Saturday, February 28, 2009

My Brickwall Ancestor: Berber "Barbara" J. (DeJONG) VALK (1858 - 1934)

On January 5th of this year, I posted an article, "Who Are Our Brickwall Ancestors, and Why Aren't We Blogging About Them Regularly?" which was widely received. I fully intended to write about one of my brickwall ancestors, Levi Edward McLALLIN, during the month of January. However, that month I received his Civil War Veteran's pension file from the National Archives, which provided a great wealth of information that I am still digesting and analyzing. Therefore, he is off my Brickwall Ancestors list for the time being. I now introduce February's Brickwall Ancestor:

I'm extremely fortunate that I can trace so many of my ancestral lines back many generations, the result, I suppose, of having so much Dutch and New England ancestry centered in locations where good vital records were kept from early times. My most recent brickwall--"recent" meaning how near in time to this present generation--is one of my maternal great-great-grandmothers, Berber "Barbara" J. DeJONG. On my ahnentafel (ancestor report), she appears as number 25, being my mother's father's father's mother. This is what I wish to know about her: I would like to know exactly where she was born, to confirm the names of her parents and any siblings she may have had, and discover the story of that family unit. I suspect that because I cannot find much information that her parents may have died young, or some other event occurred that made her appear to be an "orphan" ancestor, with no history, so to speak, until she immigrates with my great-great-grandfather, marries, and has children.

Here is what I know:

Berber J. DeJONG was born 9 April 1858 in the Netherlands. This information comes from her death certificate, which states she died 1 June 1934 at the age of 76 years 1 month, 23 days [1], as well as from the 1900 U.S. Federal Census, which states her month and year of birth as April 1858 and her birthplace as the Netherlands [2]. Her age and birthplace listed in the 1910, 1920, and 1930 Federal Censuses are consistent with this information [3, 4, 5], and her children's various vital and census records all give her birthplace as the Netherlands or "Holland".

She immigrated from the Netherlands with her fiance, Tjamme "James" Wiegers VALK, arriving from the port of Amsterdam at New York City on the ship, Surrey, on 2 June 1882. They were steerage passengers and their names appear as "B. Dejong" and "Tj. de Val" respectively.[6] Tjamme was from the village of Marrum, municipality of Ferwerderadeel, the Province of Friesland. There are many people with the surname DeJONG listed in various Ferwerderadeel databases, but none seem to fit Berber's family.[7] She married Tjamme on 21 June 1882 in Rock Island Co., Illinois.[8] Both the immigration and marriage information are consistent with the Valk oral family history. However, some minor details do not comply. Supposedly, this couple knew each other before immigration, were engaged, and married on board ship by the captain (nothing on the passenger list confirms this). The oral family history goes on with the statement that the couple had to be married again once they reached shore, and that the Dutch community in Rock Island gave them a housewarming or some other type of bridal shower to celebrate their marriage.

On 29 May 1883, Barbara gave birth to a daughter, Chaterina T. VALK in Rock Island. [9] Chaterina was likely named for James' mother, Trijntje "Katherine" (DOLSTRA) VALK. This is interesting, because in the Dutch culture, the first daughter was usually named for the maternal grandmother. Katherine played an important role in James and Barbara's household, as we shall later see. This is my first piece of information that makes me suspect something had happened to Barbara's parents by this time or that she was alienated from the family in some way. The middle initial "T" likely stood for Tjammes, as the Dutch naming system included patronyms (Chaterina Tjammes--daughter of Tjamme--VALK). On 5 June 1883, little Chaterina died. [10]

On 5 November 1884 another daughter was born, also named Chaterina and nicknamed Tryntje. This baby was born in South Rock Island, and was the only Illinois-born child of James and Barbara to have her birth officially recorded by the local government. James' occupation is listed as a day laborer, key to the point that he never appears once in the city directories for Rock Island during the four-year period they lived there. Day laborers and immigrants often did not appear in early city directories. [11, 12]

