WESTWARD BOUND

Not sure if it was irony or just coincidence that my great-grandparents would leave the Netherlands bound for the United States on the same passenger vessel, the Obdam.  I am not sure if the families even knew each other before boarding the ship in early March 1890 as Arie Smouter was from Ridderkerk, just southeast of Rotterdam in Zuid-Holland, and John Cornelius Reyst was from Zevenbergen, south of Rotterdam in Noord-Brabant. But they possibly bonded during the rough 2 week journey across the ocean to America. After researching how European immigrants came to the United States between 1880 and 1900, I have much admiration for their strength and bravery.  Two young couples, with 2 very small children each and one spouse pregnant, would endure a difficult journey, that mirrors those young Americans that packed all their belongings in a covered wagon and joined a caravan westward.  My great-grandparents would live for 2 weeks in steerage with 256 other passengers in cramped, dirty quarters.  It is said that even the more seafaring ones even succumbed to seasicknesss.  There were no rooms in steerage, just row after row of metal bunk beds that often were too short to fully stretch out in.  Nearly everyone slept in the same clothes they had on when they boarded the vessel.  Food was poor.  Most did not bring enough of their own rations on board as they were told that their ticket included meals.  What they would soon find out was that most of the food was stale, rancid or heavily perserved in salt.  Upon arrival at the port in New York City, New York on March 18, 1890 (coincident that my oldest daughter’s, Erin’s, birthdate is also March 18), they would gather their meager possessions, usually just one suitcase a piece.  How they managed to get from New York to Michigan is uncertain, but likely by rail. Uncertain what happened next as neither family appeared in the 1890 United States Census, I recently figured out that once they arrived in Michigan, they would go separate ways for the first 10 years.  John would settle his family in Detroit, while Arie would move westward to Grand Rapids.  But by 1900, both families would reside in Detroit, and be members of the First Reformed Church of Detroit.  So check out my new pages on the RCA and the Obdam.

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