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!

One Day, Two Family History Centers, and Seven Families

Locate residents, organizations, and businesses in America’s population centers within city directories.

Thursday morning I had to drive clear across town to drop my son off to meet with his math teacher. He will be an eighth-grader next year, and is taking an online math course this summer so that he can skip ahead two grades to take a sophomore math class next fall at my daughter’s high school. His math teacher is teaching a summer school class at the high school on the South Hill of Spokane, about six miles from our home, and had some time to be available for Q&A and assistance with his graphing calculator. Matt had a little more than an hour to work on his lesson, so I thought I would take the time to visit the Southside Family History Center to see what kinds of materials they had available in their facility. We are lucky to have four FHCs in our county, and each one is unique as to the types of microfilms and microfiche they have on permanent loan, depending upon what records their patrons are researching and have ordered from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

In the 45 minutes while I was there, I wrote up two pages of notes, chatted with the volunteer on duty, and took a look around the facility. They don’t appear to have microfilm scanner/printer software set up on a computer in tandem with a microfilm reader, like the FHC that I usually patronize on the Northside, although they did have several manual readers. They did have a good number of computer stations, more than the Northside does, but many of them were older models. They had a nice selection of books, including passenger lists and immigration indexes. I used their card catalog, organized by country, state or province, and county to see what microforms were available for my areas of research, and was very excited to see they have a large selection of Ontario county records for specific areas I’m researching, as well as some of my ancestral Michigan and New York counties. My son has two more sessions with his math teacher next week, and I plan to return for an actual look at the microfilm, along with my laptop and file folders, for in-depth referencing.

Later that evening, I planned to go to the Northside FHC to work on some lookup requests that had come to me through Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness, when I received a call from the FHC director, notifying me that the microfilm I had ordered only the previous Thursday, had arrived from Salt Lake City that afternoon! We were both very surprised, and I was so excited! Normally, it takes two or three weeks–sometimes more–before I get the microfilm I’ve ordered. And I was eager to take a look at this microfilm roll, which included the city directories for Grand Rapids, Michigan from 1875/76 through 1879/80. Thanks to Jasia’s series, I had gotten enthused all over again to do research in city directories, and decided I would like to have more of these microfilmed records on permanent loan at my local FHC for ease of referral for whenever I discovered a new branch of one of my many Kent County surnames!

My earliest ancestors in the City of Grand Rapids were the TON and VanKLINKEN families, parents of one of my great-great-grandmothers, Jennie (TON) HOEKSTRA. Immigrants from the province of Zeeland, the Netherlands, they had moved to Grand Rapids by 1873 after first spending about 16 years in Cincinnati. Peter, the father, died the following year, and in 1875, Maria, the mother, married a widower with two children, Dirk BYL. Besides Jennie, Maria had two or three other daughters that survived infancy. In the 1873/74 and 1874/75 city directories for Grand Rapids, I had found the TON family, first on Taylor Street and then on Brainerd Street. Looking at the 1875/76 city directory, I did not find either a TON or a BYL family, even though I looked for alternate spellings. Both the 1876/77 and 1877/78 directories, however, listed a “Derk Byle,” laborer, who resided at 96 Brainerd, and the latter listed John VanKLINKEN, Maria’s brother, a laborer residing at 351 Taylor.

Actually, the 1875/76 directory was of no help, at least at first glance. None of my surnames I looked up appeared that year. The jackpot came in the 1876/77 and later directories, although I ran out of time to look at anything past 1877/78. The 1876/77 directory included a Kent County rural directory, which had my CONCIDINE, HIGBY, McDIARMID, and TUINSTRA families listed!

I also found the household of Beene STUIT at 321 First Street, Grand Rapids, in 1876/77; he was the husband of Catherina DEKKER, my great-great-grandfather Martin HOEKSTRA’s half-sister.

I can hardly wait to go back and discover more!

One Day, Two Family History Centers, and Seven Families

Locate residents, organizations, and businesses in America’s population centers within city directories.

Thursday morning I had to drive clear across town to drop my son off to meet with his math teacher. He will be an eighth-grader next year, and is taking an online math course this summer so that he can skip ahead two grades to take a sophomore math class next fall at my daughter’s high school. His math teacher is teaching a summer school class at the high school on the South Hill of Spokane, about six miles from our home, and had some time to be available for Q&A and assistance with his graphing calculator. Matt had a little more than an hour to work on his lesson, so I thought I would take the time to visit the Southside Family History Center to see what kinds of materials they had available in their facility. We are lucky to have four FHCs in our county, and each one is unique as to the types of microfilms and microfiche they have on permanent loan, depending upon what records their patrons are researching and have ordered from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

In the 45 minutes while I was there, I wrote up two pages of notes, chatted with the volunteer on duty, and took a look around the facility. They don’t appear to have microfilm scanner/printer software set up on a computer in tandem with a microfilm reader, like the FHC that I usually patronize on the Northside, although they did have several manual readers. They did have a good number of computer stations, more than the Northside does, but many of them were older models. They had a nice selection of books, including passenger lists and immigration indexes. I used their card catalog, organized by country, state or province, and county to see what microforms were available for my areas of research, and was very excited to see they have a large selection of Ontario county records for specific areas I’m researching, as well as some of my ancestral Michigan and New York counties. My son has two more sessions with his math teacher next week, and I plan to return for an actual look at the microfilm, along with my laptop and file folders, for in-depth referencing.