My great-grandfather, William Tjammes VALK and his twin sister Jennie D. James VALK, were born 6 August 1886 in Rock Island. [13] Of the eight children Barbara gave birth to, William was the first one to survive childhood. The "D" in Jennie's name may have stood for DOLSTRA, her paternal grandmother's maiden name. Within the next eight months, the family moved to Holland, Ottawa Co., Michigan, where Jennie died on 19 April 1887. [14, 15] The family moved yet again, to Grand Rapids, Kent Co., Michigan, where Barbara gave birth to another daughter, Jennie James VALK, on 29 December 1888. [16] Jennie was the first daughter to survive childhood. The 1889-1890 city directory listed the family's address as 534 Turner (now located near the I-196/State Highway 131 interchange). [17] Jennie's birth was followed by another daughter, Geertje James VALK, on 2 May 1890, the last of the three Valk children who attained adulthood. [18, 19]

Possible house or house location of the Valk family in 1890. From Google Maps.

At this time, the family was living on the south side of Quimby Street in Grand Rapids, just a few houses west of the intersection of Quimby and Union Avenue, and just south of the location of the present-day Kent Country Club. [20] On 12 April 1891, tragedy struck their household as their oldest daughter, little Chaterina, age 6, died of drowning. [21, 22] I have no details; perhaps I can request a search of The Grand Rapids Press and The Grand Rapids Herald for that time frame to see if there was any article about it.

By the time another daughter, Chaterina "Catherine" VALK, born 17 February 1895 came along, the family was renting a house at 534 North Ionia Street [23, 24, 25]. This was James and Barbara's third and final attempt at naming a girl for James's mother. This baby also died, on 4 July 1895, from summer complaint (diarrhea; usually in infants, caused by spoiled milk). [26, 27] (There are no longer any homes on this part of Ionia Street, as it flanks the main arterial in town, Division Street, just off the off-ramp of I-196/Gerald Ford Parkway.)

The following summer, a son--the last child born to the VALKs--was born on 30 June 1896. His name was recorded as "Tammie J. VALK" in the family Bible [28], although the correct spelling would have been "Tjamme". Although he was obviously named for his father, instead of anglicizing his name to James, it was recorded as Thomas (probably an incorrect assumption by the English-speaking county clerk) on his death record. The Fourth of July could never have been a truly happy event for this immigrant family, since not only had their last Chaterina died on that date, but so did little Tjamme, in 1897. [29, 30]

The Valk Family. C. 1915 - 1918, probably in Grand Rapids, Kent Co., Michigan. Original believed to be believed to be privately held by John Hanson Heidema, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Little Silver, New Jersey, 2000. [Note: This photograph depicts James, Barbara, their daughters and sons-in-law; son William is missing. Perhaps he is the photographer.]

Tjamme Wiegers and Berber J. (DeJONG) VALK. Bef. 1922. Original believed to be privately held by John Hanson Heidema, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Little Silver, New Jersey, 2000. [Note: This photo was probably taken when James had been hospitalized for jaundice, as he appears to be wearing some sort of hospital gown.]

Berber J. (DeJONG) VALK with grandson Gerritt John HEIDEMA, Jr. C. 1919, Kent County, Michigan. Original believed to be privately held by John Hanson Heidema, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Little Silver, New Jersey, 2000.

On 6 July 1901, a newspaper article in The Grand Rapids Press's real estate section mentioned that James had bought four acres at 1315 West Leonard in Walker Township (now a part of the City of Grand Rapids) for $1300. [31] It was this small farm that would be the Valk family's final home. On 12 May 1912, James's mother Trijntje passed away. [32, 33] Ten years later, James himself died on 15 May 1922. [34] Barbara herself lived to the age of 76, dying 1 June 1934 of valvular heart disease and dropsy. [35]

Grave of Berber J. (DeJONG) VALK, Greenwood Cemetery, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Original privately held by Miriam Robbins Midkiff [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Spokane, Washington. 2009.

