About Reyst LJ

Reyst and Smouter family historian. Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, USA, I am a direct descendent of Dutch immigrants to the United States in the 1890s. Both of my father's parents were Dutch, my grandfather born in the Netherlands and my grandmother in Michigan, shortly after her family immigrated here. My initial research into my family tree indicates that all those with the surname of Reyst who have roots in Michigan are from the same family tree dating back to my 2x great-grandparents. I hope through writing this blog to continue researching the ties of the Dutch community that settled in Detroit from the period 1865 to 1925 and particularly the influence of their church, the Dutch Reformed Church (known here in USA as the Reformed Church of America).


As I listened to the horns blare and the gunshots pop (which our local police force adamantly discourages) at midnight on New Year’s Eve, I wondered why we often refer to this annual celebration as the “ringing in of the new year”.  I don’t recall hearing any bells ringing last night.  Apparently, the saying refers to an old custom, particularly in England, where the church bells would ring at midnight as a means of ringing out the old year, celebrating its passing, and to ring in the new year joyfully.  This ringing of the bells was immortalized by Alfred, Lord Tennyson in his poem “Ring Out, Wild Bells”.

All around the world, people celebrated the ringing in of the new year, 2012, in various ways last night.  Early in the day, I watched the broadcast from Sydney, Australia as the fireworks lit up the night sky.  Here in the United States the main focus every year is on Times Square in New York City where some one million people crowd to watch the famous ball drop to signify the official start of the new year.  Even here is Metropolitan Detroit, a new custom started last year with the dropping of the big “D”, a symbol identified closely with Detroit (especially the town’s major league baseball team, the Tigers). 

For those up to celebrating, there are big parties with bands, noise makers, balloons, and champagne or maybe just a quiet night with close family and friends.  The night usually includes special foods, drinks and treats depending on where you live to help bring in that new year.  One last splurge before we make those new year resolutions, which usually includes a vow to lose weight by exercising more and eating healthier.  My Dutch ancestors also had a special tradition for welcoming in the new year.  On New Year’s Eve,  a special treat, Oliebollen, was made.  Despite efforts to limit the highly fattening sweets in the Dutch diet, this pastry is still popular among the Dutch even today.

Oliebollen (which means oil balls) is often referred to as Dutch Donuts.  Historians generally credit the Dutch settlers in the Hudson Valley region with the introduction of the first known doughnut recipes in the United States.  In fact, in the Hudson Valley in New York State, a doughnut is sometimes called an “olicook”, derived from the Dutch word oliekoeke (oil cake). A traditional oliebol is made with raisins and currants, and sometimes includes chopped apples.  The dough is then dropped by spoonsful into hot oil where it is fried until golden brown, then rolled in powdered sugar while still warm.  They are believed to symbolize a sweet and everlasting life. 

So what ever your traditions may be for celebrating the passing of the old year and the hopes for a new year, may they bring you joy, hope, good health and prosperity for 2012.

Gelukkig Nieuwjaar! (Happy New Year!)


Our Christmas Tree with 30 years of memories attached

More than any other holiday celebrated here in the United States, the Christmas season affects almost every household, whether of Christian origin or not.  Some celebrate it strictly for its religious meaning, most for it non-secular, commercial value.  Among these various households, this season is steeped in traditions, some old, some new – from how and when the Christmas tree is decorated, what other holiday decorations will adorn our homes (like wreaths, nativity scenes, nutcrackers, etc.), what goodies need to be baked and shared, and when and where we will meet with friends and family to celebrate the spirit of this season.  Some of these traditions have been passed down through the generations, some have been borrowed from other ethnic cultures, while some have been uniquely shaped by our own individual tastes and personalities.

The center of all this holiday glitz is most certainly the brightly lit and decorated, whether simple or lavishly, Christmas tree. The Christmas tree tradition was borrowed from the Germans. Its current day significance to the Christmas holiday season can be traced back to the 18th century Protestant Germans of the northern Rhine area. That tradition was eventually brought to America by German immigrants of the late 1700s and early 1800s , and began to gain general popularity in the later half of the 19th century. Here in Detroit, there was a large German immigrant community on the east side by the 1880s, and they were likely responsible for its introduction in this area. By 1920, the Christmas tree would adorn nearly every home, including my father’s second generation Dutch household.

