springsteen who was born in Middlesex county in the northwest corner of New Jersey in 1759.

Was this John Simon the son of Simeon Casparse Springsteen of Albany, New York?  Or maybe the son of Jacobus and Marritje Springsteen from Long Island?  It is not clear.

John Simon fought in the Revolutionary War.  He had by then moved to Monmouth county closer to the Jersey shoreline.  This area was sparsely inhabited at that time with a mixture of English (some Quaker), Dutch and Swedish settlers.

Six generations of Springsteens, including Bruce, have since been born and raised in Monmouth county:

  • William A. Springsteen (1793-1865), born in Freehold township
  • Alexander A. Springsteen (1822-1888), born in Howell township
  • Anthony Springsteen (1871-1959), born in Howell township
  • Fred Springsteen (1900-1962), born in Allentown
  • Doug Springsteen (1924-1998), born in Freehold township
  • and Bruce Springsteen (b. 1949), from Freehold township

The Springsteens did not move around much, staying in the Howell and Freehold townships in central New Jersey most of the time.  Howell had its ironworks and Freehold its rug mill.  Bruce’s father Doug had worked in the mill for a while and Bruce referred to the mill in his song My Hometown.

Alexander Springteen had been a Unionist soldier experiencing bloody battles during the Civil War.  Later Springsteens had more hum-drum jobs.  Alexander himself was recorded as a laborer in the 1880 census, Anthony fifty years later as a carpenter in building construction, and Doug – Bruce’s father – in various jobs including that of bus driver.

In 2020 the Monmouth County Historical Association put together a year-long exhibit that commemorated Bruce and in addition traced the history of his family in the county.

And Later Life

Doug Springsteen married Adele Zerilli at the St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Freehold, New Jersey in 1948.  They returned to the home of Doug’s eccentric parents, Fred and Alice Springsteen.

Many of their relatives lived nearby. “There was my cousin’s house, my aunt’s house, my great-grandmother’s house, my aunt’s house on my mother’s side with my other grandmother in it,” Bruce later said. “We were all on one street, with the church in the middle.”

But all was not well on the Springsteen side.  The death of Doug’s older sister Virginia at the age of six seemed to have cast a pallor on his life.  He worked at the rug mill for a while and then as a bus driver  But in later years he retreated into a depressive fog which never really lifted.  He lived onto 1998.

His wife Adele, who worked as a legal secretary, was the main bread-winner of the family.  She had come from an Italian immigrant family in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn.  Her father Antonio, born in Naples, had come through Ellis Island and could not read nor write when he arrived.  He eventually became a lawyer and impressed the young Bruce as someone “larger than life.”

Adele was still going strong and celebrated her 98th birthday on May 4th, 2023.

The other factor in Bruce’s home life and growing up was the Church.  He served as an altar boy and attended the St. Rose of Lima parochial school.  But he found life there extremely difficult because of the strict rules and regulations enforced by the nuns.

Bruce Springsteen’s Family Tree

  • John Simon Springsteen (1759-1844) from Middlesex, New Jersey m. Catherine Van Pelt (1763-1801) in New Jersey in 1783; rem. Elizabeth Briant (1781-1859)
  • – Phebe Springsteen (b. 1786) with Catherine
  • – John Springsteen (b. 1788) with Catherine
  • – William Alexander Springsteen (1793-1865) with Catherine
  • – Aaron Springsteen (1806-1895) m. Elizabeth Hyer, with Elizabeth
  • – Mary Springsteen (1812-1901) m. John Babcock, with Elizabeth
  • William A. Springsteen from Monmouth, New Jersey m. Sarah Josephs (b. 1795) in New Jersey in 1809
  • – Alexander A. Springsteen (1822-1888)
  • Alexander A. Springsteen from Monmouth, New Jersey m. Harriet Smith (1829-1908) in New Jersey in 1850
  • – William Springsteen (b. 1855) m. Dora Wakefield
  • – Charles Springsteen (1857-1921) m. Anna
  • – Borden Springsteen (1859-1936) m. Jane Lewis
  • – John Springsteen (b. 1862) m. Elizabeth Sheriff
  • – Minnie Springsteen (1864-1926)
  • – George Springsteen (1867-1921) m. Ida Nelson
  • – Anthony Springsteen (1871-1959)
  • Anthony Springsteen from Monmouth, New Jersey m. Martha O’Hagen (1869-1937), the daughter of an Irish immigrant, in New Jersey in 1898
  • – Frederick Springsteen (1900-1962)
  • – Clarence Springsteen (1901-1949) m. Winona Rhodes
  • Frederick (Fred) Springsteen from Monmouth, New Jersey m. Alice McNicholas (1899-1965), the daughter of a prior Irish immigrant, in New Jersey in 1920
  • – Alice Virginia Springsteen (1921-1927)
  • – Douglas Springsteen (1924-1998)
  • Douglas (Dutch) Springsteen from Monmouth, New Jersey m. Adele Ann Zerilli (b. 1925), the daughter of an Italian immigrant. in New Jersey in 1948
  • – Bruce Springsteen (b. 1949), the Boss
  • – Virginia (Ginny) Springsteen (b. 1950), m. Mickey Shave
  • – Pamela (Pam) Springsteen (b. 1962), actress and photographer
  • Bruce Springsteen from Monmouth, New Jersey m. Julianne Phillips (b. 1960) in 1985, divorced in 1989: rem. Patti Skialfa (b. 1953) in 1991
  • – Evan Springsteen (b. 1990), radio program director
  • – Jessica Springsteen (b. 1991), show jumping rider
  • – Samuel (Sam) Springsteen (b. 1994), firefighter


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Written by Colin Shelley

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