Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Day at the Beach, Not Quite During Summertime

It’s The 5th Annual Swimsuit Edition! of the Carnival of Genealogy. It's time to think of summer and lazy days spent at the pool or beach. And this got me thinking of a day I spent at the beach about a decade ago. I was in my swimsuit – but it wasn’t exactly summertime. In fact, it wasn’t summer at all, more like winter!

I’m not sure exactly what year it was, but it had to have been either 2000, 2001, or 2002. For biology class in high school we were going to do a project in pairs, and I was paired up with my friend J. The project had to be something at the beach – you had to have a research question, collect material to answer it at the beach, then analyze it at school. It was wintertime, or early spring, and while the day we were going to the beach was a dry one, it was still very cold and there was quite a bit of wind. And I had suggest looking at microscopic animals living in the sea water. So really, there wasn’t anyone to blame for that day besides myself.

The plan was to collect a bucket full of water at different points in the ocean – one where the waves hit the beach, and then 4 more, each one about a meter further out into the ocean. I grew up near the ocean, we went every summer, and I’m a strong swimmer. Also, I love to swim, and didn’t think it would be any trouble to gather the samples. In fact, I was looking forward to it. Of course, several people – including my parents, the biology teacher, and my friends – asked me if I was nuts, to go swimming so early in the year. Did I know how cold it was? I, of course, was a teenager and disinclined to listen. Besides, there’s a tradition in the Netherlands called ‘New Years Swim’ where a lot of people take a dive into the ocean on January 1st. So there shouldn’t be a problem, right?

On the day itself, I’d changed into my bathing suit at home and pulled on my jeans and a sweater on top of it. We met up at the beach and once again my teacher asked me if I was sure I wanted to do this. My friends had given up on asking by that time – can anyone say ‘stubborn’? Anyway, I said I still wanted to do it, and so it was that with bucket in hand I made my way to the ocean in nothing but a bathing suit. Of course, it was a bit chilly with the wind, but hey, no problem! The first and second buckets weren’t a big problem. For the first one I was only wet until my ankles, as we gathered a bucket full of water from the waterline, and the second one I got wet until my middle. The water was cold – colder than in the summertime – but actually not as cold as I’d expected. So far, so good.

The last three buckets required me to actually get wet all the way and swim. I don’t know if anyone ever tried to swim in the ocean with a bucket filled with water – without getting anymore water in it! – but it’s not as easy as it sounds. Still, I managed, and the swimming kept me warm. After that first shock of ‘ah, cold’, the water temperature didn’t even bother me anymore.

That changed as soon as I got out of the water, though. I was wet, the temperature wasn’t very high, and the wind made it even colder. Even though my friend J. was waiting with a towel so I could wrap myself up as soon as I’d brought in the last bucket, I was still shivering and very, very cold. While J. made sure the samples I’d taken were transferred and sealed into containers to take back to us, I was drying off and changing into clothes as fast as I could in one of the changing rooms that dotted the beach. But even dry and with clothes on, I was still cold. We went into one of the beachside caf├ęs and I drank two cups of hot tea. It helped, a bit, but I will admit (now, after the fact, not then!) that I didn’t get warm again until I got home and took a hot shower.

As for our research – well, it was a typical high school project. Of course we saw some differences in microscopic animals, but that was probably more due to chance than any actual difference. The distance of 5 meters near the shore is just too small to see any noticeable difference in microscopic animals. It was still interesting to see though, there’s a lot of life in even a few drops of water. And while I’d seen microscopic fresh water animals through a microscope before, I hadn’t ever seen salt water animals of the same scale. So that was fun. I don’t remember what grade we got, other than that it was a passing grade.

Looking back, I was a bit crazy and probably courting hypothermia and getting ill (which didn’t happen, by the way), but it sure was a lot of fun! Even though I like the beach at summertime more.

Monday, June 25, 2012

My Very First Piece of Conflicting Evidence – and the Resolution

A while ago, while reviewing the data I have about Lodewijk Wesselo for the biography I am writing about him, I found out I have to different dates for when he drew lots to see if he’d be conscripted into the military. I have to admit, when I came across this bit of conflicting evidence I was pretty excited. It’s the very first time I have conflicting evidence and it made me feel like a real genealogist. Of course, I suspect I’d feel a bit different if it wasn’t so easy to solve, but still. It was the first time I could practice conflict resolution with the evidence at hand.

Review the Evidence You Have

The first step was to review the evidence I had for the two dates, and to evaluate the sources for reliability.

