The name, de Kabat (pronounced d’ KAA bit), is derived from Hungarian and means the cloak or mantle.

de Kabat is named after an ancestor of Renee, Ivan de Kabat, who was an eye specialist during the reign of Tsar Alexander II.

Ivan cured the Tsar’s sister-in-law of an eye disease and was given a title (an inheritable knighthood). This title was the highest honour given to non-aristocracy and allowed him entry, at the lowest level, to the aristocratic class.

Ivan’s oldest son died of an injury sustained in the last week of the battle for Shipka Pass (in Turkey) and the title passed to Ivan’s other son, also called Ivan. Ivan de Kabat was fairly wealthy (a banker) and he owned several properties around Russia, perhaps the most famous is the de Kabat villa in Kisdlovodsk. This villa still stands and is currently owned by the Ukranian Government and is used as a holiday house for parliamentary officials. He was married but had no heir.

To gain an heir, he adopted his sister, Marie’s (who had married a Dutchman and artist Eugene Geelen), youngest son – Jean Jacques Geelen. Jean Jacques relinquished his dutch citizenship and name to take up the title and property. Unfortunately shortly after his marriage to Xenia, the Russian revolution struck. Jean Jacques decided that it wasn’t prudent to be a de Kabat, so took up the Geelen name again. Jean Jacques and his family, however, now had no citizenship, but he managed to convince the Dutch to take him back. Jean Jacques died aged 57 leaving behind Xenia and four boys.

Alexander, the oldest boy, was born in Helsinki while it was still part of Russia. After the revolution, Finland declared it’s independence from Russia and Alex was issued with a new birth certificate. This certificate had a new name (following the switch from de Kabat back to Geelen by Jean Jacques), a new birth place (using Helsinki rather than the Russian version, Helsingfors) and a new date (Finland adopted the Gregarian calendar, not the Julianian as was previously used in Russia). Alex was a university student during WWII in Holland. He hid for most of the war in a basement doing jigsaw puzzles, but was eventually “captured” and relocated to a German work camp. Here he did jobs like cleaning up ammunitions factories. He escaped about a week before the war ended and arrived in Holland at his uncles place the day after the war ended. Later, Alex married Mieke Heybrook (though the dual birth certificates made it challenging) and moved to New Zealand with their young family. Alex worked as an engineer for ECNZ while in New Zealand.

Their oldest son, Janic and current title holder, is the father of Renee. Janic, a schoolteacher, enjoys a place in the New Zealand Who’s Who as an author and aircraft historian. He is also a keen family historian and this story is thanks to his efforts in researching the family’s interesting history.

Information courtesy of Janic Geelen.