My great-grandfather, John Cornelius Reyst, Sr., was actually born Johannes Cornelis Reijst, according to Dutch archival records. Born on February 23, 1862 in Zevenbergen, Noord-Brabant, Netherlands, he was the first-born child of Cornelis and Pieternella Reijst.
From the limited information that I have discovered in the Dutch provincial archives, it appears that my great-grandfather lived his entire life while in the Netherlands in Zevenbergen. On May 9, 1884 he married Helena Elisabeth Antoinetta de Reus in Zevenbergen, and would father 4 children before leaving for the United States and 4 more after arriving in the United States with Helena.
I have never seen a picture of my great-grandfather, so I can only contemplate what he may have looked like. Since my grandfather, Cornelius Reyst, and my father’s younger brother, John, were both tall and thin, I image that my great-grandfather may also have been of similar built. Like most Dutchmen, he would have been fair-skinned, and possibly as a young boy would have been a towhead (very light blond hair common among the Dutch) but turned dark brown in his later teens (a trait that seems to run in our family – my father, my sister, and even my daughter).
In Dutch he would have been described as “an arbeider”, which comes from the Dutch verb, arbeid (to labor). Translated that means he was a laborer, one who performed manual labor; this is also the occupation my great-grandfather provided for the Obdam’s ship manifest. US Census records from 1900 to 1920 and old City of Detroit directories from 1890 to 1922, which also listed occupations, show that John Cornelius, Sr. held various jobs from a peddler, a day laborer, an auto company laborer, a policeman, and finally as a special officer for the City of Detroit Parks and Blvds. Department at his death.
It is doubtful that my great-grandfather ever achieved the ideal American dream, to actually own a house. All US Census records prior to his death indicate that John Cornelius Sr. rented the houses in which his family lived. Both US Census data and City of Detroit directories show that the family moved frequently throughout the 30 years after arriving in Detroit, Michigan. During those years, my great-grandfather rented homes east of Woodward, from south of Six Mile Road to north of Lafayette and west of Mt. Elliott/Conant on Collins, Chene, Elmwood, Chestnut, Sherman, Alexandrine E, Mt. Elliott, Catherine, and finally Maple.
But despite his struggles to provide for his growing family here in Detroit, Michigan, my great-grandfather did provide them with a very important gift – the chance to survive and to experience a fastly growing industrial metropolis which offered diverse opportunities to succeed and grow. Before leaving the Netherlands in 1890, Johannes and Helena endured a 50% infant mortality rate and limited opportunities in the small municipality of Zevenbergen. So maybe after all he did find the American dream that he hoped for on that cold March day in 1890.
John Cornelius Reyst, Sr. would pass away just one month shy of his 60th birthday on January 7, 1922 in Detroit, Michigan from cancer, primarily in the mediastinum (the cavity between the lungs that contains the heart, aorta, esophogas, and trachea). He was interned in Gethsemane Cemetery in Detroit.
Sources: Brabants Historisch Informatie Centrum Civil Registers of Births and Marriages; New York Passenger Lists, 1820 – 1957 (The National Archives); US Census records from 1900, 1910, and 1920; various City of Detroit Directories from 1890 to 1920; City of Detroit Certificate of Death