Date 1: 1893-1895

This is more a range than an actual date, and one I calculated. In a brief autobiographical sketch of his own life, Lodewijk Wesselo writes: “At age 20, absolved of conscription into the military, he was allowed to engage himself to Elisabeth Lubach.” This was written in 1947 – a long time after the fact. But, I would say it’s fairly reliable, because it’s a sequence of events. Sequences of events are easier to remember than actual dates. Not to mention that it makes sense – to get married you had to prove you did your duty to the military – either by having served or by being absolved.

I then calculated the years in which the drawing of lots could have happened for Lodewijk. He had to have been 18, which he was in 1893, at the minimum. He got engaged to Elisabeth Lubach when he was 20 years old, which would make it the end of 1895 at the earliest and 1896 at the latest. So before about December 1895 he would have had to draw lots.

Date 2: 19 October 1898

In a postcard to his brother, dated 18 October 1949, Lodewijk writes: “Tomorrow 19/10 it is 51 years ago that I was absolved of military service in Leidschendam, together with Lamboy. (Interesting detail: Lamboo (written as Lamboy here) is another ancestral branch on my mother’s side of the family, where Lodewijk is on my father’s side.) Now, 51 years ago would make the date he’s talking about 19 October 1898 – he’d be 22 years old then.

This date is still one year before his wedding with Elizabeth, so theoretically it’s possible, since he wouldn’t have had to prove he’d done his duty yet. But it throws off the sequence of events he mentions in the autobiographical sketch 2 years before. Another thing is that 22 years old seems pretty old to draw lots, usually it was done a lot closer to 18 years of age. But I wasn’t entirely sure how the rules were back in the 19th century.

Another thing that made me suspect this particular date is Lodewijk’s memory. I have a letter written by him on 22 January 1952 – a little over three years later – in which he congratulates his brother with his 58th birthday and apologizes for being late, seeing as he’d forgotten. That’s not the only thing he’s forgotten – his brother turned 68 that year! So that’s a clue that maybe Lodewijk is getting a bit shaky in reliability when it comes to dates.

Historical Background

Mandatory military service in the Netherlands was instigated during the French occupation of the Netherlands by Napoleon’s brother in 1810. Every man that was 20 years or older had to be available to serve. This didn’t mean everybody actually served – until 1898 it was permissible to hire someone else to serve in your stead. After that date this wasn’t permissible anymore. But there were still plenty of reasons for someone not to have to serve. But, we know that in Lodewijk’s case, he was absolved - which means he was eligible to serve but didn’t have to.

This absolution had to do with the number of people called to serve. Not everyone eligible to serve had to do so, but with just volunteers they didn’t get the minimum number of soldiers required by law. Therefore lots were drawn to supplement the number of volunteers. The country was divided into areas and within each area all eligible men were recorded. Each year lots were drawn for that years eligible men and those with bad luck had to serve. Lodewijk was absolved, meaning he was eligible to serve but during the drawing of lots his number was not drawn and he did not have to serve.

I n the period where Lodewijk reached the eligible age, this was the procedure for drawing lots: in January of the year in which a man turned 19 he had to register in the place where his parents lived (even if he wasn’t living there himself). On December 31st the register was closed and then the actual drawing of lots was done between 7 February and 7 March – which would then be in the year a man turned 20. For Lodewijk the registering would have been done in 1894, and the drawing of lots in 1895, as he was born 22 December 1875.

This historical information seems to suggest that the first date is actually correct – and it would in fact be 1895 that Lodewijk was absolved of military service.

Finding Further Evidence

There are two pieces of evidence in which the date Lodewijk was absolved could be found. The first one is the prove of absolution or service that every man had to hand over at the time of his marriage. It’s found the marriage appendix. Unfortunately, in the province Zuid-Holland the only marriage appendixes that have survived are those of the period 1812-1842. Lodewijk was married in 1899, so there’s no appendix in which we can find the date of his absolution.

But, the original source that was used to register eligible men and where the drawing of lots was recorded, the ‘militie-registers’, have survived and are kept at the National Archives in The Hague for Zuid-Holland. And indeed, in the register of 1895, we find Lodewijk Wesselo’s entry, as well as Adrianus Cornelis Lamboo, the Lamboy he’s talking about when he gives the (completely wrong) date in the 1949 letter. 14 December 1894 is the date for all the men in the column “decision”, along with notes like “free – brother service” (for Adrianus Cornelis Lamboo) and Lodewijk has the note “accepted or absolved” there. So that’s the decision of whether they were eligible for service or not. According to the historical information, the actual drawing of lots would then have been between 7 February 1895 and 7 March 1895. Since there are no further notes in the columns dealing with which military department someone who was accepted was stationed at and which date they were done with their service for Lodewijk, it’s clear he was indeed absolved when the lots were drawn in early 1895.