As a child I remember that the Christmas tree was my father’s main contribution to Christmas.  Early in December he would visit the Christmas tree lot located on Gratiot Avenue near Saratoga Hospital and pick out the chosen Christmas tree, usually a Scot pine tree. Arie would bring it home, make a fresh cut in the stump in the garage, then fill a bucket with water and place the tree in it behind the garage.  There it would remain until Christmas Eve, when he would bring it inside the house and set it up in the living room, and carefully decorate it with lights and shiny glass bulbs.  I never understood why it had to occur on Christmas Eve.  For years I thought it had to do with fire safety as Scot pines tend to dry out faster than Douglas fir trees.  But his tradition may have been influenced by his childhood memories, as the German families traditionally set up their Christmas tree on Christmas Eve in celebration of Adam and Eve.  Harry may not have known this fact, but I am sure his family followed the practices of their neighbors who introduced this cherished tradition. This tradition in our household would end in 1964 with the passing of my father, maybe out of practicality, but maybe more out of grief as this tradition was too tied to my father.  It would be several years before we would return to that corner lot to choose a real tree for our house, opting to decorate a small table top tree instead.

Today, I no longer make that trip to the Christmas tree lot after several less than memorable moments dealing with real trees.  I think it had a lot to do with picking out the “perfect” tree in the dark, clearly not a good idea!  One of the first trees we set up in our new home, fell down about an hour after struggling to get it in the stand, luckily it had no lights or bulbs on it yet.  It had to be wired to the crown molding in the ceiling.  The last real tree we ever had in our house was our oldest daughter’s first Christmas.  It was so dry we couldn’t even keep it lit very long on Christmas Day.  When it went out the door to the curb a few days later, it was almost bare by the time we managed to shove it out the front door.  That tree that looked so green and fresh at dusk on the lot turned out to be spray painted green and would not take up any water, despite a fresh cut.  So I had enough of that tradition; the following year we went to the local nursery and picked out an artificial tree.  That tree is still assembled each year by me, and over the years has changed its appearance often. The bulbs are mostly red and gold now, and it still has the lighted star at the top, but its the special ornaments that have been collected over the past 25 years that give it meaning . Hanging each ornament brings back so many precious memories, as each such ornament was chosen with a specific meaning in mind.

Over the years since my great-grandparents arrived in America, our family’s Christmas traditions have changed considerably.  Christmas time that first December here in Michigan back in 1890 for my great-grandparents would have been a time for church and family.  The gifts would have been to the church most likely; the Christmas dinner probably a Dutch table – a buffet of cold meats, cheeses, and favorite pastries, like banket.  A trip to the nearest frozen pond to ice skate would have been the main recreation.  Maybe even a special holiday beverage, non-alcoholic for the children.  The Protestant Dutch generally frowned on the drinking of alcohol, but during the December holidays an exception was often made for one special drink.  It is the only time of year that I can ever recall seeing my father indulge in alcohol, and it was in strict moderation – a toast to the holiday with family and hopes for a good new year.

The wooden shoes set out for Sinterklaas have now been replaced with stockings to be filled by Santa Claus.  The gifts are now not just for children but all members of the family, even the family pet.  The time with loved ones this year will be too short due to distance and work constraints.  Some old traditions will move on, replaced with newer ones to cherish.  I hope that you find time this year for both old and new traditions, and to remember all those loved ones who are no longer with us with holiday season.

Prettige Kerstdagen (Merry Christmas).

Ik wens je een prettige vakantie (I wish you a happy holiday)!


With Christmas just two weeks away, cooks across America are busy stocking their pantries with those special ingredients required for their holiday baking.  In fact, the busiest aisle in Meijer (a superstore founded by Frederik Meijer, a Dutch emigrant, in Greenville, Michigan just north of Grand Rapids) this week was the baking aisle, with shoppers piling flours, sugars, mixes, extracts, and colorful decorations into their carts. My great-grandmothers, Helena Reyst and Adrianntje Smouter, were also probably busy this time of year, preparing traditional treats for their families’ celebration of Sinterklaas, Christmas and New Year’s Day.  A trip to the market would have included extra eggs, butter and almonds to make holiday pastries and cookies.

