Lammert Oberink and Willemina Hofs were devout Christians in Varsseveld where Lammert was a member of the Seceder Church. The family emigrated in 1847 and unfortunately ended up on the Phoenix. When this ship perished, the entire family died except daughter Gerritje. She was the only survivor of the entire Varsseveld group of emigrants.
Lammert Oberink was born in Varsseveld, Gelderland, on 2 March 1789. His parents were Evert Oberink and Gezina te Loo. He worked as a farm hand or day laborer, and later as a farmer.
His wife, Christina Hofs, was also born in Varsseveld, on 18 February 1792. She was a daughter of Garrit Hofs and Janneken Lumes.
In the presence of both their parents, Lammert Oberink and Christina Hofs were married in Varsseveld on 27 June 1822.
In order to get married, Lammert had to prove he had fulfilled his military duties like everybody else. His military certificate mentioned that he was relieved of duty because of bodily ailments. The nature of those ailments was not specified. The certificate also provides us with a physical description of Lammert Oberink. He was 1.70 meters (5'7") tall, had a round face, normal stern, blue eyes, a small nose and mouth, a round chin and brown hair and eyebrows.
Lammert and Christina had the following children:
- Evert Jan Oberink, born Varsseveld 30 January 1823
- Gerritje Oberink, born Varsseveld 27 May 1825
- Gerrit Jan Oberink, born Varsseveld 20 July 1828
- Gradus Oberink, born Varsseveld 7 November 1831
- Grada Oberink, born Varsseveld 19 May 1834
- Hendrik Willem Oberink, born Varsseveld 13 September 1838
The Secession in Varsseveld started in 1835 when several people left the reformed church. Two years later, on 27 March 1837, a seceded church was instigated by Anthony Brummelkamp. In the early years, they did not have their own building. Meetings were held at the homes of the members, including the home of Lammert Oberink and Willemina Hofs.
In 1847, Lammert Oberink was fed up with the Netherlands. He had been given a fine for an unconscious fraud while moving peat. The strict rules in the Netherlands were too much for him so he decided to emigrate together with many people from his church. The fact that rev. Brummelkamp also advised the seceders to emigrate must have played a role in their decision as well. Sources differ on how many children he had when he emigrated. It might be that son Gradus had already died by then.
They left Varsseveld in August, 1847 and were destined for the Milwaukee area.
The vessel Phoenix was supposed to take them across the Great Lakes. Unfortunately, it perished a few miles outside of Sheboygan.
Lammert Oberink, Christina Hofs and four or five of their children died in the fire. Their daughter Gerritje survived, as the only one from the entire group of 25 people from Varsseveld. Although she was only wearing a skirt when the fire broke out, she did not go back to get dressed but jumped in the cold water thinking 'Rather drown than burn. If I perish, I perish'. This is probably what saved her life. She was taken in to one of the small boats and rowed to shore.
In a letter she later wrote to Varsseveld, she described how another girl had jumped after her, and got her hands on the edge of the small boat. But that since the boat was already too heavily laden, she had not been taken in, but her hands had been loosened so that she drowned.
Upon hearing of th Phoenix disaster, lists with names of the passengers who were lost were circulated in Varsseveld as well as a picture of the boat. Someone wrote a poem about the Phoenix, which the children of the poor recited at the doors of the well-to-do-, in order to earn a few pennies. Unfortunately, no copies of the picture or the poem can be found today.
After having survived the Phoenix disaster, Gerritje settled in Milwaukee. She was a 22-year-old girl who had just lost her entire family. Fortunately, she wasn't totally alone because other people from Varsseveld had also settled in the area.
Six months after the Phoenix disaster, Gerritje married Hendrik Jan Beernink who had emigrated in 1847 as well. He had been born in Varsseveld on 18 May 1820 as the son of Jan Willem Beernink and Johanna Mellendijk. Like Gerritje, he was a member of the Seceder Church in Varsseveld so she must have known him before coming to the United States. They were married on 11 June 1848 in Milwaukee. They were members of the Dutch reformed church there.
Gerritje Oberink and Hendrik Jan Beernink had the following children who were all born and died in Milwaukee:
- Jan Willem Beernink, born about 1849, died on 14 October 1851.
- Willemina Beernink, born on 25 February 1851, died on 14 September 1851.
- Jan Willem Beernink, born on 20 November 1853, died 2 September 1843.
- Johannes Beernink, born 13 January 1856, died 11 September 1856.
- Willemina, born 25 August 1857, died 25 February 1858.
- Hendrik Jan Beernink, born 23 February 1858, died 23 August 1858.
Gerritje Oberink died on 15 October 1858 in Milwaukee, at the age of 33 having survived all of her parents, siblings and her children. The following year, her husband remarried. Hendrik Jan Beernink was married in Holland, MI on 22 November 1859 to Johanna Hendrika Hagens. This couple had many descendants that survive to this day.
- Marriage record Varsseveld, including appendices.
- Varsseveld seceder church records
- Varsseveld lists of emigrants
- Varsseveld census records 1839-1849 page 179 house 427
- Collection William O. Van Eyck
- Milwaukee Dutch Reformed Church records