For completeness sake I also searched for Lodewijk’s entry in the 1898 militie-register, and didn’t find him there.

Final Resolution

As I thought when examining the two conflicting sources, the first one was actually the correct one. Lodewijk was absolved of military service in early 1895 (as per the militia-register for the year and historical information for the time of year, between 7 February and 7 March). This was before he got engaged to Elisabeth, as he hadn’t yet turned 20 years old when the lots were drawn. The second source seems to be completely wrong. Not only is the year 1898 wrong, the date of 19 October for the drawing of lots seems to be wrong as well considering the historical data.

Conclusion: Lodewijk Wesselo was absolved from military service between 7 February and 7 March in the year 1895, as corroborated by one direct source and one indirect source. One other indirect source points to a different date, but is wrong on multiple accounts and thus not trustworthy.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

National Archives Visit Summary

I went to the National Archives yesterday with two very distinct questions I wanted to answer. The first thing I wanted to find out was when Lodewijk Wesselo had to draw lots to see if he would be conscripted into the military, since I had conflicting evidence about this. I managed to find this out and will detail everything about this in a separate post tomorrow.

The other question I had was about Lodewijk Wesselo’s house. I already knew it was going to be hard to figure this question out – the land records are scattered over several archives and it’s hard to even know which pieces you need, let alone where they are. The archivist on duty recommended that I put my question in an e-mail to the National Archives, because one of the archivists is an expert on land records and he’d be able to help me figure out if this question can be answered and which records I would need for this. He wasn’t there this Saturday, which is why I need to send the e-mail. So hopefully I’ll be able to answer this question, but right now I don’t know yet.

Of course, not even starting to answer the second question left me with lots of extra time, which I put to good use. Since I was already working with the ‘militie-registers’ to answer my first question, I also looked for Lodewijk Wesselo’s brothers – and found all of them.

I also wanted to look at Salomon Mulder’s military record – I have his record from the marines, from their own archive, but there should be something at the National Archives as well. I found Salomon’s entry in the ‘militie-registers’ (which held a nice little surprise as well, considering it said he was a butcher – something I hadn’t know, as he was a furniture maker before that), but the other records from his military career were not available. There’s a gap in the records, and that’s exactly the period in which his record fell. I did manage to ‘prove’ that he was not a part of the KNIL – a separate part of the Dutch military that served in the Dutch East Indies – by not finding him in any of the KNIL records. This means that he was and remained a marine for his entire time in the service, even when he was stationed in the Dutch East Indies. I also found his Japanese internment card from his time as a POW during World War Two – and apparently there’s a translation key on the site of the National Archives for the Japanese stamps used on the card. And there was a record that’s a reconstruction of the missing data – basically a list of names with their military registration number – and Salomon was on that list. No further data could be found, but even though his military records at the National Archives were lost, the bits and pieces I did find were very interesting.

All in all, a very good visit. Now here’s to hoping my second question can also be answered. I’ve send the e-mail, now it’s a waiting game.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Window Into the Past: Rotterdam Destroyed: the Bombing of May 1940

This series will showcase historical research I have done in order to write the biographies of the Wesselo siblings. This research spans the time from 1865 (when the first sibling was born) until 1989 (when the last of the siblings and spouses died). The focus of this series is sometimes broad – dealing with nation-wide events – and at other times very local. It’s always related to something a specific ancestor encountered, but without using sources that name that ancestor.

On 10 May 1940 Germany begins its attack on the Netherlands. Early on the Germans land with water-planes near Maasbruggen, which are the bridges spanning the river Maas in Rotterdam. The Dutch army is not able to re-take the bridges, but manage to halt the enemy. Both armies are now firing at each other across the river, in the middle of the city.

It’s the start of five days of heavy battle. Between the 10th of May and 14th of May at least 20 air strikes hit Rotterdam. Half of them by the German Luftwaffe, 5 by the Dutch air force, and 5 by the British Royal Air Force. A very heavy air strike by the Luftwaffe hits Rotterdam around midnight on May 11th. Their target are the police barracks at the Westersingel and the marine barracks at the Robert Fruinstraat. But the air strike doesn’t hit just those targets, and 40 people are killed that night.