Speaking of cookies, the word comes from the Dutch word, koekje, which means small baked cake. Cooks would test the temperature of their ovens by placing a small dollop of batter into the oven first before baking their goods.  Eventually these small testers would evolve into popular bite-size treats.  It is said that the early Dutch settlers in New York and Pennsylvania introduced the cookie to America. 

Cookies are definitely my passion; I find it extremely difficult to bypass a plate of them. Guess you might say it is in the genes. Growing up we did have two traditional Dutch cookies in our house Dutch windmill cookies and, at Christmas, my mom would make Jan Hagel cookies.

Dutch windmill cookies, Speculaas, are a traditional cookie baked during the celebration of Sinterklaas.  We are most familiar with these cookies in the shape of windmills.  But they can be found in various shapes, the most common being the windmill, Sinterklaas, Sinterklaas on his horse, and Dutch children dressed in traditional Dutch clothing and wooden shoes. Speculaas means biscuit, and it is a crisp, spiced almond cookie traditionally baked in wooden molds.  Here in Michigan there are three bakeries that distribute the cookies, Archway (originally founded in Battle Creek, Michigan in 1936, it has been bought out by Lance, Inc. and are now produced in Ohio), Voortman (founded in 1951 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada by Dutch emigrant brothers and now distributed from Burlington, Ontario, Canada near Toronto) and Steenstra’s (founded in 1947 by the Steenstra family in Wyoming, Michigan and now located in Hudsonville, Michigan just south of Grand Rapids).  Of the three, I like the Steenstra’s variety the best as they taste the most like homemade cookies, and is the only one of the three bakeries to make speculaas in various shapes all centered on the tale of Sinterklaas. Here in the Metropolitan Detroit area, all three varieties are usually available at Meijer.

If you are really adventurous you can try your hand at making Speculaas.  You don’t need wooden molds, a rolling-pin and some holiday cookie cutters will do.  But if you want to be authentic you can invest in some wooden cookie molds.  Land O’Lakes also offers a slightly different version that you might want to try. Or you might want to try Gevulde Speculaas, which have an almond paste filling pressed between two layers of dough.

So this holiday my cookies will include both Jan Hagel and Speculaas cookies in remembrance of my great-grandmothers.


I have always been puzzled why we sometimes refer to Santa Claus here in the United States as St. Nick.  What does a plump, jolly old man with a white beard, red velvet suit trimmed in white fur, and black boots who rides in a sleigh driven by 8 reindeer have to do with a patron saint?  Having been raised in the Protestant Dutch Reformed Church, I had no idea what a particular patron saint stood for as our church generally referred to saints as a collective whole and did not pay homage to any one in particular.  Well it appears that our dear Santa Claus was inspired by the Dutch celebration of Sinterklaas, which will occur tonight, December 5th, in The Netherlands.

Our jolly elf’s name is believed by many to have been derived from the old Dutch name, Sinter Klaas.  There is no direct translation, but “Sint” means saint and “Klas” or Klaase” means class or classroom. Hence the reference to the patron saint of children.  In fact, today’s Dutch Sinterklaas (formally known as Sint Nicolaas), although considered a non-secular figure, has his roots in Roman Catholism.  Saint Nicholas was a Greek bishop of Myra in Asia Minor (now modern day Turkey).  He is best known as the patron saint of children, in addition to the patron saint of sailors and Amsterdam.  So it is fitting that our beloved Santa Claus, who loves children, should be named after this saint.

There are some similarities between these two figures: both have long white beards, both of their attires are red and white, both love children and reward them for being good throughout the year, and in more modern times both arrive in town in November, being the main focus of a parade. However, the history and cultures of these two countries have shaped the rest of these two holiday icons quite differently.  Sinterklaas’s story has evolved from the middle ages, where its roots mired the real saint’s life, and has been changed by the influence of The Netherlands’ changing culture, and particularly its secular and non-secular history.  His attire, that of a bishop, dates back to pre-Protestant Reformation times, his arrival from Spain in a steamboat references back to the real Saint Nicholas (whose remains ended up in Bari, which at one time was part of the Spanish Empire; the arrival by steamboat is attributed to an 1800s writer, whose understandment likely refers to the patron saint of sailors), his sidekicks, “Zwarte Pieten”, derive from the Moorish occupation of Spain and also The Netherlands territories in Africa during its Golden Age, and Zwarte Pieten’s representation as bad and evil, likely shaped by the church’s belief that unacceptable behavior would not go unpunished.

