Jennie James VALK

Source: Valk, Jennie James. Photograph. C. 1915. Original photograph in the possession of Miriam Robbins Midkiff, Spokane, Washington. 2008.

This lovely lady is Jennie James VALK, a younger sister of my maternal great-grandfather, William James VALK. They and their youngest sister Geertje James “Gertrude” VALK were three of eight children of Tjamme Wiegers VALK and Berber J. DeJONG that survived childhood.

Jennie was born 29 December 1888 in Grand Rapids, Kent County, Michigan and, except for a few years spent in Holland, Ottawa County as a small child, lived most of her life in the Grand Rapids area. She attended school in Walker Township, now incorporated into the west part of the city, and as a young woman worked with Gertrude in a cigar factory. Another young woman who worked there, Agnes TUINSTRA, eventually married their brother William.

This photo may have been taken in 1915 to commemorate Jennie’s engagement to Gerritt John HEIDEMA, whom she married on July 16th in Grand Rapids. An infant son, James John, was born around 1917, but died young. Gerritt succumbed to the Spanish Influenza on 21 December 1918; on 10 June 1919, Jennie gave birth to their son, Gerritt, Jr. In 1925, she remarried, to John S. VANDERWAL, and exactly a week before their first anniversary, their son John, Jr. was born.

Jennie’s father passed away in 1922. When her mother died in 1934, she was the executrix of her parents’ estate. Because of this, the Valk family documents have been carefully preserved in the hands of her descendants. Her grandson made contact with me many years ago, and generously shared copies of family documents, records, and photos as we traced our family tree together. This photograph was given to me by my cousin as a gift, and is something I will treasure as long as I live. Not only is it a family memento from one cousin to another, it is a fascinating portrait of a lovely lady. If you look closely, you can see that she is wearing glasses, and that in itself is a remarkable thing. Women of this era rarely wore spectacles for a “photo shoot.” This photograph is considered rare just for that reason, and makes it all the more endearing to me!

Jennie James VALK

Source: Valk, Jennie James. Photograph. C. 1915. Original photograph in the possession of Miriam Robbins Midkiff, Spokane, Washington. 2008.

This lovely lady is Jennie James VALK, a younger sister of my maternal great-grandfather, William James VALK. They and their youngest sister Geertje James “Gertrude” VALK were three of eight children of Tjamme Wiegers VALK and Berber J. DeJONG that survived childhood.

Jennie was born 29 December 1888 in Grand Rapids, Kent County, Michigan and, except for a few years spent in Holland, Ottawa County as a small child, lived most of her life in the Grand Rapids area. She attended school in Walker Township, now incorporated into the west part of the city, and as a young woman worked with Gertrude in a cigar factory. Another young woman who worked there, Agnes TUINSTRA, eventually married their brother William.

This photo may have been taken in 1915 to commemorate Jennie’s engagement to Gerritt John HEIDEMA, whom she married on July 16th in Grand Rapids. An infant son, James John, was born around 1917, but died young. Gerritt succumbed to the Spanish Influenza on 21 December 1918; on 10 June 1919, Jennie gave birth to their son, Gerritt, Jr. In 1925, she remarried, to John S. VANDERWAL, and exactly a week before their first anniversary, their son John, Jr. was born.

Jennie’s father passed away in 1922. When her mother died in 1934, she was the executrix of her parents’ estate. Because of this, the Valk family documents have been carefully preserved in the hands of her descendants. Her grandson made contact with me many years ago, and generously shared copies of family documents, records, and photos as we traced our family tree together. This photograph was given to me by my cousin as a gift, and is something I will treasure as long as I live. Not only is it a family memento from one cousin to another, it is a fascinating portrait of a lovely lady. If you look closely, you can see that she is wearing glasses, and that in itself is a remarkable thing. Women of this era rarely wore spectacles for a “photo shoot.” This photograph is considered rare just for that reason, and makes it all the more endearing to me!