On Tuesday 14 May 1940 the heaviest air strike hits Rotterdam. High officials in the German army order it to pressure the Dutch government into surrendering. Between 13.27 and circa 13.40 the Luftwaffe executes a big surface-bombing of Rotterdam-centre, Kralingen and Rotterdam-North. This air strike destroys over 30.000 houses and buildings. This single air strike kills between 800 and 900 people.

After the air strike Rotterdam surrenders to the Germans. Between 850 and 950 civilians have died in the five days the battle lasted. 185 Dutch military men were lost as well, 33 from the Royal Marines and 152 from the Royal Army.

Directly after the air strike of 14 May, fires erupt all over the bombed area and the hard wind only feeds the fire. The fire department can’t do much in these circumstances, much of their equipment is lost and water sources are unreachable. Tens of thousands of civilians flee the inferno that once was the centre of Rotterdam. The fire spreads over the city – even those areas not hit by the original air strike – and it isn’t until the 16th of May that the largest of the fires are doused. Over 250 hectare of the city is completely or partially in ruins.

It were these days in Rotterdam that Lodewijk Wesselo and his family – living right in the middle of the area that was bombed – survived. Even with his story on paper in his own words and these statistics, I still can’t imagine how it must have been. And honestly, I pray I never know.

Youtube movie (6.56 min) with impressions of Rotterdam before and after the bombardment, made by Pieter Ras, posted under John Doe.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Preparing for a Visit to the National Archives

This Saturday I will be going to the National Archives in The Hague for some research. The National Archives houses national records, but is also the provincial archive for Zuid-Holland. There’s a lot of material there. As always when visiting
an archive, it’s a good idea to do some preparations at home to increase the chances of a successful day of research. Especially in such a massive (for Dutch standards) archive.

What Do I Want To Know?

The very first thing to do is to define what it is you want to know. Why am I going to this archive? The National Archive holds lots and lots of information, on all of my family lines, so narrowing my search is necessary. In this case, I am going to the National Archive for two things:

1. When did Lodewijk Wesselo have to draw lots to see if he would be conscripted in the military? I have conflicting evidence about this date, and the records I need to resolve this reside at the National Archives.

2. Where was the house Lodewijk Wesselo build located – and can I prove it’s the same house his children were born in? I might need more than the resources I find at the National Archives to answer this question, but the land records held there will be a good start.

So as you can see, I am clearly focusing on one particular ancestor: Lodewijk Wesselo. This will make things easy on me while there and prevent me from becoming overwhelmed.

What Information Do I Have Already?

The next step is to look at what I already have. This data will give me my starting point while searching the archives.

Both of my questions deal with Lodewijk Wesselo. It’s important to have some data about him to confirm his identity. He was born on 22 December 1875 in Voorschoten to Hendrik Wesselo and Alida Petronella van Grasstek. He married Elizabeth Lubach on 13 July 1899.

My first question deals with military archives, before he was married, and they will identify him by his name and birth date primarily, along with his parent’s name further in the record. The years I’m looking at are 1896 and 1898. The place will most likely be Voorschoten, although Leidschendam is also mentioned in a source I’ve got. This information will give me a great start in looking for the record I need.

My second question is a little bit more difficult. Two years before he got married (1897) he bought same land located in the former estate “Klein Langehorst” in Voorschoten (and I probably have to be careful not to confuse with the estate “Langehorst” in nearby Wassenaar). In the year of his marriage he built a house there. I do not know the exact location of the former estate, I haven’t been able to find it yet. By 23 April 1900, he’s living in Voorschoten in a house located in Neighborhood “A “ number nine. Street names were not always in use back then, and the neighborhood letter was precise enough back then.

Aditionally to that, I actually have one piece of information that while not directly about Lodewijk, will maybe get me over a brick wall when I’m in the archives. Lodewijk’s father, Hendrik Wesselo, also owned a piece of land with a house on it located in the same former estate. There’s an archival number known for it: nr. 126G (kadaster sectie B, nr. 1817). This is the number that plot of land with house on it is known as within the archive I will be searching.

That’s all the data I have. Especially for the second question, it’s a bit thin, but luckily there’s a book I borrowed my library which deals solely with researching houses – their locations and their owners. From what I’ve read, I stand a fair chance of finding what I’m looking for – at least as far as location of the house goes.

Where Can I Find My Information

The beauty of the internet today is that I can look at what records I need right here at home and be prepared to ask for the right records when I get there, without having to spend time searching for what records I need. This will give me more time to look for my ancestor within the relevant record while I’m at the archive.