Our American Santa Claus’s history is much shorter.  It is widely believed that he was introduced by the early Dutch settlers in New York and Pennsylvania during the 1600s. But the Santa Claus we know and revere today was largely shaped by the poem “The Night Before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore written in 1823 and by cartoonists of the 19th century, particularly Thomas Nast. Our beloved Santa Claus has always been viewed as a strictly non-secular image of Christmas.

By the time my great-grandparents arrived in America in 1890, Santa Claus was as much a part of the Christmas spirit as its religious counterpart, the celebration of the birth of Jesus.  But the commercialization of Christmas around Santa Claus would have probably come much later, first with the invention of the radio and later the television.  So the Reyst and Smouter families likely carried on the tradition of celebrating Sinterklaas on December 5th and 6th for a few years while their children were young.  Among the sparse belongings that they brought with them, I am sure there were pairs of wooden shoes that their four small children placed out on St. Nicholas Eve in hopes that they would be filled with candy  and small treats in the morning.  As a parent I know that I would have told my small children that Santa Claus would find them no matter where we lived in the world, so I am pretty confident that my grandparents and their siblings were also reassured that Sinterklaas would find them in their new homes in America.  In contrast to the celebration and gift-giving of Sinterklaas, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day would have been observed strictly as a religious event, attending church and spending time with family.

As I child I was fascinated with how different cultures celebrated the holidays. As a mother I had the opportunity to relive that awe through my oldest child, Erin. Every December her third grade teacher would depart from the usual curriculum and dedicate part of each afternoon to student reports on a particular country’s holiday celebration. In addition to the required poster board presentation, which would be proudly displayed on the walls above their lockers outside their classroom door, the children were encouraged to use other visuals as they reported on their chosen country’s traditions. The children bought in traditional holiday decorations, including homemade crafts, and even bite-sized samples of foods traditionally served during those holiday celebrations.  Maybe this year, you can take your own children or grandchildren on their own adventure and explore how families elsewhere in the world are celebrating the holidays this year.


Our recent Thanksgiving Day feast with family got me thinking about the food traditions that have become a part of this special American holiday every year.  Reflecting on my own menu for the day, I noticed that none of the many offerings on my table had any roots in my Dutch heritage. That seemed particularly strange to me having grown up in just a third-generation Dutch emigrate family.

This omission may be due to a lack of recipes handed down from my grandmother, Jennie Smouter Reyst, and also the blended culture that existed within the city of Detroit from the time my great-grandparents arrived in 1890 until the late 1960s. While most dinner tables on Thanksgiving Day feature roast turkey, the similarities end there across the various regions of the United States, and particularly among families in the Metropolitan Detroit area. From vegetables to salads and desserts, and even how the stuffing and potatoes are prepared for the Thanksgiving feast, are all influenced by the area we live and grew up in.

From the time my great-grandparents arrived in Detroit and settled on its east side, cultural foods abound.  From 1890 through the early part of the twentieth century, German influence on the east side and Russian on the west side could be seen in the food markets and bakeries in Detroit. Then by the mid-1900s Polish, Italian and Jewish immigration would add to this cultural mix. From a very early age, growing up in an east-side Detroit neighborhood comprised of German, Polish and Italian second-generation emigrant families, I was exposed to foods introduced by these various cultures, such as spagetti, pizza, galumpis (cabbage rolls), pierogis (Polish dumplings filled with either cheese or kraut), kielbasa (Polish sausage), Chrusciki (Polish angel wing cookies), paczki (Polish Fat Tuesday filled doughnuts), saurbraten, sauerkraut and sausage to name just a few.

So what happened to the Dutch influence? In contrast to the Dutch emigrants who settled in the western regions of Michigan, where there existed a large Dutch community extending from as far north as Muskegon and as far south of Holland, including Grand Rapids, the Dutch community within Detroit was relatively small in comparison to the growing population of this major industrialized city in America. My great-grandmothers probably prepared their first Thanksgiving Day feast, featuring foods that they were most familiar with from their homeland. But as the years went by, and the difficulty of obtaining food and staples required in those recipes, their menus likely slowly changed to blend more with their new home surroundings.