Later that evening, I planned to go to the Northside FHC to work on some lookup requests that had come to me through Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness, when I received a call from the FHC director, notifying me that the microfilm I had ordered only the previous Thursday, had arrived from Salt Lake City that afternoon! We were both very surprised, and I was so excited! Normally, it takes two or three weeks–sometimes more–before I get the microfilm I’ve ordered. And I was eager to take a look at this microfilm roll, which included the city directories for Grand Rapids, Michigan from 1875/76 through 1879/80. Thanks to Jasia’s series, I had gotten enthused all over again to do research in city directories, and decided I would like to have more of these microfilmed records on permanent loan at my local FHC for ease of referral for whenever I discovered a new branch of one of my many Kent County surnames!

My earliest ancestors in the City of Grand Rapids were the TON and VanKLINKEN families, parents of one of my great-great-grandmothers, Jennie (TON) HOEKSTRA. Immigrants from the province of Zeeland, the Netherlands, they had moved to Grand Rapids by 1873 after first spending about 16 years in Cincinnati. Peter, the father, died the following year, and in 1875, Maria, the mother, married a widower with two children, Dirk BYL. Besides Jennie, Maria had two or three other daughters that survived infancy. In the 1873/74 and 1874/75 city directories for Grand Rapids, I had found the TON family, first on Taylor Street and then on Brainerd Street. Looking at the 1875/76 city directory, I did not find either a TON or a BYL family, even though I looked for alternate spellings. Both the 1876/77 and 1877/78 directories, however, listed a “Derk Byle,” laborer, who resided at 96 Brainerd, and the latter listed John VanKLINKEN, Maria’s brother, a laborer residing at 351 Taylor.

Actually, the 1875/76 directory was of no help, at least at first glance. None of my surnames I looked up appeared that year. The jackpot came in the 1876/77 and later directories, although I ran out of time to look at anything past 1877/78. The 1876/77 directory included a Kent County rural directory, which had my CONCIDINE, HIGBY, McDIARMID, and TUINSTRA families listed!

I also found the household of Beene STUIT at 321 First Street, Grand Rapids, in 1876/77; he was the husband of Catherina DEKKER, my great-great-grandfather Martin HOEKSTRA’s half-sister.

I can hardly wait to go back and discover more!

Research Log – TUINSTRA and VALK obituaries

In the last two weeks, I have received a stack of obituaries, thanks to two tireless volunteers. The first is Donna Rogers, whose husband is a relative of a step-ancestor, Jitske “Jessie” (TYSMA) DeGROOT TUINSTRA. She has sent me a number of TUINSTRA obituaries, including all the ones available in the Grand Rapids, Michigan newspapers for the brothers and sisters-in-law of my great-grandmother, Agnes (TUINSTRA) VALK – a total of eleven obituaries! An interesting coincidence occurred when she happened to sit across from a gentleman in the Grand Rapids Public Library who was researching city directories…turns out he was my uncle who was working on some DeVRIES-related information to send to me!

Evelyn Ehlert, a Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness volunteer, sent me copies of obituaries of my step-ancestor, Ida Eva (LAMBRECHT) SCHADLER VALK and Elmer MEYERING, first husband of my grand-aunt Bertha Wilma (VALK) MEYERING KRAMER.

These will keep me busy analyzing and entering into my database for quite a while!

Research Log – TUINSTRA and VALK obituaries

In the last two weeks, I have received a stack of obituaries, thanks to two tireless volunteers. The first is Donna Rogers, whose husband is a relative of a step-ancestor, Jitske “Jessie” (TYSMA) DeGROOT TUINSTRA. She has sent me a number of TUINSTRA obituaries, including all the ones available in the Grand Rapids, Michigan newspapers for the brothers and sisters-in-law of my great-grandmother, Agnes (TUINSTRA) VALK – a total of eleven obituaries! An interesting coincidence occurred when she happened to sit across from a gentleman in the Grand Rapids Public Library who was researching city directories…turns out he was my uncle who was working on some DeVRIES-related information to send to me!