Guests for Dinner

Mr. Joseph Josiah Robbins
Newfield Township, Oceana County, Michigan

Mrs. Mary “Polly” (Wyckoff) Crothers Chappel
Millington Township, Tuscola County, Michigan

Mr. Franklin Preston Midkiff
Lincoln (now Moore) County, Tennessee

Mrs. Berber J. “Barbara” (DeJong) Valk
1315 West Leonard Street
Grand Rapids, Kent County, Michigan

You are cordially invited to attend a dinner
held in your honor at the home of your descendants,
Norm and Miriam (Robbins) Midkiff,
Spokane, Spokane County, Washington
at 6 o’clock in the evening
on Friday, February 1st,
in the Year of Our Lord, 2008.

What a fascinating opportunity I would have if it were possible to invite these four ancestors to dinner! We would undoubtedly sit long into the wee hours of the night while I enjoyed their tales of the past and amazed them with the technology of the present. Here’s what you might overhear me say, if you could also be present at the meal:

Joseph, my fourth-great-grandfather, I know your father’s name was George, but was he one and the same as George Washington Robbins who married Abigail Hicks? And that other George Robbins in Oceana County, was he your brother or some other relation? Tell me more about your first wife, Joe, Emeline C. What was her maiden name? Why, no one in the family had even heard about her until I obtained your pension record! And speaking of your Civil War days, did you really get captured by the Confederates and spend time in Andersonville?…because I can’t find any evidence of that. I’m thinking your son Charlie was a bit of a tale-teller, or perhaps was a bit confused in his old age when he was interviewed by a reporter about your military experiences. He said you served in the War with Mexico and then started off to California during the Gold Rush but decided to come back home. Is this true? By the way, was Grandma your cousin? I mean, a woman named Marinda Robbins marrying a man named Joseph Robbins…it does make me wonder. And what was up with her surly old man, Uzza the blacksmith with the black temper? Sounds like he was a bit mentally unstable: poisoning his second wife with arsenic in her bean soup, and caving in the head of his son with an anvil, it appears. That surely must have been a scandal, and no wonder none of us for several generations had heard about it…until my friend Google helped me uncover the story! Good grief, what is with your obsession with the name Ben? Five sons, and three of them named Ben, Benjamin, and Benson! Did your daughter-in-law Viola ever tell you what she knew about her father Nelson H. Peck? Because he’s another brick wall for me. Brick wall. It’s kind of hard to explain. Yes, I know I’m being a pest, but just one more question: what happened to your daughter Evaline? Did she marry Joseph Lyttle, or was that another Evaline? If it’s the same one, I need you to sign an affidavit, because the Oceana County Clerk has Evaline’s maiden name as Stewart, not Robbins. You could really help me out here, Joseph, and I’m so glad you came for dinner! Now, let me show you how this TV works. TV…it’s short for television, and it’s quite amazing…”

Grandma Polly, it’s so nice to meet you at last! You’re my fourth-great-grandmother, you know. I’ve admired your needlework for many years now. Yes, I’m the one that has your lovely cross stitch sampler that you made nearly two centuries ago. I’ve been taking good care of it, and I hope that it remains in the family for many more generations! Polly, I do need to know more about Grandpa John Crothers: can you tell me more about his life? When and where he was born, who his parents and siblings were, how you met, and yes, please tell me the sad story of his death. I heard he drowned in the Erie Canal, but that might be hearsay. It must have been so difficult being left with seven children, or is that number correct? I do know you had seven in 1840, but I only know five of their names for sure. Was Moses one of your sons? I’ve been checking into him and I’ve long suspected he was yours! How did you meet your second husband, William Chappel? And what became of daughter Euphema? I can’t find her after 1860. Goodness, I don’t even know what happened to you and William after 1880! I’ve looked online in death and cemetery records for Millington Township and you’ve been very elusive! Did you go live with one of your children in a different county in your elder years? I can’t find a death or burial place for you anywhere! You know, you come from a long, proud line of Wyckoffs who trace their roots back to New Netherlands and your immigrant ancestor, Peter Claesen Wyckoff, who came over in 1637 on the ship Rensselaerwick. But your mother’s line (sigh)…I can’t find much. Tell me more about her, that Elizabeth Mainard. I see that Cornelius Mainard is buried in the same cemetery as your parents; isn’t he your uncle? Wait, Polly, you can’t put a metal spoon in the microwave…”

