Saturday, May 25, 2019

Sister Trip to Michigan: Part I

In early May of this year, my younger sister and I took a one-week-long trip to Western Michigan to visit family, do a little genealogy, and sight-see.  Both of our parents are from Western Michigan: Mom is from the City of Grand Rapids in Kent County, and Dad was raised in Coopersville, a small town in Ottawa County about 20 miles west of Grand Rapids.

While not everything we did was related to genealogy, and what research we did was minimal, I am sharing our journey here, since we did a lot of follow up to some of the stories I have written about here in my blog.

A little background about our parents' families:  Our dad is the second child and first son of a family of five children.  His oldest sister lives in Spokane, near us.  The younger three siblings, an uncle and two aunts, live in Western Michigan.  Our mom was the only child of the marriage of her parents.  Her dad had been married before and had a disabled son from that marriage who died in his late teens.  Our grandmother was his second wife and he was her first husband.  Our mom was raised in her mother and step-dad's home with a younger brother and sister.  Our grandfather had three sons and a daughter with his third wife.  All of my mom's living siblings live in Western Michigan, except for her maternal half-sister who lives near Detroit.

The first day of our sister trip was Saturday, May 4th.  Our flight from Spokane to Grand Rapids through Denver arrived late in the afternoon, and after picking up our rental car and checking into our hotel, we met up with our uncle's family (our mom's maternal half-brother with whom she was raised) at a restaurant for an early dinner.  Attending was our uncle's wife, their daughter (our cousin) with two of her children, and their daughter's fiance.  After dinner, we headed to our cousin's house for more visiting, but on the way, we stopped at Fairplains Cemetery to visit our grandparents' graves.  It was my sister's first visit to their graves since they had passed away in 2001 and 2007.  I had visited the cemetery when I came to Michigan in 2012 for our paternal grandmother's memorial service.

Our maternal grandmother was born Ruth Lillian DeVries on 16 January 1919 in Blodgett Memorial Hospital, the Village of East Grand Rapids, Kent County, Michigan to John Martin and Lillian Fern (Strong) Hoekstra.  She was the eldest of three daughters.  She first married our grandfather, William Valk, on 11 September 1943 in Junction City, Geary County, Kansas, having traveled to marry him where he was stationed in the U.S. Army during World War II at Fort Riley.  After their divorce in 1946, she met and later married my step-grandfather, Adrian "Ed" DeVries on 3 October 1947 in Wyoming Township, Kent County.  Grandma died 25 August 2001 in Grand Rapids and was buried at Fairplains four days later.  Today, both the Village of East Grand Rapids and the area in Wyoming Township where she married Grandpa, are now a part of the City of Grand Rapids.

Our maternal (step) grandfather, Adrian "Ed" DeVries, was born 10 June 1916 in Grand Rapids to Jarig Egbert Binnes DeVries and his wife Johanna Bos (their names were Anglicized to George Edward Benjamin DeVries and Josephine Bush).  Ed was the third child and third son of five children.  He attended South High School in Grand Rapids just a few grades behind Gerald R. Ford, Jr., and eventually followed him to the University of Michigan, although the Great Depression cut his college education short.  He joined the U.S. Army during World War II and served as a military postal clerk in North Africa.  After the war, he met our grandmother on a blind date with mutual friends, and soon they were courting.  Our mother started calling him "Daddy" before Grandma even married him!  He raised our mother along with his own two biological children and never treated her any differently than if she were his own.  He was the only maternal grandfather we knew well, having met our Grandpa Valk only a few times.  In fact, of the six grandchildren Grandpa DeVries had, only one was biological, due to step-families and adoption.  He loved us all equally.  Adrian died 6 January 2007 in Grand Rapids, and was buried four days later at Fairplains.

After a nice visit at my cousin's house for a couple of hours, we headed back to our hotel, where I enjoyed the previous week's episode of Game of Thrones, having missed it, and then wrapped up the evening with a couple of drinks from room service.

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Saturday, May 18, 2019

Pieter and Maria: Part III

(Part I and Part II)

In mid-to-late 1872, Pieter and Maria (Van Klinken) Ton moved from Cincinnati to Grand Rapids, Michigan with their three daughters, Nellie, Mary, and Jennie (my ancestor), who were about 11, 8, and 5 years old, respectively.

