Sunday morning, 10.30am. When I arrive at Utrecht Central Station, the DeGroot family (of Wyoming, United States) is already waiting for me. They took that morning the train from Amsterdam to Utrecht, ready for their heritage trip. A week before I sent them an itinerary: I had planned visits to Goudriaan, Noordeloos, Achthoven and Lexmond. I deliberately omitted to include any details, as certain parts of a trip like this should be a surprise.
On our way to Goudriaan we speak about the DeGroot family history. I explain that in the Netherlands we write the name as ‘de Groot’. For half an hour we speak about who was who, who lived where. Long story short:
- Gerrit de Groot and his wife Merrigje emigrated to the United States in 1866, shortly after their marriage in Noordeloos.
- Gerrit’s parents were Willem and Aantje, who lived in Lexmond and Goudriaan.
- Willem’s parents were Aart and Jantje. Aart operated a water mill in Achthoven.
Our first stop is the Dutch Reformed church of Goudriaan. This is the church that Gerrit, his parents and siblings for many years visited. When Gerrit died in 1852 he was buried here, and so was his wife Aantje in 1890. When we arrive the weekly church service is still going on. We wait and walk around on the cemetery. No graves for the DeGroot family any more. They have been cleared over the years. At the end of the cemetery we have a stunning view of the Goudriaan polder, with a traditional windmill.
Ten minutes later the church service is over. One of the churchwardens invites us to have a look inside the church. He tells us that the church was built in the 14th century. The interior has changed over the ages, but some elements are still authentic. For example the pulpit (1642), four bronze chandeliers and several tombstones (17th century). Large wooden plates with a list of pastors and the Ten Commandments hang on the walls.
Our next stop is the place where the De Groot family once lived. Through research in land registration records and population registers I discovered the exact locations of the farmhouse and the vast lands that Willem and Aantje rented for more than twenty years. The current address is Zuidzijde 91. The old farmhouse does not exist anymore, it was demolished in the 1970s. We take pictures of the house and the surrounding area. Further down the steet we see examples of farmhouses that are – most likely – similar to the farmhouse that was used by the De Groot family.
At 12.30pm we arrive at restaurant ‘t Raadhuis. Before we enter the restaurant I tell my guests that this restaurant was once owned by Adriaan Brandwijk, a brother of one of their (female) ancestors. We order a very typical Dutch dish: two kroketten on brown bread. I tell some stories during lunch. For example about the secession that took place in the Dutch Reformed church in 1834 and how this event influenced the De Groot family.
After lunch we drive through Noordeloos before we meet a Dutch descendant of the De Groot family. He takes us for a short walk through the beautiful nature of Achthoven. Ten minutes later we see the place of the former water mill, that was operated by Aart de Groot in the beginning of the 19th century. The distant cousin invites us to visit the old farmhouse that was built by Aart’s third son Theunis de Groot in the 1840s. The building is no longer in use and cobwebs are hanging from the ceiling. Nevertheless it gives a great impression of 19th century farm life.
We end our trip in Lexmond, where one of the churchwardens and the church archivist show us the Dutch Reformed church. Again, a 14th century building that has survived religious wars and political turmoil, but also storms and floods. The church interior looks almost the same as it did in the beginning of the 19th century when several generations of De Groot’s came to this place. While having a cup of coffee the church archivist shows the original church books. Willem and Aantje de Groot were accepted as church members in 1839, their son Gerrit was baptized here in 1840.
At the end of the afternoon we are driving back to Utrecht. We talk about the things we have seen and heard. It has been quite overwhelming for the De Groot family, but they enjoyed every part of this heritage trip. It was more than they expected beforehand, as they were afraid that the area would have changed so much that it would not be possible anymore to get a good impression of their ancestors’ life.
Again it becomes clear that genealogy and cultural heritage go hand in hand. Genealogy gets more color thanks to the still present parts of our heritage. On the other hand, artifacts, buildings and landscapes get an extra meaning when they are combined with personal stories. I am very curious how the De Groot family compares this one-day heritage trip with their two-weeks safari in Africa. Probably both are overwhelming, each in its own way.