Frank, I honestly don’t know whether to shake your hand or just shake you. Why when you died so young, you left your poor widow Ellender (yes, I know you always called her Nellie) with at least five little ones to raise. Yes, I know there were two other girls, but there’s no mention of them after 1840. I don’t even know their names. When Nellie died later on, your kids were still pretty young and had to do a lot of fending for themselves. Except for Ann, they all took off for Texas. You’d be proud of them. After all, your descendants founded the little community of Midkiff, Texas! And who in the world were your parents? Someone tried to tell me they were John Midkiff and Cathy Miller, but your sons’ names are full of clues to family surnames, I think: William Franklin, John Rufus and Charles Anderson. I kind of figured you all came from Virginia, seeing how Isaiah and Hasten Midkiff, your neighbors, hailed from there. You see, we have this DNA Project going (hang on, I’ll explain later) and it shows that all the Midkiffs we’ve tested so far are related. Well, maybe that’s obvious to you, but not to us here in 2008. We’re still trying to figure out how these three and four different lines connect and how the Midkiffs came over to this continent. Do you have any family stories to share? I mean, it’s kind of odd that we can trace your wife’s Oliver ancestry back two hundred years or more, but yours kind of deadends. Norm, let’s get a picture of you with your great-great-great-grandfather. Now, Franklin, that there is a remote for the stereo, and you need to be careful with it. You’re increasing the volume and if you hit the “mute” button, our ears are going to get AAAAHHHHH!…give me that!”

“Hello, Barbara, I’m your great-great-granddaughter. Of all the guests tonight, you are the only one I’ve had an idea of what you looked like before we met. See these family photos? I’ve also had the pleasure of standing at your grave, and that of your husband and mother-in-law…the first ancestral graves I ever visited, back in 2000. I’d love to hear the stories of your growing up years in the Netherlands and how you came over to the U.S. in 1882 with your fiance’, James. I actually found your names on the Surrey‘s passenger list, and even found a photo of the ship. Now, Barbara, I really need to know when and where you were born for sure, and the names of your parents. See, I’m guessing you were born in the municipality of Ferwerderadeel, Friesland like your husband was, probably in the village of Westernijkerk. But I think someone forgot to turn in your birth information to the authorities, and it never got written down! I know your father’s name was Sjoerd deJong, but who was your mother? Let me guess…Janna (Jennie) or Grietje (Gertrude). See, I know how the Dutch name their children, and you kept naming your girls Catherine (for your mother-in-law), Jennie and Gertrude; even when one of your little girls died, you’d give the next one the same name. I’m sorry you and James lost so many children. It must’ve been so hard. You know, I’ve seen lists of deJongs at the Westernijkerk church yard online, and even one named Sjoerd, but he would have been too old to be your father…was he a grandfather? “Online” means on the Internet; let me show you this computer. It’s like a window to the world. No, it’s not black magic. There’s nothing evil about it! Trust me…”

Oh, it would be an interesting evening for sure! Who would be more fascinated, more thrilled, more excited, we or our guests? Too bad we’ll never know!

Guests for Dinner

Mr. Joseph Josiah Robbins
Newfield Township, Oceana County, Michigan

Mrs. Mary “Polly” (Wyckoff) Crothers Chappel
Millington Township, Tuscola County, Michigan

Mr. Franklin Preston Midkiff
Lincoln (now Moore) County, Tennessee

Mrs. Berber J. “Barbara” (DeJong) Valk
1315 West Leonard Street
Grand Rapids, Kent County, Michigan

You are cordially invited to attend a dinner
held in your honor at the home of your descendants,
Norm and Miriam (Robbins) Midkiff,
Spokane, Spokane County, Washington
at 6 o’clock in the evening
on Friday, February 1st,
in the Year of Our Lord, 2008.

