Heritage Trips Projects

Item on a bucket list

How does it feel to walk around in the house where your great-grandfather lived before he emigrated to the United States? Rich Appeldoorn knows exactly how it feels: “Getting us access to the home/café was wonderful. It gave me a new perspective on how my ancestors lived in Holland.”
Rich asked me for help with his family history in November 2017. He and his wife Alice made plans to travel from the United States to the Netherlands in April 2018. He had done some research himself and traced his paternal line back to Fopke Reinders, who lived at the beginning of the 18th century in Finkum (province of Friesland). Rich had two questions. The first one regarding his research: “Can you verify my lineage and – if possible – extend it with one or more generations?” The second question focused on his trip: “Can you show us the Finkum area and perhaps the places where my ancestors were buried?”

In January 2018 I was able to send Rich my first research report. With the help of databases and images, published on the websites of AlleFriezen and FamilySearch I was able to find almost all birth, marriage and death records (post 1811) or baptism, marriage and burial entries (pre 1811). I verified five generations: Jisse (born 1848), Waling (born 1804), Gerben (born 1766), Reiner (born 1722) and Fopke (born 1692). Most important lesson Rich learned: the older generations were not called Appeldoorn. This family name was adopted by his family in 1811, when civil registration was introduced and the use of a fixed family name became mandatory. Before 1811 the family only used patronymics, for example: Reiner Fopkes (= Reiner, son of Fopke).

Two months later I sent Rich my second research report. In this phase of the project I checked population registers, church membership registers and land registration. The main goal of this research was to obtain information about the places where the Appeldoorn family lived in the 19th century and to which church community they belonged. This information could help me find the locations where Rich’s ancestors once lived. I was lucky: a land registration map from the 1830s showed the exact location where Gerben Reinders Appeldoorn lived and worked. It tuned out he owned a café in Oude Leije, a part of Finkum.

While researching the Appeldoorn family, I contacted locals in Oude Leije. With their help I was able to offer Rich and Alice a wonderful day. We drove to Finkum where a volunteer opened the old church especially for us. We could not only see the church interior, but also climb the stairs to the choir where the organ was. We saw many graves in the churchyard, but not one belonged to the Appeldoorn family. This was not a surprise, because I already explained to Rich that most of the graves in the Netherlands are cleared after a couple of decades when relatives no longer pay for the lease. From Finkum we drove to Oude Leije. The café that once belonged to Rich’s great-great-grandfather still exists. Of course there were many alterations through the decades, even centuries. The current owners decided last year to put the house and café on sale, but with help of the realtor we were allowed to go inside and see almost every room in the (now empty) building. One of the locals, named Æsger, showed us afterwards the village and told us about the history of Oude Leije.

I took Rich and Alice to the pier of Holwerd, where ferries leave for one of the North Sea islands. We had a typical Dutch lunch (with ‘kroketten’) and talked about everything we saw and learned that day. Rich had a smile from ear to ear. Alice told me that this probably was once of the best days of his life. Our trip ended in Leeuwarden. Not only because I had to drop off my clients at the train station. We also drove to the capital of Friesland, because one of the Appeldoorn branches lived here in the 19th and 20th century. Most likely descendants still live in the area but unfortunately I was not able to contact one of them. We saw the house where one of the Appeldoorn family members had a liquor store for more than forty years.

At the end of the afternoon I left Rich and Alice behind in Leeuwarden. They wanted to see the city on their own and later on they would travel back to their hotel in Amsterdam. Three months after this trip, Rich sent me an email. He was still enjoying this day and made it very clear: “The highpoint of our vacation was our trip to Friesland and seeing where my great-grandfather lived. Both Alice and I show pictures of Oude Leije to all of our friends.” He had an “absolutely great time” and he “marked off an item on [his] bucket list.”

I have said if before, but these heritage trips are the best. I am so grateful to connect people to their heritage, to make them understand their past.