For my first question I need the draft records, called ‘militie-registers’. From the index that’s on the site, I’ve discovered I need the records from the period 1881-1912. These records are divided by districts, which are then subdivided by ‘kantons’. Voorschoten (the most likely place I’ll find my ancestor) is in district 1, kanton 2. Leidschendam doesn’t appear in the registers of that period, only in later periods. With a bit of help from Google I found out that Leidschendam didn’t exist until 1938 – the source I took the name from was written in 1947 and the author probably used the new name of the old places. Leidschendam used to be Veur and Stompwijk. Both of them are also in district 1, kanton 2. So the same register should yield my ancestor no matter which source is right.

Then the registers are further subdivided by year. I will start by looking at the year 1896 (#422 of the register) and the year 1898 (#482). Hopefully I’ll find my ancestor in one of those two. If not, I’ll start looking at 1897 and 1899, and then spread out from there. I’ve reserved these registers on-line, so they’ll be ready for me to pick up when I get there.

For question 2, the matter of which archive to use is a bit more difficult. Thankfully, I know for a fact (albeit from just one source) that the land and the house were owned by Lodewijk and in which years he bought/built them. Sources about owners (of land and houses, mostly houses though) are roughly devided between before and after 1800. Clearly, I need the ‘after 1800’ records. And I need to search in the ‘kadastrale leggers’ which are a type of land records. Usually searches are done with the location as a starting point, while in my case I’m trying to start with an owner. There’s also an alphabetical list of names, which then gives me the registration number of the house – in theory, anyway. If I understood the information on the site correctly, there’s something called a ‘Digilegger’ – a computer program that connects with the Kadaster (the archive for land records) – which is accessible at the archive. So that’s my starting place. Otherwise, I’ll try to find the house in which Lodewijk lived in 1900 and then work my way backwards in the hope that my theory is right and it’s the house he built. However, for this method I might need information not present in the National Archives.

There’s one more thing I can do to try and find the house, and that’s looking at the house of his father. Locating that is locating the neighborhood where Lodewijk’s house is, and then I could canvas the entire neighborhood until I find Lodewijk’s name. If that doesn’t work, I will be ‘stuck’ for the moment. I’ve never done this type of research before, so we’ll see how it goes.

In Closing

Usually, when visiting an archive here in the Netherlands on a Saturday, you have to reserve records in advance. So you have to know exactly what you want to see, and if you’re there and find out you need some other records as well – though luck, you’ll have to wait until next time. The National Archives are different in that they offer almost full service on the Saturdays they are opened. This means that I will be able to request records on the day itself as well.

I’m very grateful for this, as that means that when I am done researching my two questions – no clue how long it’ll take – and I’ve got time left, I will be able to do some additional research. One thing I’d want to look at should I have the time are the military records of Salomon Mulder. Another thing is that I would like to look up the records of Lodewijk’s brothers in the ‘militie-registers’, especially the ones from Jan Jerphaas Wesselo, who will be my next subject for a biography. So in my bag there’ll be a little list of ‘extra research questions’. Let’s hope I have the time for them! If I don’t, it won’t be because of bad prep work!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Window Into the Past: Business Success Due to World War One?

This series will showcase historical research I have done in order to write the biographies of the Wesselo siblings. This research spans the time from 1865 (when the first sibling was born) until 1989 (when the last of the siblings and spouses died). The focus of this series is sometimes broad – dealing with nation-wide events – and at other times very local. It’s always related to something a specific ancestor encountered, but without using sources that name that ancestor.

I will be the first to admit that my knowledge about the Netherlands during World War One is lacking. Basically, I know that the Netherlands was neutral during the war, but that we weren’t completely unscathed throughout it. Because international trade came to a virtual stop, the economy was hit hard, and especially primary need goods like food and fuel were hard to come by and eventually rationed by the government. During this time, Lodewijk Wesselo was the manager of a jewelry store in Middelburg – close to the Belgian border.

Dutch ration stamps from World War One

With this vague sense of economic trouble in the Netherlands being the total of my knowledge about the situation in my country during this war, consider my surprise when Lodewijk Wesselo wrote in a brief autobiographical sketch in 1947 that the business in Middelburg became very successful, in part thanks to the First World War. A jewelry business, luxury items in other words, doing very well because of a war that impacted the economy negatively? Was my vague knowledge wrong? What was going on here?

The first thing I did was ask for an explanation to this puzzle on a forum dedicated to the First World War1. The very first reaction – that Belgian refugees were selling their jewelry – made sense, but wouldn’t cause a profit. At least, not until after the war when the economy was recovered and Lodewijk could sell the pieces with profit. But then someone suggested that in difficult times people invested in “solid” goods – like gold and silver – and that might be why the jewelry business was doing well. It sounded like a very plausible explanation.

