Heritage Trips Projects

Distant cousins reunited

Linda Van Drunen Crawford from Austin, Texas wrote me this February. She found information about her paternal line before, all the way back to the 1750s, and had plans to come to the Netherlands at the end of April and the beginning of May. She really wanted to visit the area where her ancestors once lived. Therefore, she asked me to do some extra research to confirm her lineage and to make some suggestions on where to go during her trip through the Netherlands.
Her family carries the surname Van Drunen and has its roots in the province of Noord-Brabant, the same province as where I am living. The surname Van Drunen suggests the family once came from the village of Drunen, approximately half an hour to the north of my hometown Tilburg. But an actual link between the family and the village was not established. Yet.
Through e-mail I learned that Linda wanted to learn more about the oldest generations, who lived in the 18th century. She also wanted more details about the family in the 19th century: where did they live, what did they for a living, were there relatives who stayed in the Netherlands? And she explained that she really wanted to visit one specific place, a homestead in Sleeuwijk where her ancestors lived before they emigrated to the United States.

Research results
I was able to confirm her lineage, using vital records, population registers and church books. From her father and grandfather to Antonie van Drunen (1853-1925) who was born in Dussen, Noord-Brabant, the Netherlands. When he came to the United States he was called ‘Toon the Hollander’. He married his second cousin Anna van Drunen (1865-1945) who was born in South Holland, Illinois. Antonie’s father was Lucas van Drunen (1821-1894), his grandfather Antonie van Drunen (1794-1879), his great-grandfather Lucas van Drunen (1751-1808).
They all lived in the same area: Sleeuwijk, Werkendam, Almkerk, Dussen; most of them were farmers. From this point church books show names for three possible generations further back in history, but without extra research in archives, for example court records, it is really difficult to find enough evidence for this part of Linda’s lineage.
Linda also wanted to know if some of her relatives stayed in the Netherlands. So I looked into siblings of her paternal ancestors. I found out that Antonie van Drunen (1794-1879) had a younger son, named Arnoldus van Drunen (1827-1880). He married twice, had nine children and became the founder of a branch of the Van Drunen family that still lives in the area of Werkendam and Dussen.

Cousins meet
The historical society of Werkendam was able to trace one of his descendants, Pia Stierman-van Drunen. After a few weeks, Pia sent me an email to ask what exactly I was looking for. I told her about Linda, her interest in the history of their (common) family and her trip to the Netherlands. Pia was excited and wanted to meet her American cousin Linda!
So, last week I had the pleasure to meet both Linda and Pia. The cousins met for the first time in their lives. We spoke about life in the Netherlands, for example about World War II and about the way we express our patriotic feelings by wearing orange clothes during national holidays. We looked at old photographs from the Dutch branch of the family and Pia told us about her parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. After the photographs and stories we visited the area. Pia first brought us to the street named Kerkeinde in Sleeuwijk, the place where the Van Drunen homestead still exists! Linda was back at the exact location where her 3x great-grandfather and his family lived. We all wondered whether the old tree behind the house was old enough to have been planted by one of the old Van Drunen family members. A wonderful place to take pictures of both the cousins. Then we visited the church, not far from the homestead. The church is no longer in use, but the cemetery still is. No graves from the Van Drunen family, no graves from direct relatives. But a lot of names that also appear in Linda’s family tree.
I left the two cousins at the church. Time for me to go home. Linda and Pia visited some other places, had dinner together. We all enjoyed our day. One week later I received a thank-you card from Linda, while she was cruising the rivers of Belgium and the Netherlands.
A wonderful experience for all of us. Meeting clients like this is the cherry on the cake. Or should I say that Linda’s present was the real cherry? She brought me a t-shirt from the University of Texas. I might wear it next year at King’s Day, as it is… orange!