For years I thought that breast cancer had spared our family. When asked if anyone in my family had been affected by the disease I replied, “No, thank goodness”.  But I have learned through my heritage quest that like so many families across the United States and the world, my branch of the Reyst family has its own history of breast cancer.

Just recently I learned that 2 first cousins are breast cancer survivors (one would later die from another form of cancer).  However, these 2 brave women are not the only victims of this disease in our family lineage.  I discovered that our great-aunt, Ella Reyst, was also a victim of breast cancer, and died of it at the age of 61 in 1953.  Ella married when she was about 40 years old, and shortly after moved away from her family in Detroit, Michigan to California with her new husband.  For Ella this most have been a very lonely and scary time, as she struggled with ill-health from this deadly disease without the close support of her family. According to her death certificate, the cancer metastasized, eventually causing her death. Back in 1953, there were not many options for Ella to beat this disease, and most of them would have been economically unfeasible. 

Over the years we have come a long way in treating breast cancer and making strives toward a cure some day.  These strives have a least helped my one cousin to survive, albeit not without her own struggles.  So as the month of October nears it end, and so does the national breast cancer awareness campaign for this year, remember to help in some way, even how small.


It is with a heavy heart that I return to this blog after a very busy spring and summer mourning the sudden loss of the number one supporter of my heritage quest, my sister, Kathleen Mae Reyst, last month.  Her feedback was invaluable and I will miss it greatly. My research, for our family tree on and for this blog, gave Kathleen insight of our father’s family that neither of us got a chance to learn about first-hand from our father, Arie Reyst, and also triggered some memories about our family that I had never known.

As I researched my family, I became interested in their medical history.  To verify dates and places of death and internment, I started ordering certified death records.  I began to notice a pattern on causes of death on both our father’s paternal (Reyst ancestral line) and maternal (Smouter ancestral line) sides that I shared with my sister, Kathy.  Eventually, I hoped to include that information here in my blog postings so that the next time one of us went to the doctor and was given that medical information form to complete that asks: “Did anyone in your family suffer from …?”, we would have more precise information to provide our health professionals that hopefully would have a positive impact on our own health.  But even armed with this new information, we would all miss those minute signs of a dangerous ghost of our genetic past that dwelled within Kathy.  The pain of losing a loved one, now one in each of the past 3 generations, so suddenly and at such an early age from cardiac arrest is so overwhelming and at times numbing. 

But I will continue to move forward and share some of my discoveries over the past spring and summer once again in this blog as life returns to some sense of normal, if that is even possible.  I am thankful that at least during our frequent phone conversations over the past months that I shared with Kathy some of my research discoveries that I hoped to include in future posts.  I still believe there is so much more to learn and share about our Dutch heritage and the impact those ancestors had on each of us and the communities they settled here in Michigan.  So I will return to writing here again soon.


Shortly before I started this quest to discover more of my family’s Dutch heritage, the last of my father’s siblings had passed away.  And so also were lost the memories and stories of my father’s family as they journeyed from the Netherlands to Detroit to embark on a new, hopefully richer (not just in terms of wealth) life.  Unlike our more recent generations that are more apt to talk about our past, write things down and even immortalize our lives through photos, videos and scrapbooks, my father’s parents and grandparents rarely talked about their life or past.  So we are left to wonder and deduce when possible, with the help of some rare photos, as to who they were, what they were like, what they did and accomplished, and whether in any way we are remotely like them.

Sadly this week, another of this family has left us at too young an age.  So I would like to take a moment to remember those you have journeyed on without us. 

My grandparents:

  • Cornelius Reyst:                           September 28, 1884 to January 11, 1944 (age 59)
  • Jennie Marie Smouter:                  October 22, 1890 to December 15, 1964 (age 71)

Children of Cornelius and Jennie:

  • Helen Jennie Reyst Carrie Niner:   August 29, 1911 to October 12, 1992 (age 81)
  • Arie (Harry) Russell Reyst:            April 22, 1913 to July 30, 1964 (age 51)
  • John Cornelius Reyst:                    May 13, 1915 to February 26, 1998 (age 82)
  • Cornelius (Neil) Reyst:                   March 3, 1919 to August 28, 2010 (age 90)
  • Geraldine Mildred Reyst Carmen: January 16, 1929  to October 30, 1998 (age 69)


  • Dona Jean Carrie Farrel:               August 5, 1937 to July 11, 2008 (age 70)
  • Thomas Reyst:                              August 14, 1947 to June 1, 2000 (age 52)
  • Gail Reyst Bodziak:                       August 4, 1944 to February 19, 2012 (age 67)
  • Ronald Reyst:                                July 7, 1955 to September 4, 1999 (age 44)


  • Brenda Kay Hancock:                   July 8, 1965 to September 1, 1986 (age 21)

In the words of our pastor, Reverend Roderic Jackson, at the First Reformed Church in Detroit, as he closed every Sunday morning service with a final prayer: “May the Lord be with you, now and forever more. Amen”