Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Esveldt family history is already exceptionally well documented

For anyone who enjoyed my recent blog about the early years of my grandmother, Jeannette Esveldt Wagoner, I should mention that her family’s history has been told in much more detail by some of her brothers and nephews. I was aware that her brother John and his son had published a book recounting early tales of the family, but I hadnt realized that more information has been added, and—even better—the book is available for free online.

Second cousin Terry Esvelt sent me a link, and during two recent evenings when I had planned to do other work, I couldn’t stop reading the stories, titled “Historical Accounts of the Esveldt family.” Even those who aren’t part of the family will find it an interesting tale of an immigrant family’s early years in Eastern Washington. Here is the link:

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Origins of the Esveldt family in Eastern Washington, as told by Jeannette Esveldt, my grandmother

While I have regrets that I didn’t ask more questions of my uncles, aunts, cousins and parents before they passed on, I did one thing right. I interviewed my grandmother in 1977 about her life, and later I recorded and transcribed the results.

Jeannette Esveldt was born Aug. 14, 1892, in Spokane, Washington to Jan Pieter Esveldt and Hendrina (Henrietta) Munnik. Her five older siblings were born in Uithoorn in North Holland, where her father operated an ironworks business that manufactured parts for ships.

“It was during the great, almost worldwide, depression, the early 1890s,” she said. “So Dad’s company had suffered very much because there were people that couldn’t pay him, the ones that he worked for.

“His brother George had come over ahead of him as just a kid of 18. And George wrote and said there were more opportunities here in this country and would be in the future. Dad had three boys already, and so there would be more opportunities for them.”

The family departed from Rotterdam and arrived in New York on May 31, 1892. Henrietta had five children—Cornelia, Maartje, Pieter Jan, Jan Pieter and Gerardus “George”—aboard to look after, and another, my grandmother, well on the way. After her birth came four more—Henrietta Marie “Mae”, Fred, Harold and Virgil.

As for the five born in Holland, Jeannette said, “The folks insisted on their learning English as fast as they could. When that is done, they don’t have any accent because they were still young. The oldest one was 10. And they had absolutely not a trace of accent of any kind.”

Her parents could not escape having a Dutch accent. “Of course, Dad had had English in high school,” Jeannette said. “He could speak French and English and Dutch. Mother hadn’t, so she had to teach herself. She just began with the primer and taught herself.

“When Dad came over here, there were no ships to build, so he was just a blacksmith. But they were especially fine people. They were real aristocrats, is what they were, though they didn’t belong to the aristocratic caste in Holland.”

When Jan Pieter left Holland, he bade his mother, Neeltje Blom, good-bye, but he had no other immediate family except aunts and uncles left to see him off.

“His mother was the only one that was living,” Jeannette said. “He had no other relatives then. He was from a family of 10 children. Most of them had died from diphtheria. In those days, when diphtheria struck a town, it’d just wipe the kids out like . . . just like mowing hay, and so she had lost a lot of her children, and so when he left, why, there were no children of her still living (in Holland). The only ones that were living were John and George, that came over. So she came out, too, soon after.”

She lived with George, who was a bachelor; he never did marry, so she lived with him. But she died very soon; she wasn’t here but just a very short time . . . and strangely enough, I was a darned homely little kid, but I was her favorite. And I can remember going up to her house, and she’d seat me on a big chair that had a book on it so I could reach, and she’d butter up and sugar up a slice of bread and cut it in little squares. I was only three when she died, but I still remember her quite vividly.

Neeltje Blom died in Dartford, near Spokane, in 1896, at age 69.

“I was only two when they left Spokane; they came out to Dartford, and George, who was working with Dad, the two of them built a house and a blacksmith shop,” Jeannette said. “They went to blacksmithing for the farmers that came through town, and they’d shoe horses. And Dad was quite inventive. He invented quite a number of things, but he wasn’t familiar enough with what you had to do if you needed a patent, so he never made any money out of his inventions, but he did invent three or four things.

“We lived in Dartford until I was 17, and during that time Mother died, and we had just a streak of terrible luck, and poor Dad was just about to give up, I guess. Anyway, then we moved up to Cheweleh to a farm, and Dad, never having been a farmer, wasn’t very successful at that either.”

Starting a farm proved difficult, but through hard work and persistence, it paid off. “I don’t think we ever really went hungry, not even when we first came to Spokane in the depression . . . oh, they didn’t call them depressions then, they called them panics,” Jeannette said. “It was on, and it was hard to get work, but dad and uncle George managed some way. Of course, they had money from Holland, too, for that matter. Dad had sold his business, you know, so I suppose the first few years they probably lived on that. I don’t know. But when they got out to Dartford, usually they’d try to pay in money, but if they couldn’t do that, they paid in produce. That’s what people did in those days.”

The bad luck she spoke of consisted mainly of deaths and illnesses.

“Well, mother died (1906),” she said, “and Nell, the oldest one of the girls, she was married and had one little boy, and her husband at the time was living with us. Mother was sick then, and Harry, Nell’s husband, went over to the sawmill one morning before anyone else was there, and he was trying to do something he shouldn’t have tried to do, something beyond his strength, and a log rolled over and killed him (1908).