What a fascinating opportunity I would have if it were possible to invite these four ancestors to dinner! We would undoubtedly sit long into the wee hours of the night while I enjoyed their tales of the past and amazed them with the technology of the present. Here’s what you might overhear me say, if you could also be present at the meal:

Joseph, my fourth-great-grandfather, I know your father’s name was George, but was he one and the same as George Washington Robbins who married Abigail Hicks? And that other George Robbins in Oceana County, was he your brother or some other relation? Tell me more about your first wife, Joe, Emeline C. What was her maiden name? Why, no one in the family had even heard about her until I obtained your pension record! And speaking of your Civil War days, did you really get captured by the Confederates and spend time in Andersonville?…because I can’t find any evidence of that. I’m thinking your son Charlie was a bit of a tale-teller, or perhaps was a bit confused in his old age when he was interviewed by a reporter about your military experiences. He said you served in the War with Mexico and then started off to California during the Gold Rush but decided to come back home. Is this true? By the way, was Grandma your cousin? I mean, a woman named Marinda Robbins marrying a man named Joseph Robbins…it does make me wonder. And what was up with her surly old man, Uzza the blacksmith with the black temper? Sounds like he was a bit mentally unstable: poisoning his second wife with arsenic in her bean soup, and caving in the head of his son with an anvil, it appears. That surely must have been a scandal, and no wonder none of us for several generations had heard about it…until my friend Google helped me uncover the story! Good grief, what is with your obsession with the name Ben? Five sons, and three of them named Ben, Benjamin, and Benson! Did your daughter-in-law Viola ever tell you what she knew about her father Nelson H. Peck? Because he’s another brick wall for me. Brick wall. It’s kind of hard to explain. Yes, I know I’m being a pest, but just one more question: what happened to your daughter Evaline? Did she marry Joseph Lyttle, or was that another Evaline? If it’s the same one, I need you to sign an affidavit, because the Oceana County Clerk has Evaline’s maiden name as Stewart, not Robbins. You could really help me out here, Joseph, and I’m so glad you came for dinner! Now, let me show you how this TV works. TV…it’s short for television, and it’s quite amazing…”

Grandma Polly, it’s so nice to meet you at last! You’re my fourth-great-grandmother, you know. I’ve admired your needlework for many years now. Yes, I’m the one that has your lovely cross stitch sampler that you made nearly two centuries ago. I’ve been taking good care of it, and I hope that it remains in the family for many more generations! Polly, I do need to know more about Grandpa John Crothers: can you tell me more about his life? When and where he was born, who his parents and siblings were, how you met, and yes, please tell me the sad story of his death. I heard he drowned in the Erie Canal, but that might be hearsay. It must have been so difficult being left with seven children, or is that number correct? I do know you had seven in 1840, but I only know five of their names for sure. Was Moses one of your sons? I’ve been checking into him and I’ve long suspected he was yours! How did you meet your second husband, William Chappel? And what became of daughter Euphema? I can’t find her after 1860. Goodness, I don’t even know what happened to you and William after 1880! I’ve looked online in death and cemetery records for Millington Township and you’ve been very elusive! Did you go live with one of your children in a different county in your elder years? I can’t find a death or burial place for you anywhere! You know, you come from a long, proud line of Wyckoffs who trace their roots back to New Netherlands and your immigrant ancestor, Peter Claesen Wyckoff, who came over in 1637 on the ship Rensselaerwick. But your mother’s line (sigh)…I can’t find much. Tell me more about her, that Elizabeth Mainard. I see that Cornelius Mainard is buried in the same cemetery as your parents; isn’t he your uncle? Wait, Polly, you can’t put a metal spoon in the microwave…”

