Saturday, July 2, 2011


Don and Joan's recent visit to the Netherlands was a homecoming of sorts.  You don't have to climb too far up their family trees to find people who lived in Holland, decided to leave for one reason or another and so immigrated to America.  When you hear Don and Joan recount some of the family stories told by their parents, it gives you a real appreciation for the hardships people faced and the courage they displayed.

Don’s father’s family was from the Maasdaam area, which is about an hour south of Den Haag.  They left Holland in 1884 and moved all the way to Holland.....Holland, Michigan that his.  Don’s dad, Adrianus, was around 5 at the time.  Don's grandfather worked for the railroad there.  Unfortunately, he had to work every third Sunday which didn’t please him.  So an aunt sent money to bring the family to Pella, Iowa (another US town with a Dutch heritage that hosts a tulip festival, just like Woodburn, Oregon).   From there it was just a hop, skip and jump over to Prairie City where Don grew up on his dad's farm. 
Lori did some exhaustive research into the Ryerkerk family genealogy (she googled it and some kind soul had posted the entire family tree for the last 600 years).  The starting point seems to be the late 1400's when Jan van Ridderkerk (translated as John from Ridderkerk) comes on the scene.  The town of Ridderkerk still exists today.   

Looks like the folks in Riddekerk need a new sign....or a new target. 

And now for your listening pleasure, directly from the Fatherland....

The family stayed in Ridderkerk for the next 200 years and seemed to develop the habit of using the same names for their sons.  We go from Arien Arensz to Maarten Arienz to Cornelius Maarten to Maarten Cornelius back to Cornelius Maarten and from there we lose the middle names.  However, about every other son after that was named Cornelius.   In the early 1700's they moved to the Maasdam area and in the mid 1800's the name changes to Rijerkerk or Reijerkerk. 

That's the speed limit, not Don's age. 
There is no reason given for the name change, but my guess is poor penmanship.  Some poor village clerk couldn't read Mr. Ridderkerk's writing, so he made a guess and it came out Rijerkerk.  The Dutch are notorious for unreadable signatures; they typically just make two big strokes in random directions followed by microscopic scribbles and call that their signature.

How things went from Rijerkerk to the US version of Ryerkerk is much easier to explain.  The Dutch alphabet doesn't us the "y" as a vowel; they use the "ij" instead for the long i sound.  But when they immigrated to the US, the "ij" went to the typical English spelling of a "y" and the name became Ryerkerk.  In Holland, the name remains Rijerkerk -- in fact, Lori has several official documents where they've used the Dutch spelling of her name (and it's not due to poor penmanship).  As an aside, she also gets challenged when she asks to speak English on the phone.  The reply is often, "But you have a Dutch name, can't you speak Dutch?" 

The local Reformed Church in Maasdam

The cemetary behind the church had two Rijerkerk headstones

The Maasdam countryside. Full of typical Dutch things....windmill, flat land, and water.

Joan's mother, Geraldine or Dina, was born in Veenandaal, Holland which is about one and a half hours east of Den Haag.  She came to the US via Ellis Island in 1909 or 1910 with her parents, 6 sisters and 3 brothers.  Geraldine was 5 or 6 years old at the time.  Her mother baked bread for the boat trip and Dina remembered it being moldy and stale by the end of the trip -- but that was what they had to eat, so they ate it.  When they landed at Ellis Island someone gave them bananas to eat.  Having never seen a banana before they didn't know whether to eat the skin, the insides or both.  

The Oude Kerk (Old Church) in Veenandaal.  The town must have been heavily bombed in WWII (it's near Arnhem of A Bridge Too Far fame) because there were almost no other old buildings. 
The family must have known someone in Pella who sponsored them, because they went directly there via train.  Within a year of landing in Pella Dina's dad was pulling out a fence post and died of a heart attack leaving her Mom alone with all those children.  Joan's father, Tim, was born in Pella (which is almost Holland) in 1902.  Tim's father also died young, leaving his wife with 4 children and pregnant with the fifth. 

Joan's heritage is a little tougher to trace.  I don't know if she is hiding something in her past or what, but there seem to be a lot of name changes.  She believes her mother's maiden name was Rouw but we can't find that name in the Ellis Island Registry.  It could have been spelled differently in Holland, i.e. Rau, etc.  Her father's surname was Plate, but that is probably the English version of the Dutch name van der Platts.   In all seriousness these are real examples of what people did to adopt to their new country.
While we were attempting to trace Joan's heritage in Veenandaal, we came across an operating windmill.  Since we hadn't found much else interesting in the town, we pulled in, not knowing if it was open for tourists or not.  When a gentleman came out to see what we wanted, I poured it on, telling him that this woman was visiting Holland for the first time, her mother was born in this town 100 years ago, etc.  He turned out to be a wonderful fellow.  He was an eighth generation miller, he used the windmill to grind grain for animals and he gave us a full tour.  He was another example that everyone from Veenandaal is friendly. 
Three Dutch folks
The miller grasps the vertical stick on the left.  By raising and lowering the stick, the mechanism raises and lowers the grindstone (which is located above the ceiling) to make the grain courser or finer.  The milled grain comes down the chute on the left and the miller constantly monitors it with his hand to verify that he has the correct thickness. 

He demonstrated how he climbs the blades to unfurl the sails.