“And George, who was about 16, he had pneumonia, and he had to be operated on. And Margie, the second girl from the top, had what we now would call rheumatoid arthritis. And Mae, who was next younger to me, had a virus that they called in those days St. Vitus Dance, but it’s only a virus, and she was sick all one winter. So all of that just within a couple of years, so Dad was just devastated.”

The farm had been owned by Jan Pieter’s brother George. “Dad bought it from him, and we had a rather hard time up there for the first year or so,” Jeannette said. “And up there, Dad raised strawberries and we picked strawberries and Fred would take them downtown and sell them. They did quite a bit of selling wood.”

A large family from Indiana moved to town in 1910, and their coming had a significant influence on several members of the Esveldt family. The Wagoner sisters inspired Jeannette and her sister Mae to become teachers, and two of the brothers married Esveldts—including my grandfather John Ernest Wagoner, who married Jeannette in 1918.

Friday, May 1, 2015

A satisfying visit to the birthplace of my Esveldt and Munnik ancestors

Windmills in Zaandam (photo by Lucy Spadoni, May 2015)
Today I had the unbelievable opportunity to visit the small cities in Holland where my great grandfather Jan Pieter Esveldt and great grandmother Hendrina Munnik grew up.
While my genealogy hobby has focused almost exclusively on my father’s side of the family for the past five years, that doesn’t mean I have forgotten my mother’s family. I grew up next to my grandfather John Wagoner and grandmother Jeannette Esveldt, who had a strong influence on my life. Both were teachers, and so were my mom and her sister. I believe my love and skills for that profession, along with a passion and respect for the written word, came from them.

By a huge stroke of Gods grace, I received a personal tour of the cities of Uithoorn, where my Esveldt ancestors hailed, and Mijdrecht, birthplace of both Hendrina Munnik and Neeltje Blom, Jan Pieter’s mother.
Jan Pieter Esveldt
The chance visit came about when Lucy and I decided to spend a few days here in Amsterdam before heading home from Italy. Lucy’s great grandfather Nathan Bonnist was born in Amsterdam, and she is still in contact with his brother Abraham
s two grandchildren, Eduard and Else.
These three buildings may be the last old buildings that remain in Uithoorn from the time that Jan Pieter Esveldt lived there.

After hearing of my family connection to Holland, Eduard volunteered to take Lucy and me on a personal tour of Uithoorn and Mijdrecht, which are located about 15 miles south of Amsterdam. He drove us in his car on a scenic route along the Amstel River, and as we drove first into Uithoorn and then five minutes further into Mijdrecht, we realized what a golden opportunity had fallen into our laps. These are not cities on the beaten tourist track, and while we conceivably could have reached them by bus along a main highway, it would have taken much longer, and we would not known exactly where to find the historical centers of the towns. More importantly, we would not have had a bi-lingual native of Amsterdam to help us interpret the scenery and historical significance of the places we were visiting.

The view of this old farmhouse shows how the river level is actually from 2 to 4 meters higher than the surrounding land.
The area between Amsterdam and Uithoorn consists of breathtakingly beautiful lush green pasture lands. Cows, sheep and goats graze in this unbelievably flat land, most of which is below the level of the Amstel River, which is kept in check by levies that have been expertly constructed over the centuries. Most of the rich farm fields have been converted from marshlands by first channeling the rivers and then using windmills to pump water from the lower fields into the river. If water is needed for the fields, it is a simple matter to let it flow back downhill from the river.

Dutch Reformed Church in Mijdrecht.
Unfortunately, Eduard told us, we have come too late to see what the little cities looked like when Jan Pieter and Hendrina grew up. Modern shopping centers and buildings that house light industries have replaced most of the historical homes and stores. However, knowing the area as he does, Eduard was able to take us to some of the neighborhoods where older buildings still exist, and we were still able to leave with a reasonable idea of what the old country must have been like. It’s strangely significant to gaze at buildings that you know your ancestors must have seen 150 years ago.

The few historic buildings in Uithoorn are on the right. Travel on the Amstel River is still quite active.
The area in old Uithoorn where we walked around is right on the river, and I believe it quite likely that Jan Pieter often boarded a boat there in his travels to Amsterdam. He is said to have owned a blacksmith business that made iron parts for Amsterdam’s huge fleet of ships. In those days, river travel would have been the most direct and efficient way for him to commute.

Eduard Bonnist and Lucy Bonnist Spadoni in Mijdrecht.
Mijdrecht had even fewer historical buildings than Uithoorn. Lucy and I walked around what is probably the oldest structure in town, the Reformed Church, which dates from the 1500s, although it was a Catholic Church when first built. We also looked in the small cemetery next to the church, but all the headstones were of relatively recent origin. Likely the ancient graves had to be removed to make way for newer arrivals.
These old houses in Edam show what houses of wealthy
 people would have looked like in Jan Pieter's time.
However, homes in Uithoorn would have been simpler.

While it’s amazing what a person can discover about one’s ancestors by researching online and viewing photos and videos, there is still nothing that can match the emotional satisfaction of a personal visit to the historic towns from where they came. Today I was fortunate enough to feel that thrill.

From this unique view in the canals of Amsterdam, one can see seven bridges in a row from one location.