Frank, I honestly don’t know whether to shake your hand or just shake you. Why when you died so young, you left your poor widow Ellender (yes, I know you always called her Nellie) with at least five little ones to raise. Yes, I know there were two other girls, but there’s no mention of them after 1840. I don’t even know their names. When Nellie died later on, your kids were still pretty young and had to do a lot of fending for themselves. Except for Ann, they all took off for Texas. You’d be proud of them. After all, your descendants founded the little community of Midkiff, Texas! And who in the world were your parents? Someone tried to tell me they were John Midkiff and Cathy Miller, but your sons’ names are full of clues to family surnames, I think: William Franklin, John Rufus and Charles Anderson. I kind of figured you all came from Virginia, seeing how Isaiah and Hasten Midkiff, your neighbors, hailed from there. You see, we have this DNA Project going (hang on, I’ll explain later) and it shows that all the Midkiffs we’ve tested so far are related. Well, maybe that’s obvious to you, but not to us here in 2008. We’re still trying to figure out how these three and four different lines connect and how the Midkiffs came over to this continent. Do you have any family stories to share? I mean, it’s kind of odd that we can trace your wife’s Oliver ancestry back two hundred years or more, but yours kind of deadends. Norm, let’s get a picture of you with your great-great-great-grandfather. Now, Franklin, that there is a remote for the stereo, and you need to be careful with it. You’re increasing the volume and if you hit the “mute” button, our ears are going to get AAAAHHHHH!…give me that!”

“Hello, Barbara, I’m your great-great-granddaughter. Of all the guests tonight, you are the only one I’ve had an idea of what you looked like before we met. See these family photos? I’ve also had the pleasure of standing at your grave, and that of your husband and mother-in-law…the first ancestral graves I ever visited, back in 2000. I’d love to hear the stories of your growing up years in the Netherlands and how you came over to the U.S. in 1882 with your fiance’, James. I actually found your names on the Surrey‘s passenger list, and even found a photo of the ship. Now, Barbara, I really need to know when and where you were born for sure, and the names of your parents. See, I’m guessing you were born in the municipality of Ferwerderadeel, Friesland like your husband was, probably in the village of Westernijkerk. But I think someone forgot to turn in your birth information to the authorities, and it never got written down! I know your father’s name was Sjoerd deJong, but who was your mother? Let me guess…Janna (Jennie) or Grietje (Gertrude). See, I know how the Dutch name their children, and you kept naming your girls Catherine (for your mother-in-law), Jennie and Gertrude; even when one of your little girls died, you’d give the next one the same name. I’m sorry you and James lost so many children. It must’ve been so hard. You know, I’ve seen lists of deJongs at the Westernijkerk church yard online, and even one named Sjoerd, but he would have been too old to be your father…was he a grandfather? “Online” means on the Internet; let me show you this computer. It’s like a window to the world. No, it’s not black magic. There’s nothing evil about it! Trust me…”

Oh, it would be an interesting evening for sure! Who would be more fascinated, more thrilled, more excited, we or our guests? Too bad we’ll never know!

Ancestors in the 1930 U.S. Federal Census – Part 11

View historical documents and photos from America’s Boom and Bust era (1920 – 1935) here.

April 1st was Census Day for the 1930 U.S. Federal Census. In honor of that census day, throughout the month of April I posted lists of my known direct ancestors and where they were residing during that census. I am continuing this series into the subsequent months. I’ll also list who’s missing; for us family historians, missing individuals on census records can be the most frustrating and intriguing challenges of genealogy!

In March, I posted a biography of my maternal grandaunt, Barbara Dorothy VALK, a missionary for 38 years in Africa. I mention her here because she was named for her maternal grandmother, Berber “Barbara” J. DeJONG, and in comparing the photographs of the two women, favored her in her looks as well.


Barbara Dorothy Valk, c. 1944


Berber “Barbara” (DeJong) Valk,
with grandson Gerritt John Heidema, Jr.
Winter 1919-20

My 2nd-great-grandmother’s background is a bit of a mystery to me. Unlike my many other Dutch-Frisian ancestors, I have not been able to find her birth records listed in the wonderful online resources that the Dutch national government (Genlias) and the Frisian provincial government (Tresoar) have made available. Her death certificate gives her birth as 9 April 1858 in the Netherlands, and information found on U.S. Federal Censuses tends to mostly agree. Her death certificate also lists “Sjerd DeJONGE” as her father, mother’s name unknown. The informant was Barbara’s eldest daughter, Jennie (VALK) HEIDEMA VanderWAL.