Evelyn Ehlert, a Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness volunteer, sent me copies of obituaries of my step-ancestor, Ida Eva (LAMBRECHT) SCHADLER VALK and Elmer MEYERING, first husband of my grand-aunt Bertha Wilma (VALK) MEYERING KRAMER.

These will keep me busy analyzing and entering into my database for quite a while!

One Woman: Barbara Dorothy Valk, Missionary to Central Africa

In honor of Women’s History Month, International Woman’s Day (March 8th), and as a part of the 20th Carnival of Genealogy, I’d like to present a biographical sketch of my maternal grand-aunt, Barbara Dorothy VALK.

Barbara began her life on 30 July 1918 in Grand Rapids, Kent County, Michigan, the daughter of William James VALK and Agnes TUINSTRA, and the twin sister of John, who was stillborn. She was the youngest surviving child and only daughter of this marriage, having six older brothers: Jim, George, Bill Jr. (my grandfather), Chet, Oscar, and Ted. Her parents were first generation Frisian (Dutch) Americans, and she was named for her immigrant grandmothers, Berber J. (DeJONG) VALK and Doetje WIERSMA. Barbara had the red hair, blue eyes, fair, freckled skin and round Frisian build that many of the Valks inherited.

When she was born that summer morning, the United States was still embroiled in World War I, and the deadly 1918 (Spanish) flu pandemic was just beginning. This virus killed between 50 and 100 million people (many of them healthy, young adults) over the following two years, leaving more casualties than the war itself. Many scientists believe that this particular strain of flu caused cytokine storms, a fatal immune reaction in which the body overproduces immune cells to ward off disease and ends up causing significant damage to body tissues and organs (not unlike what happens with T-cells and cancer). This was in turn followed by an epidemic of encephalitis lethargica, which left 5 million dead in its wake. The symptoms of this disease include fever, sore throat, headache, double vision, delayed physical and mental response, sleep inversion, catatonia and lethargy. In acute cases, patients may enter a coma-like state. Patients may also experience “abnormal eye movements, parkinsonism, upper body weakness, muscular pains, tremors, neck rigidity, and behavioral changes including psychosis,” according to Wikipedia. Some scientists postulate that encephalitis lethargica may have been caused by the Spanish Flu.

Barbara’s mother, Agnes, contracted the flu and family oral history states that the illness “went to her brain.” Whether she contracted encephalitis lethargica is unclear, but she was institutionalized in at least two mental hospitals until her young death in 1921 at the age of nearly 36 at Cutlerville Psychopathic Hospital, south of Grand Rapids. The cause of death was myocarditis (inflammation of the muscular part the heart caused by a virus or bacteria). In the 1920 Federal Census, we see the impact this illness has had on the family: Barbara and three of her brothers–George, Chet and Ted–are living in the Blodgett Home for Children. Their eldest brother Jim is living with their paternal grandparents; brother Bill is living with the Jaarstra family (probably family friends or as-yet-unidentified relatives). Brother Oscar has not been found in the 1920 Federal Census; he may have been living with a foster family when the residents of Blodgett Home were enumerated, and returned to the Home before his foster family was enumerated. Their father is living alone at home, and their mother is enumerated twice: the first time, in a residence a few blocks from their home, around the corner from the Jaarstra family, and enumerated as a “widow” (Jan. 7th). The second time (Jan. 21st) she is listed as an inmate at Mitchelt Cottage at Kalamazoo State Hospital.

Nearly two years after Barbara’s mother died, her father married a widowed first-generation German-American, Ida Eva (LAMBRECHT) SCHADLER, who had a young son from her first marriage. The family was reunited, with the exception of Oscar, who was raised by his foster family. Barbara’s father and step-mother had eight more children–including another pair of twins–five of whom survived infancy: Jennette, Bob, Ray, and two daughters yet living. This family of twelve full, half-, and step-siblings, plus two adults surely must have crowded the home at 1006 White Avenue, N.W.!

Barbara’s father was an elder at an independent Bible church called the Tabernacle in Wyoming Park, southwest of Grand Rapids. Here she met Ruth HOEKSTRA, who was to become a lifelong friend. The Hoekstra and Valk teens shared many good times: Ruth’s younger sister, Mary Lou, dated Barbara’s brother Ted for a while, and Ruth started dating Barbara’s oldest brother Jim, until Barbara told her he already had a steady girlfriend (Thelma, who he eventually married) in northern Michigan. Then Ruth began dating middle brother Bill, and eventually married him in 1943. Ruth and Bill’s only child was my mother. Even after Bill and Ruth divorced, Ruth and Barbara remained steadfast friends. By this time, Barbara had attended Moody Bible Institute with the intentions of becoming a missionary, and was associated with the Africa Inland Mission. The portrait above was taken in Chicago and may have been her college graduation photo. Her brother Chet was killed during the Battle of the Bulge, and his 1944 obituary mentioned that Barbara was enroute to Africa. She first served in the Belgian Congo; in fact, her father’s obituary of 1950 mentions her residence there, but she ended up spending most of the 38 years of African mission work in the Central African Republic.