Also through this forum, I was pointed to a book about the Netherlands during World War One that was (partially) on-line available through Google Books2. This book didn’t hold the answers I was looking for, but it did point me towards a thesis work about the economic development of the Netherlands, 1913-1921 by Ronald van der Bie3.

This work finally gave me the complete picture. Yes, the economy was in trouble during this period – but several sectors including trade performed better than expected. Several sectors within the trade sector even had extremely high profits – the trade in gold and silver being one of them. The Dutch government intervened very early in the First World War and took control of a lot of things related directly or indirectly to the economy. All of these rules prevented large scale unemployment and kept the buying power of the population intact. In fact, the Netherlands was one of the best performing economies in Europe during this time period. Another factor which helped companies to make larger than average profits within the European trade theatre were the relatively low wages in the Netherlands. And because of the neutrality of the Netherlands and the government’s timely intervention in the economy during the war, the Dutch companies had a very good starting position when international trade started back up after the war.

All of these factors combined – including the urge of people to buy gold and silver in uncertain times – would have indeed contributed to the success of Lodewijk’s jewelry story in Middelburg. So he was completely correct in writing that – I just needed a bit more insight into that time period to understand it.


1. Forum Eerste Wereldoorlog, thread “Juwelierszaak profiteert van Eerste Wereldoorlog?”, readable here.
2. “Leven naast de catastrofe: Nederland tijdens de Eerste Wereldoorlog” by Johannes Martinus Wouter Binneveld, readable here.
3. “Een doorlopende groote roes”, De economische ontwikkeling van Nederland 1913/1921 by Ronald van der Bie, VU University Thesis, Tinbergen Institute Research Series, 1995.

Picture source: picture came from this site.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Breathing Life Into Your Ancestors

Between Genealogical Research and Historical Research.

Last week I talked about ‘Why Just Genealogical Research Is Not Enough’ and the necessity of doing historical research. But while historical research gives us a nice framework to place the facts of an ancestor’s life, it still doesn’t tell us about the thoughts and views of this ancestor. And as Rorey Cathcart commented on the aforementioned post:

“One of my biggest frustrations with genealogy is that though I know 'when' someone was I rarely know 'who' someone was. Even some of my very well documented ancestors leave me dissatisfied. I search and search for that next piece of information that might reveal some insight beyond the facts. Letters are a godsend but rare to non-existent.”

However much historical research might add to our understanding of our ancestors and their choices, it’s still only facts. There is no ‘why’ in historical research – at least not on any personal level. But there is something we can do to bridge that gap. Just because our ancestors might not have left letters and diaries, this does not mean someone just like our ancestors didn’t. Better yet, many of these diaries and letters have made it into archives, or even published. With a little bit of searching – on topic, theme, or time period – one can find a wealth of information written first hand by contemporaries of our ancestors.

Diaries and letters of people living in the same region during the same time, of the same social and economical standing, can give us insights in how they thought. And because they grew up like our ancestors did and encountered the same things, it’s highly likely that their general thoughts on a subject resemble that of our own ancestors.

To give an example, take my great-grandmother Adriana Versloot. She lived in the Dutch East-Indies in the 1930s, where her husband was stationed as a marine. When the Japanese invaded the Dutch East-Indies in 1942, she was sent to a prison camp, where she eventually succumbed to the lack of food in 1945. While there’s no written record of her own hand – aside from some recipes – there’s a diary at the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies written by a woman in the same camp during the period 1944-1945. The information in there will bring me as close to my great-grandmother as I’ll ever be – no historical book about the prison camps will truly show me the horrors, and the little moments of joy the women there found during that time.

So genealogical research gives us the facts of an ancestor’s life (and a little more if we’re lucky) and historical research gives us the framework in which to place these facts. And the window dressing – the ‘why’ and all those little day-to-day trivial things that never make it to the history books? Well, those can be found in the diaries and letters our ancestor’s contemporaries left behind.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Window Into the Past: "The Matter Geelkerken"

This series will showcase historical research I have done in order to write the biographies of the Wesselo siblings. This research spans the time from 1865 (when the first sibling was born) until 1989 (when the last of the siblings and spouses died). The focus of this series is sometimes broad – dealing with nation-wide events – and at other times very local. It’s always related to something a specific ancestor encountered, but without using sources that name that ancestor.