The earliest record I have for her is her name on the passenger list of the ship, Surrey, which arrived in New York City on 2 June 1882. She is listed on page 7 as “B. deJong,” directly beneath that of her fiancĂ©, “T.j deVal(k),” Tjamme “James” Wiegers VALK. This couple was extremely difficult for me to find in Ancestry’s New York Passenger Lists database. I have never before nor since seen Valk written as “deValk,” and either the name was accidentally written on the passenger list without the final “k,” or else the ink has faded enough that it doesn’t appear. My grandfather had told me the story that James and Barbara had immigrated to the U.S. with his mother as chaperone, married on board ship (apparently by the captain) and then married again in New York City. They then made their way to Rock Island, Rock Island Co., Illinois, where the Dutch community held a wedding party and/or gift shower for the newlyweds. However, in digging a little deeper, I discovered that Trijntje “Kate” Gerrits (DOLSTRA) VALK did not immigrate to the U.S. until 1888, and Rock Island County records show a marriage record for this couple. Apparently they did not marry on board, nor in New York City…I haven’t found evidence for either situation; but then again, I haven’t found evidence to dispute it, either.

By using the Genlias, Tresoar, and also a municipal history and genealogy website, I discovered there was a DeJONG family in the village of Marrum, Ferwerderadeel (the municipal–or county–level), Friesland, the Netherlands, where Tjamme/James was born. The only Sjoerd or Sjerd DeJong I’ve been able to find was old enough to be Berber/Barbara’s grandfather, and I cannot find a man by that name who is likely to be her father. James and Barbara had a number of infants that did not live, and using the Dutch system of naming, attempted several times to name baby girls for James’ mother, as well as using the name Jennie several times before they had a daughter that lived. They also had a daughter named Geertje/Gertrude. Following the Dutch naming system, my theory is that Barbara’s mother was likely named Jennie (Janna, Jantje, or other Frisian-Dutch equivalent) and she probably had a sister named Geertje. That is the extent of what I know–or think I know–about Barbara’s family.

James and Barbara lived in Rock Island for about four years (1882 – 1886). They are not listed in any city or county directory for that area during this time. However, that is not so unusual, as immigrants and laborers often were ignored by city directory companies looking to promote names of potential customers for local businesses. While in Rock Island, they had four children: Chaterina T. (1883 – 1883); another Chaterina “Tryntje”(b. 1884); and my ancestor William James and his twin sister Jennie D. James (b. 1886). (I blogged about William’s enumeration in the 1930 census here.) They moved to Holland, Ottawa Co., Michigan between August 1886 and April 1887, when Jennie died. The following year, another daughter, also named Jennie James, was born in their new location, Grand Rapids, Kent Co., Michigan. William’s mother immigrated from the Netherlands and joined them. In 1890, Geertje “Gertrude” James was born; the following year, six-year-old Chaterina accidentally drowned. In 1895, a third Chaterina was born; she died four months later of “summer complaint,” diarrhea in infants caused by spoiled milk. The following year, Tammie J. “Thomas” was born. He lived one year and died of measles. It really is heart wrenching to see how this family lost five of its eight children within 14 years, and yet this wasn’t an uncommon occurrence at a time when poor immigrants did not have access to healthy living conditions and medical care, and in a day and age prior to simple antibiotics. Their three surviving children, William, the second Jennie, and Gertrude, lived into the twentieth century; William and Gertrude living into their 60s, and Jennie to the age of 88.

The photo below shows Barbara and James with their two daughters and sons-in-law at what looks to be some sort of lodge, church, or company picnic or outing, probably in Grand Rapids, between 1915 -1918. The date range has been determined by the date of Jennie and Gerrit HEIDEMA’s wedding year and the year he passed away due to Influenza. The men are all wearing a badge on their left sides; if anyone recognizes what organization this is, please contact me. I find this unusual, because the Dutch Reformed Church, of which this family were members, frowned heavily and preached strongly against fraternal organizations. Missing from this photo is my ancestor, William. Perhaps he was the photographer.


