Thursday, July 24, 2008

Trijntje Gerrits (DOLSTRA) VALK (1826 - 1912)


Source: Valk, Trijntje Gerrits Dolstra. Photograph. Bef. 1888. Original photograph believed to be in the possession of John Heidema, Little Silver, New Jersey, 2008.

My 4th-great-grandmother and immigrant ancestor, Trijntje "Katherine" Gerrits DOLSTRA was born 8 November 1826 in the municipality (similar to a township) of Ferwerderadeel, the province of Friesland, the Netherlands. Her parents were Gerrit Hendriks DOLSTRA and Willemke Gerryts ENBRENGHOF, and it is likely she was born in the village of Marrum where her parents were married twenty years earlier.

I know more about Trijntje's (TRINT-yah) mother Willemke's family than her family of her father Gerrit DOLSTRA. Willemke's father was Jan Gerryt Martens ENGBRENGHOF, and he had been born in 1755 in Burgsteinfurt, Westfalen in what is now Germany. He immigrated to Friesland between 1774 and 1778. It is possible that his immigration was motivated by religious reasons, as the Netherlands was religiously tolerant and a haven for the persecuted (think of the Pilgrims). We know that Jan was a member of the Evangelist church before he left Westfalen, too. In Marrum, he opened a shop and became a master linen weaver. He married Trijntje HESSELS (1762 - bef. 1811) on 29 Aug 1779 in Marrum. She was the daughter of Hessel Daniels van der PLOEG, a ship master, at a time when the Netherlands built the best ships (fishing and war) to sail the seven seas. It is this Trijntje for whom my Trijntje was indirectly named.

Willemke was the fifth of eleven children, and she married Gerrit Hendriks DOLSTRA (c. 1782 - 1838), of whom we know so little, in Marrum on 29 June 1806. Apparently it was difficult for them to conceive children. Their first child, born in 1807, was named Trijntje (not my ancestor) after Willemke's mother. Eight long years followed before the birth of Grietje, named after Gerrit's mother. Then tragedy struck, and 18-year-old Trijntje died. Sixteen months later, my Trijntje was born. Her parents were 44 and 38 at the time of her birth, and her father Gerrit passed away when she was 12 years old. Willemke died five years later. It is likely that 17-year-old Trijntje and 22-year-old Grietje worked as domestics or laborers until Grietje's marriage six years later.

In the village of Marrum was a young man by the name of Wieger Tjammes VALK, and he and Trijntje wed on 23 May 1857. Wieger was 29, Trijntje 30, not unusual ages for men and women to marry in the Netherlands at that time. A boy, Gerrit, was born 18 November 1858, but died the following January. Then twin boys were born on 24 Jun 1860 and were named Gerrit and Tjamme (T' YUH-muh) after their grandfathers. Life went on in the little village until the boys reached the fall of their 13th year, when Gerrit died. For a while, a nephew of Wieger, also named Tjamme, lived with them, and was enumerated in the Dutch national census in 1880 with the household. Not much further is know about the VALK family until Tjamme, at age 21, immigrated to the United States in 1882. With him was his fiancée, Berber Sjoerds DeJONG, whom he married that June in Rock Island, Rock Island Co., Illinois.

Tjamme and Berber, who in America became known as James and Barbara, started a family. Their first four children were born in Rock Island but only the child that would become my great-grandfather, William, survived childhood. The family moved north and lived briefly in Holland, Ottawa Co., Michigan before moving again slightly east to Grand Rapids, in Kent County. By now it was 1888, and news must have reached them of Wieger's death. Trijntje was all alone; her sister had died in 1866 and her brother-in-law in 1873. There appears to be no nieces or nephews on that side of the family. Trijntje apparently wasn't close with her late husband's family, and James and Barbara must have urged her to come live with them in America. Before she left, she traveled to the nearest big city, Leeuwarden, the provincial capital, and had the above photograph taken in her native Frisian costume. Each area of the Netherlands has a traditional dress and experts can even distinguish between villages by the style of the ladies' caps.

Trijntje became known as Katherine in Grand Rapids. She brought with her her Dutch Bible, in which she carefully wrote the birth and death dates of her grandchildren. We are so fortunate to have that Bible in existence, because in searching the vital records of Rock Island, I was only able to find a recording of one of the four children born there.

Katherine had a long, hard life. She witnessed the death of many loved ones, including three grandchildren in Grand Rapids. She herself died of senile decay at the age of 85 on 19 May 1912 in James and Barbara's home in Walker Township, just west of the city. In the fall of 2000, I stood for the first time ever at an ancestral burial place and photographed the graves of Katherine, James and Barbara in Greenwood Cemetery. It was an emotional experience, and I could only feel gratitude that my ancestors had taken the risk to come to a land where they knew their descendants could have a better, richer life than they had had. I hope somehow they know how much I appreciate them and comprehend the sacrifices they made.


Source: Tombstone of Catherine Valk, Greenwood Cemetery, Walker Twp., Kent Co., Michigan. Photograph. October 2000. Original in the possession of Miriam Robbins Midkiff, Spokane, Washington. 2008.

[Note: Birth and death dates inscribed on the tombstone are incorrect and have been verified to be incorrect by researching vital records in the Netherlands and Michigan. The tombstone was tilted so badly that it had to be photographed from the backside, then inverted.]
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