In a short, autobiographical sketch of his own life, written in 1947, Lodewijk Wesselo writes a bit about the different churches he belonged to. First he belonged to the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, but then in 1926 he switched to the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated), before making another switch around 1930 to the Dutch Reformed Church. It was this second switch that drew my attention, because as the reason for it he mentioned “the matter elkerken???”.

It didn’t take much digging for me to figure out what he mean (misspelling and all). All it took was entering the name of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated) into Wikipedia. It brought me to an interesting bit of church history in the Netherland.

It all started with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, which formed in 1892 from two groups that had separated from the Dutch Reformed Church – one in 1834 and the other one in 1886. This church is a protestant denomination with a mainstream reformed orientation (Calvinism). In 1926 a conflict within the church emerged, centering around the interpretation of the Bible – in particular Genesis. This Bible book states that the serpent spoke to Eve and thus enticed her into eating the apple. The orthodox majority of the church concluded from this story that the serpent had the ability to speak – a literal interpretation of the Bible. The more liberal members of the church, led by Dr. J.G. Geelkerken, a minister for the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, looked at this as more of an allegory – a symbolic interpretation of the Bible.

Dr. Johannes Gerardus Geelkerken (1879 - 1960)

This conflict became such an issue that the Synod of Assen in 1926 was called to decide about this matter. The synod concluded that the only right interpretation of the Bible was the literal one. Every other interpretation of the Bible was unacceptable. A number of ministers, including Geelkerken, refused to accept the verdict and were subsequently dismissed. Others chose to voluntarily leave the church and join Geelkerken and his fellow ministers as they formed the new Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated).

Around 1930 Lodewijk decided to join the Dutch Reformed Church, because the community of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated) “didn’t satisfy” him. He was ahead of his time. In 1946 the entire Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated) joined the Dutch Reformed Church and as such ceased to exist.

I was lucky to find a firsthand account of not only which churches Lodewijk Wesselo belonged to, but also the reasons for the changes. So often we are able to find church records for our ancestors and can even follow them through time as they switch faith (if we’re lucky). But it is rare that we get to truly know why one of our ancestors switched between faiths or churches. So I can only say that I’m very glad Lodewijk decided his reasons for changing churches was important enough to write down.

Picture credit:

Picture taken from http://www.protestant.nl/geschiedenis/portrettengalerij/geelkerken-johannes-gerardus

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Little Blog Update

I've updated several pages of my blog today:

I'v expanded the 'About Me' page; there's more information about the specific regions my genealogical research focusses on and what projects I'm currently working on.

I've added two generations to 'My Ahnentafel'

I've consolidated some of my surname pages, and have given each of my great-grandparents (and their ancestors) their own page. I've added some information there as well. Hopefully this will allow for better navigation through my site.

I do still need to add some links, as well as make several Family Sheet posts. These posts will start to show up in the coming days.

Due to the large amount of data I added to the site and shifted around, there's a chance some errors snuck in there. If anyone spots a mistake, please do contact me so I can correct it! The same goes for non-working links.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Bottom-Up and Top-Down Research On Common-Name Line

Yesterday I spent an enjoyable day diving into my Lamboo ancestral line. I received a huge gedcom file a few years back from a Lamboo cousin which traces this line back to the German ancestor in the late 16th century. The problem with this file is that it has almost no sources mentioned. But it’s a descendancy of the earliest known Lamboo ancestor, so it’s very inclusive – much more inclusive than my own research, since I’m working on a pedigree with myself as the starting point. I write down direct ancestors and all of their children (including spouses if I find a marriage), but don’t go down any more generations, unless I stumble across that information.

Now, back when I got this file, I was planning on going through the tree and verifying the information. I soon realized, though, that the Lamboo surname is very common in the Voorschoten/Zoeterwoude region – with many children being named after parents or uncles and aunts, resulting in several people with the same name living at the same time. And not only that, there seems to be a Lamboo branch in Leiden that might or might not be at some point related to the Voorschoten/Zoeterwoude branch. If a mistake was made by attaching the wrong parents to one of my ancestors, it would be very hard to spot that mistake by simply looking up the original sources. Not to mention that the Lamboo name has several alternative spellings which are also surnames in their own right, bringing the total count of ‘possible ancestors’ up to a very high number indeed.