Front, left to right: James and Barbara; sons-in-law, Gerritt John HEIDEMA, Sr. and Jacob YSSELDYKE.
Back, left to right: daughters Jennie and Gertrude.

For many of his years in Grand Rapids, James worked as a laborer in a lumberyard, working his way up to foreman. He died in 1922 of hepatitis. On 12 April 1930, Barbara was enumerated alone at her home at 1315 West Leonard Street in Ward 1, Block 70 of Grand Rapids, Kent Co., Michigan (ED 2, Sheet 21A):

  • Household 255, Family 267; Valk, Barbara; Head of household; owner of home worth $3500; No radio; Female; White; Age 71; Widowed; Did not attend school since 1 September 1929; Able to read and write; Born in the Netherlands; Parents born in the Netherlands; Language spoken before coming to the United States: Dutch; Year of immigration: 1890 [sic]; not naturalized; able to speak English; Occupation: none.

Barbara died of valvular heart disease and dropsy at her home on 1 June 1934. She was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in what was then Walker Township (now part of the City of Grand Rapids), Kent Co., Michigan next to James and his mother. Their graves were the first ancestral ones I ever visited, in October 2000.

(Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 12)

Ancestors in the 1930 U.S. Federal Census – Part 11

View historical documents and photos from America’s Boom and Bust era (1920 – 1935) here.

April 1st was Census Day for the 1930 U.S. Federal Census. In honor of that census day, throughout the month of April I posted lists of my known direct ancestors and where they were residing during that census. I am continuing this series into the subsequent months. I’ll also list who’s missing; for us family historians, missing individuals on census records can be the most frustrating and intriguing challenges of genealogy!

In March, I posted a biography of my maternal grandaunt, Barbara Dorothy VALK, a missionary for 38 years in Africa. I mention her here because she was named for her maternal grandmother, Berber “Barbara” J. DeJONG, and in comparing the photographs of the two women, favored her in her looks as well.


Barbara Dorothy Valk, c. 1944


Berber “Barbara” (DeJong) Valk,
with grandson Gerritt John Heidema, Jr.
Winter 1919-20

My 2nd-great-grandmother’s background is a bit of a mystery to me. Unlike my many other Dutch-Frisian ancestors, I have not been able to find her birth records listed in the wonderful online resources that the Dutch national government (Genlias) and the Frisian provincial government (Tresoar) have made available. Her death certificate gives her birth as 9 April 1858 in the Netherlands, and information found on U.S. Federal Censuses tends to mostly agree. Her death certificate also lists “Sjerd DeJONGE” as her father, mother’s name unknown. The informant was Barbara’s eldest daughter, Jennie (VALK) HEIDEMA VanderWAL.

The earliest record I have for her is her name on the passenger list of the ship, Surrey, which arrived in New York City on 2 June 1882. She is listed on page 7 as “B. deJong,” directly beneath that of her fiancĂ©, “T.j deVal(k),” Tjamme “James” Wiegers VALK. This couple was extremely difficult for me to find in Ancestry’s New York Passenger Lists database. I have never before nor since seen Valk written as “deValk,” and either the name was accidentally written on the passenger list without the final “k,” or else the ink has faded enough that it doesn’t appear. My grandfather had told me the story that James and Barbara had immigrated to the U.S. with his mother as chaperone, married on board ship (apparently by the captain) and then married again in New York City. They then made their way to Rock Island, Rock Island Co., Illinois, where the Dutch community held a wedding party and/or gift shower for the newlyweds. However, in digging a little deeper, I discovered that Trijntje “Kate” Gerrits (DOLSTRA) VALK did not immigrate to the U.S. until 1888, and Rock Island County records show a marriage record for this couple. Apparently they did not marry on board, nor in New York City…I haven’t found evidence for either situation; but then again, I haven’t found evidence to dispute it, either.