What special treats would Helena Reyst and Adriaantje Smouter, my great-grandmothers, have fixed during the holiday season? Having absolutely no idea, despite actually visiting The Netherlands (typical college student, I stuck with what was most familiar to me – McDonalds), I set out to find out what Dutch cuisine is actually like. Today’s Dutch menu is strongly influenced by all the cultures it has openly embraced since its golden age in the 1600s. So you are unlikely to find a strictly “Dutch” restaurant in the major cities of The Netherlands. They also eat much healthier today than at the turn of the twentieth century. But Helena’s and Adriaantje’s dinner menus would have probably featured foods that were higher in fat. Their holiday dinner would certainly have included a homemade bread, some fresh cheese, and maybe Jan Hagel (Dutch almond) cookies for dessert.

So I have added a new category for you to explore, Dutch Cuisine, and I will post some traditional Nederlander recipes for you to enjoy. I posted my first one, Dutch Apple Fritters; check it out and watch for new additions.


As we hopefully spend time with family, friends, and other loved ones today, I just want to say to all my followers “Gelukkige Dankviering”, which translate from Dutch as “Happy Celebration of Thanks”.  May you have many reasons to give thanks this holiday season.


When it came time to choose a name for our anticipated new family member, we purchased one of those popular baby naming books without a thought to any family names. Starting at the beginning of the alphabet, we jotted down several names that appealed to us, either because it was unique, sounded good with our surname, or seemed to lend itself to character. For a boy, a passing thought was given to naming him after my husband, but was quickly dismissed in favor of other choices.

Unlike our parents who chose to honor a special relative as our middle given names, we had no intention of following suit. Our generation’s goal seemed intent on making sure our children were unique.

But for my father and his siblings, as his parents before him, a name was not just name as much as a tradition. The Dutch have long named their offspring after other family members – grandparents, aunts and uncles. Therefore, given names were passed down for generations. This chain was broken as our emigrant families assimilated more into their new culture in Detroit, and particularly after their offspring married non-Dutch descendants.  A few names have survived the times even here in America (although now Americanized with English spellings), but most have been overlooked for names more popular during the decade of the time of birth.  Maybe if we had known more about our own family’s history, the names Neil (Cornelis), Helen (Helena), Nellie (Neeltje), Lena (Lijntje), Adriana (Adrianntje), Mamie (Maaike) and Arie may have still existed in our family trees today, not just the Johns (Johannes & Jan), Peters (Pieter), and Henrys (Hendrik). 

It is believed that the habit of the Dutch of naming newborns after another family member originated out of superstition that the name in some way contributed to some form of reincarnation of the person the child was named after, who was usually much older.  Over time the superstition disappeared, but by the early Modern Age (1500s to 1800s), the practice had become so standard that the names of the children were practically known at the marriage of their parents.  The pattern of naming children usually was:

  1. The first son was named after the paternal grandfather.  The first daughter was named after the maternal grandmother.
  2. The second child’s name depended on whether the first-born child was a boy or girl.  If the first-born child had been a boy, then the second child would be named after its mother’s family, and after its father’s family if the first-born had been a girl.
  3. The third and fourth-born children would usually be named after the grandparents who did not yet have a grandchild named after them.
  4. If the grandparents already had grandchildren named after them, the children would be named after their uncles and aunts, starting with the father’s family.
  5. If a child died, the next born child would receive the same name.

While researching my father’s family tree, I noticed these naming patterns were still closely followed in the 1800s, especially the last one.  My great-grandfather Smouter was not the first son named Arie, a sibling with the same name had died in infancy 3 years prior, and Arie Smouter’s own second born daughter, Lijntje, would die as an infant, only to have the third born child then given the same name. To confuse matters even more, siblings would each choose to name their offspring after the same relatives.  I discovered that my great-grandfather, John Reyst, and his brothers each had offsprings named Cornelius and Henry, and my grandfather, Cornelius Reyst, and great-uncle, Peter Reyst, would both name their daughters, Helen, just 2 years apart.

Unlike our modern naming practice that consists usually of a first and middle name, a Dutch child may have only one given name (as my grandfather who has no middle name) or up to five given names. I have not seen five in my family tree on both the paternal and maternal sides, but there are several with 3 given names. But the pattern is inconsistent within a family.  One child may have no middle name, another 2 given names, and still another with 3.