Neither her obituary [36] or probate records [37] list any other family members besides her three surviving children. Her death certificate states her father's name as "Sjerd De Jonge" [sic - correct Dutch spelling should be "Sjoerd"]. [38] Understanding the way the Dutch named their children for their parents and siblings, it is very likely that Barbara's mother's name was a Dutch or Frisian variation of the English "Jennie," such as Janna, Janetje, or Janke. We know that there were three attempts by James and Barbara to name a daughter after his mother (Trijntje, Chaterina, Katherine, etc.). Gertrude (Geertje) was probably named after the only other known woman in the family, James' maternal aunt, Grietje Gerrits (DOLSTRA) DeVRIES. Thus, the two attempts to name a daughter Jennie probably stem from the desire to honor Barbara's mother or other female relative. Barbara's middle initial, J, probably also is a reference to her mother, as Dutch people usually used their patronym (in this case being Sjoerds) as a middle name.

In my attempt to find out more about Barbara's roots, I've researched three online database websites: Genlias (the Dutch National Archives), Tresoar (the Friesland Provincial Archives) and Efskip Terdoarpen (a personal genealogy project highlighting the resources of the municipality of Ferwerderadeel, where the Valk family lived for several generations prior to immigration). I have found a Berber deJONG born 28 May 1858 to Klaas Jitzes deJONG and Jacobje Uiltjes HETTINGA in the Tresoar index, but investigating this family closely leads me to believe quite confidently that this is not my Barbara. Because I have not been successful finding Barbara or her family in Friesland resources, I wonder if she came from the neighboring province of Groningen, which also had many people of Frisian ethnicity living there. Groningen online resources are not as proliferate as the ones from Friesland, so I should probably research microfilmed ones, although I'm not certain where to start. Perhaps church records in Grand Rapids will yield some clues, too. If anyone can give me specific ideas for research, I will be most appreciative!

This post was incredibly difficult to write, due to its length, as well as the organization, analysis and citation of records. I certainly don't expect it to be of interest to anyone other than family members, or perhaps those with experience working with Dutch records. However, it was a good exercise in carefully examining what I do and do not have and putting it into an orderly timeline.

1. Michigan Department of Health, death certificate 1260 (1934), Barbara Valk; Division of Vital Statistics, Lansing.

2. "1900 United States Federal Census," database, ( accessed 16 November 2008), entry for Barbaril Faulk, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

3. "1910 United States Federal Census," database, ( accessed16 November 2008), entry for Barbara Valk, Walker Township, Kent County, Michigan.

4. "1920 United States Federal Census," database, ( accessed 15 November 2008), entry for Barber Valk, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

5. "1930 United States Federal Census," database, ( accessed 18 April 2007), entry for Barbara Valk, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

6. "New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957," database, ( accessed 16 February 2009), entries for Tj. de Val and B. deJong, arrived 2 June 1882, Surrey.

7. van der Ploeg, Catharinus, "Familienamen/Surnames" database, Stichting Erfskip Terpdoarpen ( accessed 16 February 2009), entries for DeJong surname.

8. Rock Island County, Illinois, "Index to marriage registers, 1834-1925; marriage registers, 1833-1924," liber D, pg. 160, record no. 11976, James Falk & Miss Barbara DeYong entry; County Clerk, City of Rock Island. FHL microfilm 1,428,580, item 6. Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.

9. Trijntje Gerrits (Dolstra) Valk Family Bible Records, 1883 - 1897, Bijbel, dat is De Gansche Heilige Schrift (Amsterdam and Haarlem: De Nederlandsche Bijbel-Compagnie, 1870); privately held by Elizabeth (Hanson) Heidema (deceased 2001), [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Clifford Lake, Michigan, 2000. The family records are written in Dutch, presumably by TrijntjeValk. It appears that the provenance of this Bible can be traced from Elizabeth Heidema to her mother-in-law, Jennie James (Valk) Heidema VanderWal, to her mother, Trijntje Valk, the original owner.

10. Ibid.

11. Rock Island County, Illinois, "Births, stillbirths, and established or delayed births, 1875-1978," liber 2, pg. 115, record no. 1478, Catrina Faulk entry; County Clerk, City of Rock Island. FHL microfilm 1,428,685, item 2. Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.