Left behind in the area were Maria's oldest daughter, Cornelia "Kate" Van Klinken and her husband Joseph Meyers, who settled across the Ohio River in Newport, Campbell Co., Kentucky. They eventually had two children, neither of whom married or had children themselves.

Also left behind were Maria's sister, Adriana Van Klinken and her husband Leendert "Leonard" Klinke, who lived in Cincinnati. They eventually had four children, none of whom married or had children, either.

Finally, Pieter's widowed brother-in-law, Izak Pape, and his son Jacob also remained in Cincinnati. It's unknown at this time if Jacob had any descendants. It's likely Pieter and Maria never saw these family members again.

In Grand Rapids, they were joined by Maria's brother, Johannes "John" Van Klinken, who apparently immigrated about 10 years after they did. It's not clear where he lived, or with whom, until he appears in the same neighborhood as them in the 1873 Grand Rapids city directory. That year, John married Barendina "Dena" Lendering. They had two boys who did not survive infancy.

Pieter continued to work as a laborer in Grand Rapids. He and his family attended First Christian Reformed Church, located then at 58 Commerce Ave., SW. On 17 June 1874, he died of consumption. While that term was used most frequently to describe tuberculosis, "an infectious bacterial disease characterized by the growth of nodules (tubercles) in the tissues, especially the lungs" (Wikipedia), it's quite possible it may have been lung cancer caused by his exposure to white lead. We do not have a burial location for him, as the city did not start recording burials until about three months after he died.

Without a husband, Maria had no means to support herself and her three young daughters. A year later, she married a widower who lived down the street, Dirk Bijl (Byle), who had a ten year-old son, and a five-year-old daughter. Sadly, Maria herself died 22 April 1878 of dropsy, an old term for edema, "a condition characterized by an excess of watery fluid collecting in the cavities or tissues of the body."

Maria was buried in the Potter's Field of Valley City Cemetery, now a part of Oakhill Cemetery. It's very likely that Pieter had been buried there, too. There are no plot maps for this area, and few tombstones. Across a path from Potter's Field, Maria's brother John Van Klinken is buried in a identified plot. When I planned my trip to Western Michigan for early May 2019, I put Oakhill on my list of places to see. (Update: here is my post about the visit to the cemetery.)

Potter's Field, Southeast Corner of Oakhill Cemetery, Grand Rapids, Kent Co., Michigan
Taken for me by Chris Korstange, 2007

Dirk Bijl remarried shortly after. Not wanted in their step-father and step-mother's home, the older girls, Nellie and Mary, worked as maids, living at those homes or in boarding houses. Nellie eventually married Martin Huisman (Houseman) and had six children. Mary married Charles Jerome Cleveland and lived in Muskegon, Michigan. They had one daughter.

Jennie went to live with her Uncle John and Aunt Dina Van Klinken. She had no more than a third-grade education. For a time, she lived with Mary and Charles in Muskegon. Eventually, she became a laundress, and that is probably how she met my ancestor, Martin Jans Hoekstra, who was a teamster, driving a delivery wagon for the American Steam Laundry Company in Grand Rapids.  A laundress' life was hard, hot, dirty, muggy, and dangerous work in commercial laundries.  Google has a historic book about what it was like:  She was probably glad to give up the life of a laundress and start her life as a housewife.

Martin and Jennie married in 1886 and had four children, including my great-grandfather, John Martin Hoekstra. His daughter, my grandmother Ruth, had many fond memories of Jennie, who died when Grandma was 24.

I have a precious scrap of paper written by Jennie, with a few short memories of her parents scribbled on it: "I, remember when my mother was kind to me, and took the long walk, with her. Sundays after-noon. and her Love. I, remember the walk, my Father and I, took one evening. in Cincinnati Ohio: the Father's day. and mother's days are a blessing. Sunday Feb 14 - 1943."

I get emotional every time I read Jennie's note. She was not quite 7 when her father died, and almost 11 when her mother died. You can tell by her writing she was not well educated, but I'm so glad she took the time to share the few memories she had of her parents.

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Pieter and Maria: Part II

(click image to enlarge)

"Ohio, County Naturalization Records, 1800-1977," database with images, FamilySearch ( : 1 May 2019), Hamilton > Declarations of intention 1860-1873 > image 150 of 306; county courthouses, Ohio.

(Part I can be found here.)