Also, Dutch names are gender specific.  So if the grandparent (as in our lineage) was Cornelis, a son would have been named Cornelis and a daughter Cornelia.  Other examples of this naming method in our lineage were the names Jacob (Jacobus and Jacoba) and Peter (Pieter and Pieternella).

As to my father’s unusual given name, Arie, I discovered it has been a family name for generations.  I was able to trace it back to 1731.  It was a family name rooted in both sides of his maternal grandfather, Arie Smouter (from Arie’s father, Bastiaan Smouter, and his mother, Neeltje Klootwijk). His middle name Russell, however, has no history within his Dutch lineage on either his father’s or mother’s side, and demonstrates the transition of my ancestors to life in America. 

With the onset of World War I, many Dutch emigrants moved more and more away from their homeland traditions when naming their offspring to distance themselves from their Germanic roots. An example is my father’s younger sister who was named Geraldine, the first in our immediate family to not be named after an older relative.

So maybe with this new-found information on our family roots, some generation old names may one day reappear in honor of those long past.


When I first starting researching my father’s family I hit a blank wall.  I had even tried searching the name in the Dutch online database, Genlias, without success. Then through searches on Google and Ancestry, I verified my suspicion that our family surname had been changed to Reyst once my great-grandfather and his family arrived in the United States.

Our real Dutch family surname is Reijst, and generations before my great-grandfather it was Rijst.  A quick study of the Dutch alphabet revealed that although “y” does exist in the Dutch language it is seldom used as a vowel, and was not even used in older records. Instead the digraph (a pair of characters written to represent one sound) “ij” is considered a single letter in the Dutch language and represents the sixth vowel.  Often writers failed to dot the i and j, so written in cursive it looked like a “y”.  This explains why on the Obdam manifest, the surname appears to be Reyst, whereas the first US Census record of 1900 that my great-grandfather participated in lists his surname as Reijst.  Between 1890 and 1900, my great-grandfather used both variations of the surname, but thereafter the family’s surname was identified as Reyst.

So why the change in spelling?  It likely has a lot to do with where my great-grandparents chose to settle down once arriving in the United States.  Many Dutch immigrants settled in Michigan from 1840 to 1900, especially on the western side of the state around Grand Rapids.  Many of the Dutch Protestant families continued to cling to their native traditions, and most surnames found in city directories of these western Michigan towns and cities resemble those in their native provinces of the Netherlands.  Most familiar is Frederik Meijer, the founder of the grocery business that has now grown into a major superstore chain that still bears his name.  But my great-grandfather, Johannes Reijst, decided to migrate to the growing metropolis of Detroit, Michigan, which was quickly becoming an important emerging industrial center of the Midwest.  Detroit was growing from an influx of people from various origins and cultures, from southern United States and both Eastern and Western European countries, and economic opportunities were likely greater for those who assimilated into this new culture.  So either by design or by accident due to misinterpretation, the “ij” in Johannes’ surname was replaced with a “y”.  The family even took this assimilation into American culture a step further by converting their given names to more familiar Americanized names.  So Johannes became known as John and Helena as Lena; even the family given name of Cornelis, now would be written as Cornelius.

The Reyst (or Reijst or Rijst) surname probably dates back to no later than 1811.  Prior to 1811 very few Dutch families had surnames, except nobility.  But in 1811 under Napoleonic rule of the Netherlands, all families were required to register and choose a surname.  Among the rural population of the Netherlands the use of patronymics was common practice before 1811 to identify an individual, with the oldest form using the possessive of the father’s name along with the word for son or daughter. Other forms used a person’s occupation, place of residence, or personal characteristic. So many patronymics became permanent surnames, like Jansen (son of Jan), Visser (the fisherman), Van Dijk (one living along the dike), and Reus (nickname for big man).  So what does the name Rijst or Reijst represent?  Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any citation that gives the meaning of either of these spellings.  But I have found out that the Dutch word “rijst” means rice (as a noun) or to lift, mount or heave (as a verb).  So it is possible that the chosen surname may have referred to being someone who does manual labor as I don’t think it referred to growing or processing of rice.  Also the Dutch word for the Rhine River is “rijn”, so maybe the surname has some connection to living along the Rhine.

Today in the United States individuals with the surname of Reyst are mostly located throughout Michigan.  However, you will also find some possible relatives in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Texas, Virginia, and Washington.