12. "Rock Island and Moline, Illinois Directories, 1882-92" database, ( accessed 16 February 2009), entries for Valk, Faulk, and related surnames using Soundex feature.

13. Trijntje Gerrits (Dolstra) Valk Family Bible Records, 1883 - 1897.

14. Ibid.

15. "Michigan Death Records, 1867 - 1967" database, FamilySearch Record Search ( accessed 28 February 2009), entry for Jennie Valk.

16. Trijntje Gerrits (Dolstra) Valk Family Bible Records, 1883 - 1897.

17. "Grand Rapids City Directories, 1889-90" database, ( accessed 28 February 2009), entry for James Valk, 1889.

18. Grand Rapids, Michigan, Birth Records, Book 8: 255, Gertrude Valk, 1890. City Clerk's Office, Grand Rapids.

19. Trijntje Gerrits (Dolstra) Valk Family Bible Records, 1883 - 1897.

20."Grand Rapids City Directories, 1889-90" database, ( accessed 28 February 2009), entry for James Valk, 1890.

21. Grand Rapids, Michigan, Death Records, Book 3: 291, Tryntje Valk, 1891. City Clerk's Office, Grand Rapids.

22. Trijntje Gerrits (Dolstra) Valk Family Bible Records, 1883 - 1897.

23. Grand Rapids, Michigan, Birth Records, Book 10: 375, Catherine Valk, 1895. City Clerk's Office, Grand Rapids.

24. Trijntje Gerrits (Dolstra) Valk Family Bible Records, 1883 - 1897.

25. "1900 United States Federal Census," database, ( accessed 16 November 2008), entry for Barbaril Faulk, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

26. Grand Rapids, Michigan, Death Records, Book 4: 184, Catherine Valk, 1895. City Clerk's Office, Grand Rapids.

27. Trijntje Gerrits (Dolstra) Valk Family Bible Records, 1883 - 1897.

28. Ibid.

29. Grand Rapids, Michigan, Death Records, Book 4: 306, Thomas Valk, 1897. City Clerk's Office, Grand Rapids.

30. Trijntje Gerrits (Dolstra) Valk Family Bible Records, 1883 - 1897.

31. ---, “For Small Homes There is a Demand in South and East Ends. Prices Grow Stiff and Real Estate Market is in a Healthy Condition. There Were Several Large Transfers Placed on Record This Past Week,” The Grand Rapids (Michigan) Press, 6 July 1901, pg. 3, col. 3 – 4; digital image, ( : 7 January 2009), Historical Newspapers.

32. Grand Rapids, Michigan, Death Records, Book 8: 118, Kathrine Valk, 1922. City Clerk's Office, Grand Rapids.

33. Michigan Department of Health, death certificate 4481 (1912), Kathrine Valk; Division of Vital Statistics, Lansing.

34. Grand Rapids, Michigan, Death Records, Book 11: 191, James Valk, 1922. City Clerk's Office, Grand Rapids.

35. Michigan Department of Health, death certificate 1260 (1934), Barbara Valk; Division of Vital Statistics, Lansing.

36. ---, “Obituary,” The Grand Rapids (Michigan) Press, 2 June 1934, pg. 18, unknown column.

37. Kent County, Michigan , Will Book 911: 195, Barbara Valk; Office of the County Probate Court Clerk, Grand Rapids.

38. Michigan death certificate 1260 (1934), Barbara Valk.


Thomas MacEntee said...

Miriam - I did find this interesting because I too have Dutch ancestry just like you.

I appreciate your thorough explanation of the facts as well as the reference notes!

Thomas MacEntee

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful story of your Barbara DeJong! It took a lot of time and energy to get it all down but I'm sure it will be worth it because you've got the facts and the possibilities all there. You're my hero! I also had Michingan ancestors during that time frame. My James M. Blanding brought his family to Ionia and Montcalm Counties in 1858, their farm was just west of Grand Rapids, Kent Co., where your Barbara lived starting 1888. I enjoyed the photos, and a nice touch to put the photo of the house from Google Maps Street View. Thanks for posting this great information. Donna

Anonymous said...