Barbara had an profound impact upon my mother. She was the main tie to the Valk side of the family, as my mother was raised by her mother and step-father. My grandmother was not too keen on having my mother spend much unsupervised time with her father’s side of the family, as they had different family values. She would, however, let my mother attend family reunions as long as Aunt Barbara was there (on leave from mission work) to accompany her. I’m sure she was the inspiration behind my mother’s desire to be a missionary as well. Later, when my parents were Salvation Army officers (ministers) working with Alaskan Natives, Aunt Barbara and my mother corresponded regularly around the globe. They had much in common. Both far from their families, living in remote areas with harsh living conditions, surrounded by people of differing races and cultures than their own, they found comfort in sharing their news, failures, joys, and prayers.

As a stamp collector, I enjoyed receiving the colorful, foreign-looking stamps from Aunt Barbara’s envelopes. Her letters were regularly written on beautiful stationery purchased from local natives who had drawn or created the decorative artwork. She once sent a gift of a set of cards embellished with flowers whose “petals” were made of butterfly wings. She wrote of the work she was doing among the native women and children. Many were living in surroundings of poverty, domestic abuse, alcoholism, and terror of local witch doctors. She did her best to educate, encourage, and empower them. Barbara was afraid of no one; she stood up to chiefs and witch doctors alike to protect her mission and the women and children she worked with. The girls in her school became highly sought after as wives because not only were they well-trained in domestic skills, but they were older and able to bear children soon after marriage (the traditional way was to marry off daughters while they were yet children).

Barbara’s life in Africa was not without upheaval. At one point, Africa Inland Mission abandoned the mission where she was working (perhaps due to the many revolutions in the country). Although not a Baptist, she sought after and received permission from Baptist Mid-Missions to represent her and administer her financial support. She had to start all over with a new mission, school, and supplies from BMM.

She went through many revolutions in the countries she worked in, resulting in expulsions or evacuations, and lost all her belongings, having to start all over each time. During the dark and dangerous days of the Central African Empire (a dictatorship), she entreated her family, friends and supporters for their prayers. Letters from her arrived heavily censored. A note my mother sent at the beginning of the regime included a question as to whether or not freedoms were being upheld by the new government; Barbara never received the message. In fact, mail service became completely undependable, and my mother dared not send any gifts or monies for fear they would be stolen before they reached her aunt. The dictatorship was later overthrown and things returned to normal, much to the relief of many.

In the early 1980s, Barbara “retired” to a Baptist retirement community in Sebring, Highlands Co., Florida, called Maranatha Village. She served her co-residents for eight years, no doubt leading women’s Bible studies and prayer meetings. She also traveled to visit family, friends, and those who had supported her during her years in Africa. A dear friend and companion in Florida was her first cousin, Doris Tuinstra. I remember Barbara came and visited her brother Ted in Idaho and our family in Northeast Washington one summer while I was working at a Salvation Army camp. She spent several days with my folks, and they stopped by the camp so that we could visit a bit, as well. Ever the missionary, she commended me on the work we were doing with low-income children in the Christian summer camping program.

After eight years in Marantha Village, she returned to Grand Rapids to be closer to family as her health was deteriorating (she inherited the Valk tendency to diabetes). As long as she could, she visited and wrote many letters to her circle of loved ones, encouraging and exhorting. Some of her family members may not have appreciated her advice and admonitions (she was a woman of strong opinion), but they were given out of a sense of duty and love towards God and family.

Barbara passed away on 13 January 2001 in Grand Rapids, survived by brother Ted, her half-brother Robert, two half-sisters, her step-brother, and many nieces and nephews. She truly was a part of the last generation of stereo-typical missionaries, for nowadays, mission groups have found it much more effective to train and send forth indigenous ministers to serve their own people. Nevertheless, a lifetime of work by this one–unassuming, straightforward–woman has had a lasting impact, literally upon the world. This good and faithful servant has gone to her reward.

I have asked for my mother’s help with this sketch in making sure the details of Barbara’s life were accurate. In my latest e-mail to her, I wrote, “I really enjoyed doing this. By putting all the events of her life that I knew about in order, I got a better sense of who she was as a person. I wish now that I had had a chance to really know her better, but feel like I know more about her now then I did before I wrote this. I guess that’s really what family history is all about…putting together the pieces of our ancestors’ and relatives’ lives and understanding them as real individuals, not just names and dates from long ago.”