I have always been curious about the Netherlands since 6th grade European geography when we had to do in-depth reports on several European countries.  Fascinated by the landscape and culture of my great-grandparents, I was thrilled to at least have an opportunity to visit Amsterdam during the summer between my junior and senior years of college. So what enticed my great-grandparents, both young couples, to leave their homeland and come to the United States? 

Two important factors that likely influenced their decision to leave the Netherlands were the poor economy and changes occurring in the Dutch Protestant church.  Johannes and Helena left their hometown of Zevenbergen, a rural town located in Noord-Brabant, not far from Rotterdam.  Various historical records indicate that the wealth of the major Dutch cities, Amsterdam and Rotterdam in particular, was not extended to most of the rural areas.  Unemployment was high and probably affected my great-grandfathers’ ability to find work that would support a young and growing family as neither were landowners. Also the rural areas of the Netherlands were still recovering from the effects of the potato famine that struck their homeland in 1845-1846.  In the mid-1800s, the potato was a staple food of the rural Dutch cuisine. 1845 yield of potatoes in the Netherlands was down almost 75%, and consequently, dramatically affected both fertility and natality for the next several decades.  This is evident in my great-grandfather’s, Johannes’, family history that has revealed a high infant mortality rate among his siblings.

Also during the nineteenth century, religious dissent was occurring among the protestant Dutch in the Netherlands.  A division was being drawn in the Reformed Church between the more conservative Calvinists and the increasingly liberal State Church.  It is not known on which side of this division that my great-grandparents stood.  From a religious standpoint most outsiders would probably describe the Dutch protestants as generally very conservative.  But within the confines of the Dutch Reformed Church, there has been a long history of theological squabbling – drawing lines between being ultra-conservative, and quasi-conservative.  This division was apparent even here in Michigan, when the early settlements on the western part of the state split along religious differences in the mid-1800s.  The result was two separate denominations, the RCA (the more liberal faction) and the CRC (the Christian Reformed Church – the more conservative faction).

But even those that emigrated before my great-grandparents did in 1890, economic opportunity tended to out way religious reasons for making the move to the United States.  So I believe that hopes for a better financial future was most likely the primary motive to leave their homeland. 

So how would my great-grandparents have found out about these chances for better financial stability?  One way would have probably been via printed news.  Another way would likely have been discussions among the men of the church about what they were hearing of these new opportunities on the other side of the ocean.  But even more significant would have been letters they possibly received from family members who had already made that venture.


Today’s Woodward Dream Cruise, the antique car and hot rod cruise down Woodward Avenue from Wide Track Circle in Pontiac to 8 Mile Road at the edge of Detroit which draws car collectors from across the United States and Canada, triggered old memories of my dad.  So I hope you don’t mind my brief diversion today. 

Harry's 1957 Chevy Bel Air

In the last few years of his life, my dad, Arie “Harry” Reyst, started buying 1950 cars, I think they were all Chevys, and fixing them up in his spare time.  I particularly remember 2 such cars, a white Chevy and a red Chevy convertible (which he still owned at his death).  The white Chevy, which was probably a 1955 or 1956 model, he gutted under the hood completely and rebuilt it, replacing bad parts and even spray painting parts so they appeared new.  I remember Dad hanging the parts from my mom’s backyard clothesline at our house on Eastburn Avenue. Harry sold this one and later purchased the 1957 Chevy Bel Air convertible, which my sister, Kathleen, had to drive if she wanted to borrow a family car.

Some of those Sunday afternoon family drives were taken in these cars.  So I know if my dad still had been alive in 1995 when the first dream cruise was organized, he would have been right there cruising one of his beauties with all those youngsters, beaming his big smile. Riding in dad’s old cars, you felt special; there was this sense of pride and joy, and in my dad’s case love.  So I can relate to those thousands (they say some 30,000 collector, custom, muscle, street hot rods, and special interest cars will cruise Woodward Avenue today) of owners who have come out today to cruise on by the million plus spectators along the route. I have often wondered if some car buff discovered that red ’57 Chevy on the dealer’s used car lot after it was traded in for a new car around 1966.  Maybe it was spared the junk yard and can be seen cruising along in one of the many car cruises, in addition to the Woodward cruise, held throughout Metropolitan Detroit area every summer.