This week, I am in Friesland with one of my clients, Roberta Estes. Roberta is visiting Friesland together with her husband Jim Kvochick and first cousin once removed Cheryl Ferverda. Roberta and Cheryl are descendants of Harmen Baukes Ferwerda, a Frisian who emigrated to Indiana in 1868. Cheryl is his granddaughter, Roberta is his great-granddaughter. I have been researching Roberta’s family for almost two years now and am showing them the places where their ancestors came from, in collaboration with Tresoar, the provincial archives of Friesland.
How it started
Dutch lines tend to be rather hopeless, especially when you’re back to when surnames were being formed. [...] All of this, combined, makes finding Dutch ancestors very challenging and surname projects difficult.
I commented that there were in fact a lot of options to pursue, and gave Roberta some links to online documents that traced her line back further. The online scans included the signatures of her ancestors, which Roberta was thrilled about. When she discovered that I was a professional genealogist, she hired me to research her ancestors and prove that these lines were anything but hopeless.
When I started, Roberta had traced Harmen’s ancestors back to his grandparents, born about 1800. I have now traced his ancestors back nine generations (twelve generations from Roberta), the earliest lines going back to the late 1500s, with several probable but yet unproven ancestors going back even further. I have found almost eighty ancestors so far and have not hit many brick walls yet.
One day as I was researching Roberta’s ancestors at the archives in Tresoar, Bert Looper, the director of Tresoar, asked me about my project. The Frisian archives is working on developing a Roots Tourism project, where the archive will create a custom itinerary for tourists of Frisian descent, taking them to their places of origin. They want to have this service up and running by 2018, when Leeuwarden is the cultural capital of Europe. Roberta was a perfect candidate to do a trial for this project. She was immediately on board and agreed to be a ‘test rabbit’ (Dutch version of a guinea pig) so Tresoar and I agreed to work together to prepare for her the trip of a lifetime. Starting from my research, the ‘Roots Team’ at Tresoar located several interesting places to visit and compiled a wonderful personalized guide. This week, we are following the routes described in that guide.
First route: South-West Friesland
Last Friday, we visited some of the De Jong and Ferwerda locations. Harmen Baukes Ferwerda’s mother was called Geertje Harmens de Jong. Her father, Harmen Gerrits de Jong, was a prosperous merchant in Baard. He owned several properties in and around Baard, including a piece of land near Huins upon which a mill was built. Of course, we just had to visit that mill.
We also visited Baard, where we found the location of the house where Harmen Gerrits de Jong and his father had lived. Unfortunately, the original buildings no longer existed. Right next door was the Anabaptist church where several De Jong ancestors worshiped. Thanks to a detailed estate inventory, we also managed to locate the graves at the cemetery that Harmen Gerrits de Jong used to own. The graves of himself and his wife have been cleared, but we found headstones for grandchildren of theirs on three of the eleven (!) plots that he owned, which confirmed that we located the right spot.
Next up was a visit to Oudega in Hemelumer Oldeferd. Here, Bauke Hendriks Ferwerda (Hendrik’s father) was a school teacher until the family emigrated in 1868. The school was located next to the church and parsonage. The school building is gone, but it was very special to stand in the exact location from where Roberta and Cheryl’s ancestors had left Friesland, almost 150 years after they emigrated.
We then drove around the countryside and visited Bolsward, the home of merchant Geert Foppes Heslinga (1717-1800) and his ancestors. In 1749, Geert lived on the Market Square in Bolsward. He was the son of Foppe Heslinga, a doctor who received his M.D. from the University of Franeker in 1707.
Next up: Northern Friesland
Tomorrow, we will go to the north of Friesland to trace more Ferwerda ancestors. You can read a live account about our trip by following @DutchGen on Twitter.
Do you want to visit the places of origin of your own family?
If you want to follow in Roberta’s footsteps and need help to prepare for your own trip to the Netherlands, please contact us.