I needed a new way of verifying this file. So I’ve decided to do a bottom-up search, accompanied by a more specific top-down search afterwards. The bottom-up approach is fairly inclusive. I search for all the Lamboo people in the region. All the primary records are archived and indexed in the same, regional database, making this easy. This gives me a huge list of marriages, births and deaths of Lamboo people, as well as that information on the death of spouses and the birth and deaths of children from Lamboo women – who do not have the Lamboo surname. I make a huge stack of index cards for this and then try to match parents to children, building a family tree. Of course, there are ‘floating branches’ – families I cannot attach to anyone else – and even ‘loose leaves’ – people with the Lamboo surname whose parents I haven’t found yet. I did this on my living room floor for the years 1865 – present (as far as records would allow).

This gave me certainty about the Lamboo families in that time period and how they were connected. It was then a simple task of finding my great-grandparents (the records of my grandparents are not yet available), and just grab their ‘branch’ of the Lamboo family. Sure, some of the other branches might be connected to my line further back, but since I’m not working on a descendancy, I’m not really interested in them. Now, this method is not full-proof, since I used the transcribed index and not the actual sources to save myself time. But it’s only the first step.

The next step I took was the top-down method. For each direct ancestor I searched from date of birth until present on all possible name variants, as well as just on the spouses ’s name (in case there were children born before the marriage or she had a previous marriage). This top-down method made sure I had all children for each couple, as well as their children’s marriages (even if the parents were already deceased), as well as previous marriages. All this information was then entered into my family tree, with notes that I still need to check the original sources. Then, and only then, did I compare it with the gedcom file I got from my cousin.

The result? I ended up having data that was not in the gedcom file I got, and there was some data (mainly the more recent data for which certificates are not yet public) that I did not have. But, more importantly, there was no conflicting data. Not only does this make the file as a whole more reliable in my eyes, it also means that I don’t have to retrace that part of the tree again in order to figure out who made the mistake – him or me.

Though this method may be a bit time consuming, for me it is the best way to deal with a family tree made by someone else. It gives me more experiences in researching, it clearly shows that new data can always be found, no matter how complete something may look, and it verifies the unsourced data. Now, if I can just find the time to look at the period 1627-1865 for the Lamboo name and its name variants. That should bring me close to that German ancestor named in the gedcom.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Why Just Genealogical Research Is Not Enough

You’ve spent months, years, maybe even decades researching – diving into archives and gathering all those tidbits about our ancestors. You’ve made a timeline, filled in some missing pieces with some more genealogical research, organized everything, and now you’re finally ready to start writing you family history! Right?

Well, not so much, as I’ve discovered. I’ve done the research on Lodewijk Wesselo, organized it, have a nice timeline, and even an outline of the biography that I want to write about him. In fact, I’ve started writing already. But despite all the careful research, there are evidently still some tiny facts that I either missed during my research (like a conflicting date, which will hopefully be resolved at the end of this month), or a fact that didn’t seem important before but turns out to be important after all now that I’ve started writing (like information on where exactly the house he built was situated exactly). But those things still fall under the genealogical research header and are merely plugging little holes in my research I’ve discovered by writing Lodewijk’s story.

But even with those tiny bits of added research, I discovered I still didn’t have all the material I needed to write this biography. So what was I missing? It turned out to be some key historical facts. For instance, there was a rather puzzling remark made by Lodewijk Wesselo in one of his letters about the success of his story in relation to World War One. Another puzzling remark was about a switch in churches. Researching the economic situation in the Netherlands during and right after World War One and the history of the specific religious denomination he mentioned gave me the background to understand what he meant. Researching two major historical events that he encountered up close and personal gave me a general sense of time that I also needed for this biography.

All in all, I’ve concluded that you cannot stop with just genealogical research if you want to write a family history story. You always need historical background information, either to understand something your ancestors did, or to place them within their specific time during your narrative. So before I can finish Lodewijk Wesselo’s biography, it’s back to the history books for me.

Monday, June 4, 2012

118th COG Is Here: Reading!

The topic of the 118th Canival of Genealogy is Reading! There were some great posts. My favorites are:

Reading! A Family History of Books

So recognizable, not knowing where to put the books anymore! “What I love about my collection is the books cover a wide range of topics spanning 6 generations of owners.”

Reading, Then and Now

Evolution of a readers life. “During my junior high years (12-14), I was done with animal stories and nurses. I was boy crazy and all I wanted to read were books about teenage girls chasing teenage boys.”

Carnival of Genealogy 118th edition: Reading

Her case of “readeritis” is so very, very recognizable. “When you walk into someone’s house for the first time, do you have to contain your curiosity about what’s on their book shelves? Do you think twice, mentally reviewing the trust-worthiness of the person in front of you, before you lend a treasured book?”

All the wonderful posts submitted to this edition of the COG can be found here.