As the number of my posts and pages grows, I thought it was time to add some easier navigation tools to my blog site. So check out the sidebar widgets that allow you to view individual recent posts, pages, and pages and posts within various categories. Also under the header I have customized the navigation bar by adding various categories which I have assigned to my posts and pages. For those categories that have specific pages, there is a drop down menu under the category name. If you navigate to anywhere off the main blog page, which contains all my blog postings, you can easily return to it by clicking on the “Home” link found in the widget sidebar. This sidebar always appears on the right-hand side of the main blog page, but you can also access it from the “Introduction” tab located on the navigate bar under the header picture. So just click on “Introduction” from the navigation bar and then select the sidebar link to “Home”.
As I add new categories they will appear in the navigation bar and sidebar widgets. Hope this makes it easier for all my readers to return to any specific topic in my blog.
Before starting this quest, I wrongly assumed that all immigrants of the late 1800s and early 1900s passed through Ellis Island. We have all probably seen the historic films of Ellis Island and the process new arrivals endured, so I naturally started searching for my grandparents among the millions of names recorded in the Ellis Island records. But then I discovered that Ellis Island did not open until 1892. So where did my great-grandparents disembark?
If you ever have the opportunity to visit New York City and decide to include a tour of either the Statute of Liberty or Ellis Island in your travel itinerary, look around you and take in the moment while you are waiting in line to purchase your tickets because you are standing on exactly the same ground that my great-grandparents first set foot upon after disembarking. Now known as Castle Clinton, Castle Garden received millions of immigrants in the 1800s.
As they approached New York City, my grandparents would first pass the recent French gift located in New York harbor, the Statute of Liberty. Since the pier at Castle Garden could not accommodate the large transatlantic steamships, the Obdam would have anchored out in the harbor after passing quarantine (all incoming ships were inspected for cases of serious infectious diseases, especially smallpox, among the crew members and passengers). My great-grandparents, holding tight to their small children and the few personal belongings that they had in their possession, would next board a smaller boat that delivered them to the landing at Castle Garden. I am not sure if during the two week vogage that my great-grandfathers had learned to master any English, as the Holland-Amerika Line issued a manual on practical English for the Dutch emigrant, that would aid them on what would transpire next for them and their families. After collecting their stored luggage (the Reyst had none and the Smouters only one), they would await their turn for a quick medical examination before being permitted to proceed into the waiting room. Once again they would have had to patiently wait until called to register inside the enormous interior of the Castle Garden. Entering the Castle Garden interior must have been over-whelming for these 2 young couples. The great room was divided into various stations and on any given day it would be crowded with people of all nationalities, not just British and Western Europeans, but by 1890 many from Italy, Russia, Poland and other Eastern European countries, most dressed in clothing unique to their homelands. Amidst this throng of people, they would have had to manage to first register with a clerk at the Registry Department, then exchange currency, proceed to the telegraph or letter-writing stations to send a brief message if someone in the USA was anxiously awaiting their arrival, then finally proceed to the Railroad Department station to find out how to get to Michigan. The clerks here would then once again direct them outside to the pier where they would board yet another ferry to transport them across the Hudson River to the Erie Railroad depot. Quite a first day in their new homeland, especially when you are unfamiliar with the language…and we think it is stressful today to travel by air. Having traveled in Europe during one summer vacation while in college, I can certainly relate to what might have been some of their tribulations during this process.
I wonder if they had thought by this time if it was all going to be worth it? It probably wasn’t what they expected, but something compelled them to take the chance for something better.
For more info on the immigration station, see my new page on Castle Garden.
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.
What better place to start this history than with my father, Arie Russell Reyst. So check out his page. Love to hear what you remember about him. So please share!
This journey would not even be possible without the support of several people, who have also been intrigued by their family ties. So, I would like to particularly thank the following for providing the inspiration to embrace this quest:
- First, and foremost, my mother, Mildred Reyst, for her stories, memories, and surprising stash of keepsakes
- My ancestory.com community, specifically, the King, Kraft, Sowers, and Van Houzen families for their own family tree contributions that gave me a jump-start in documenting my own family tree
- Hank Miller and his family for sharing their own genealogical research of the Elzerman family that revealed a tie with the Smouter family
- The Berghout-Edwards families for their documentation of the Reyst branch of their family tree, which I stumbled upon during online searches, starting from their ancestors in The Netherlands to those descendents in Detroit, Michigan
- Astrid van Meeuwen-Dijkgraaf, a recently discovered third cousin, for her extensive and well-documented genealogical research of the Smouter family, which she recently reposted publicly
- Lastly, the Vink-Mallan family for their extensive genealogical research in The Netherlands of the Vink, Mallan, and Smouter branches which they have documented in a book written in Dutch (which I am getting better at interpreting!)
Realizing that time was growing increasingly short to capture precious memories from my 92 year old mother, I embarked on a project to not only record the known but also to unearth the unknown. I quickly realized that I knew very little about my mom’s English Canadian roots, and even less about my dad’s Dutch roots. With the passing of my Grandfather Reyst ten years before I was born, my Grandmother Reyst (née Smouter) at age 7, and 2 1/2 years later the loss of my father at age 9 1/2, I remained in the dark about most of my Dutch heritage until venturing on this quest. So for the 3 most important women in my life, my mother, Mildred Reyst, and my daughters, Erin and Kristine Klema, I hope to unfold the story of my Dutch heritage in loving memory of my father, Arie Russell Reyst.
Welcome to my dutch heritage quest blog. Over the past 6 months I have been tracing my family roots on my father’s side. Both of his grandparents immigrated to Detroit, Michigan in 1890 from The Netherlands. But I knew little of his family other than his immediate family. Little by little I have been able to piece together a lot of information on my ancestors, both those who immigrated to the US and those who remained in The Netherlands.
My hope with this blog is to not just identify those family members, but to learn more of who they were, how they lived, maybe even why they immigrated to the US. I hope you will join me in sharing those memories.
Yours truly, Lynda Reyst Klema