Dear Miriam,

I would suggest you have a look at the website of "De Sneupers" as well. They are a Historical Society for Northeastern Friesland, including Ferwerderadeel.

I have not found any link to Berber (yet), but they keep adding databases, and you can leave a message or ask a question.

You can find the website at .

I hope this helps.

Jennifer said...

Contrary to what you thought, I also found it very interesting and I have no Dutch ancestry. I am impressed by the details, your organization and your storytelling.

You must be the change you want to see in the world said...

Hi Miriam,

You could search other sources
such as the Personal Record Cards and the Personal Record Lists in the Netherlands. See

Copies of Excerpts from Personal Record Cards and Personal
Record Lists can only be ordered by sending a letter to the
address below. In order to find the correct card or list, it is very
important that you provide the CBG with the correct details in
your letter. You can help by providing:
1. Full family name (maiden name for married woman) and first
name(s) in alphabetical order
2. Year and, if possible, exact date of death
3. Date and place of birth
4. Any additional information, such as names of parents and/or

Miriam Robbins said...

Cousin Anja, thank you for your suggestion. However, I looked at the document you suggested and it says that Personal Cards and Lists were used from 1938 to 1944 in the Netherlands. My Berber moved to America in 1882 and died in 1934, so she would not be on the Cards or the Lists.

Henk said...

Hello, my name is Henk van der Wijk and I do small look-ups in the Netherlands for people abroad in case of ancestry. I have a copy of Berber de Jong her birthcertificate, is it still needed? Maybe I can find out more about her family, but I first would like to know, do you still need the copy? kindest regards

Anonymous said...

I am sorry, but the record I found was the same Berber de Jong that you found in Tresoar and she died two years later in Holland. I am sorry I made you happy with nothing, but I will keep on researching this. I can not find ANY Berber de Jong of the same birthdate or close. Maybe something happened to her last name. Maybe she was born with another name and later on adopted by the man who married the mother of Berber. I will see what I can do. I am REALLY sorry for my first false attempt. Shame on me!

Anonymous said...

Hello again. I did some research again and found a Berber de Jong, born apr 8th 1856 in the village of Harkstede, municipality of Slochteren, province of Groningen. Her mother died in the same year and was called Jitske Douwes Soepboer(was Jennie named after her?). Berber her father was Tjeerd Thijzes de Jong, he was a gardener and moved to the province of Friesland after the death of Jitske. He settled in the village of Surhuizum in the municipality of Achtkarspelen. Tjeerd died already in January 1862 in this same village. This story matches what you believed to be the case: the parents both died when Berber was young. But the year of birth is off two years and the day of birth is April 8th(is this possible?) You state that she was called Berber J de Jng when she boarded for America, but is it possible it was Berber T. de Jong, because the capital J and T in former writing can be easily confused, do you have copies to show me? I hope this leads to your ancestor. If this is 'your' Berber I believe I can find more information about her parents, etc.
Kindest regards again, Henk

Henk van der Wijk said...

Hello again. I found out that Tjeerd Thijses de Jong originated from the village Ternaard in municipality Ferwerderadeel. It might be possible that the young girl Berber was put into the care of relatives of Tjeerd and so ended up in the same municipality as here future husband. I saw that you stated that in the deathcertificate she was 76, 1 month and 23 days, which brings me to april 8th instead of 9th as birthdate. The reason why the birthyear can differ from yours is that people didn't know much about age and didn't celebrate birthdays in the 19th century and because she was very little when her parents died, no parent could inform anyone of the age of Berber, maybe it was just an estimation by a brother or sister, when they ask how old she is. And I believe she was too young too know or understand. I have seen it many times in genealogy that people hardly knew there age in the past. Here I stop again giving you some new facts and ideas. Regards, Henk van der Wijk

Miriam Robbins said...

Wow, Henk, thank you so much for taking the time to find all this information! It is a very interesting and plausible theory that you have put together. I think the best way for me to see if my Berber is the same as yours is to look at the population registers that were taken every 10 years, working back from the time she immigrated to her birth.

Thank you, again, for doing all this! I hope that it turns out that this is her family!