By using the Genlias, Tresoar, and also a municipal history and genealogy website, I discovered there was a DeJONG family in the village of Marrum, Ferwerderadeel (the municipal–or county–level), Friesland, the Netherlands, where Tjamme/James was born. The only Sjoerd or Sjerd DeJong I’ve been able to find was old enough to be Berber/Barbara’s grandfather, and I cannot find a man by that name who is likely to be her father. James and Barbara had a number of infants that did not live, and using the Dutch system of naming, attempted several times to name baby girls for James’ mother, as well as using the name Jennie several times before they had a daughter that lived. They also had a daughter named Geertje/Gertrude. Following the Dutch naming system, my theory is that Barbara’s mother was likely named Jennie (Janna, Jantje, or other Frisian-Dutch equivalent) and she probably had a sister named Geertje. That is the extent of what I know–or think I know–about Barbara’s family.

James and Barbara lived in Rock Island for about four years (1882 – 1886). They are not listed in any city or county directory for that area during this time. However, that is not so unusual, as immigrants and laborers often were ignored by city directory companies looking to promote names of potential customers for local businesses. While in Rock Island, they had four children: Chaterina T. (1883 – 1883); another Chaterina “Tryntje”(b. 1884); and my ancestor William James and his twin sister Jennie D. James (b. 1886). (I blogged about William’s enumeration in the 1930 census here.) They moved to Holland, Ottawa Co., Michigan between August 1886 and April 1887, when Jennie died. The following year, another daughter, also named Jennie James, was born in their new location, Grand Rapids, Kent Co., Michigan. William’s mother immigrated from the Netherlands and joined them. In 1890, Geertje “Gertrude” James was born; the following year, six-year-old Chaterina accidentally drowned. In 1895, a third Chaterina was born; she died four months later of “summer complaint,” diarrhea in infants caused by spoiled milk. The following year, Tammie J. “Thomas” was born. He lived one year and died of measles. It really is heart wrenching to see how this family lost five of its eight children within 14 years, and yet this wasn’t an uncommon occurrence at a time when poor immigrants did not have access to healthy living conditions and medical care, and in a day and age prior to simple antibiotics. Their three surviving children, William, the second Jennie, and Gertrude, lived into the twentieth century; William and Gertrude living into their 60s, and Jennie to the age of 88.

The photo below shows Barbara and James with their two daughters and sons-in-law at what looks to be some sort of lodge, church, or company picnic or outing, probably in Grand Rapids, between 1915 -1918. The date range has been determined by the date of Jennie and Gerrit HEIDEMA’s wedding year and the year he passed away due to Influenza. The men are all wearing a badge on their left sides; if anyone recognizes what organization this is, please contact me. I find this unusual, because the Dutch Reformed Church, of which this family were members, frowned heavily and preached strongly against fraternal organizations. Missing from this photo is my ancestor, William. Perhaps he was the photographer.


Front, left to right: James and Barbara; sons-in-law, Gerritt John HEIDEMA, Sr. and Jacob YSSELDYKE.
Back, left to right: daughters Jennie and Gertrude.

For many of his years in Grand Rapids, James worked as a laborer in a lumberyard, working his way up to foreman. He died in 1922 of hepatitis. On 12 April 1930, Barbara was enumerated alone at her home at 1315 West Leonard Street in Ward 1, Block 70 of Grand Rapids, Kent Co., Michigan (ED 2, Sheet 21A):

  • Household 255, Family 267; Valk, Barbara; Head of household; owner of home worth $3500; No radio; Female; White; Age 71; Widowed; Did not attend school since 1 September 1929; Able to read and write; Born in the Netherlands; Parents born in the Netherlands; Language spoken before coming to the United States: Dutch; Year of immigration: 1890 [sic]; not naturalized; able to speak English; Occupation: none.

Barbara died of valvular heart disease and dropsy at her home on 1 June 1934. She was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in what was then Walker Township (now part of the City of Grand Rapids), Kent Co., Michigan next to James and his mother. Their graves were the first ancestral ones I ever visited, in October 2000.

(Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 12)