Life for Pieter and Maria in America as Dutch immigrants was very hard. While they had arrived in New York City, it was not their ultimate destination; rather, it was Cincinnati, Ohio. It's not clear why they and the others from the Netherlands that they traveled with went to Cincinnati, which was not a typical Dutch immigrant settlement location, like Western Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, or Washington State were. However, Cincinnati was a growing city with a growing economy. River commerce was high and spurred many industries, such as steamboat construction. It was well-known for its pork packing center, and many German and Irish immigrated there in the years before the Civil War.

The Ton family lived in a succession of boarding houses, and Pieter worked as a laborer. They likely worshiped in the homes of their fellow Seceders, for although Christian Reformed Church history states a congregation started in Cincinnati in 1867, no church by that denomination (called Holland Reformed Church in those days) was found in the city directories until long after they had left the city.

They faced grief many times. In March 1860, Pieter and Maria had a second son, Louis, likely an Anglicization of Leunis, named for Maria's father. He was not listed with the family in the 1870 Federal Census, so he likely died young. Pieter's sister Suzanna (Ton) Pape died 10 October 1860 from "confinement", probably after giving birth to a son Jacob. Her daughter, Neeltje, has not been found in records beyond the ship's passenger list, indicating she also died young.

Pieter's work as a laborer was probably quite dangerous. One of his employers was Wood & McCoy's Eagle White Lead Works. A history of the company can be found at this link, with information about the various toxic products their employees were exposed to over a century-and-a-half:  It is entirely possible that Pieter was familiar with processing white lead, used in those days as paint. There was a well-known method of processing called the "Dutch method" and it could be that Pieter had worked with this process in the Netherlands ( We shall see how working with this product may have affected his quality of life in the next post.

There were also celebrations. Pieter declared his intention to become a citizen on 22 January 1862 and was naturalized by 1870. By 1867, three daughters were born to him and Maria: Neeltje "Nellie"; Marina "Mary"; and my great-great-grandmother, Adriana, also known as "Jana" (YAH-nuh) or "Jennie". Maria's sister Adriana married Leendert Klinke in 1864, and Maria's daughter Cornelia married Joseph Meyer in 1874.

(Part III)

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Pieter and Maria: Part I

(click image to enlarge)

Manifest, S. S. E. C. Scranton, 7 December 1857, 6th page (unnumbered; contains passengers numbered 271-324), lines 29-32 (passengers 299-302), Peter Ton household; "New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957," digital images, Ancestry ( : accessed 8 March 2014); citing NARA microfilm publication M237, roll 181.

On December 7, 1857, my maternal 3rd-great-grandparents, Pieter and Maria Modena (Van Klinken) Ton disembarked from the E.C. Scranton in New York City at the Emigrant Landing Depot at Castle Garden, America's first official immigrant center, 35 years before Ellis Island opened. They had left the port of Rotterdam on October 31, 37 days earlier.

With them were Maria's six-year-old daughter, likely from a previous relationship, Cornelia Van Klinken; Maria's almost-26-year-old single sister, Adriana Van Klinken; Pieter's married sister Suzanna Ton, her husband Izak Pape, and their two-year-old daughter Neeltje Pape; and about a dozen other Dutch immigrants heading to Ohio, along with many other European passengers headed to various U.S. destinations.

The Tons, Van Klinkens, and Papes were Seceders: a religious group who had split from the official state church of the Netherlands, the Dutch Reformed Church, both in the Netherlands and the United States. The Seceders would form what became the Christian Reformed Church. They were not unlike the Separatists, whom we know as the Pilgrims, who separated from the official state church of England, the Anglican Church, in the early 1600s.

They were also poor laborers from the municipality of Nieuwerkerk (New Church) in the Province of Zeeland (Sea Land); my only non-Frisian immigrant Dutch ancestors. Frisians are an ethnic minority in the northern provinces of the Netherlands and western areas of Germany, who are ethnically and linguistically closer to the English than the Germanic peoples of Western Europe. The Ton, Van Klinken, and Pape families were ethnically Dutch.

Pieter and Maria had been married only a year, and had had one son, Adriaan Ton, named for Pieter's father. Adriaan had been conceived before they were married; not unusual in a time and place where the marriage fee to the church was prohibitive for the lower classes. Many couples co-habitated and had several children before they could afford a church wedding. Maria's daughter Cornelia was five years old when her mother married, and there's little evidence that Pieter was actually her biological father. Baby Adriaan died at four months old; three months before his parents and extended family arrived in New York City.

For a drawing of a similar ship to the one the Ton and Van Klinken families traveled on, see

(Part II)

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