When I received Laura’s e-mail in August 2018, I immediately thought: “This has all the potential to become a very interesting project.” And I was right in thinking so. To be honest, after two years, the mystery about Laura’s ancestor is still not solved and it has intrigued me ever since.
Let me first give you a summary of what we now know. Laura’s great-greatgrandfather John was born in the Netherlands. He died in Yonkers, New York in 1910. According to the tombstone on his grave, he was born in 1847. His obituary states that he was in the navy for sixteen years, but it is unknown in which navy he served. The first records in the US with his name date from 1875. Family legend says he served in the US Civil War, changed his name to re-enlist. His wife later applied for a pension, but it was declined. The question, of course, is whether we can find Laura’s great-greatgrandfather in Dutch records. The answer is: no, not really. Or, maybe?
A quick look in some Dutch databases learned that the family name was quite common, but the combination of first names of Laura’s ancestor were not. To be honest, there was only one person with the correct first names and family name. However, this person lived one or maybe two generations before the man we were looking for, and died long before John could have emigrated to the United States. Based on Laura’s details, there was nobody that could serve as a candidate for a hypothesis. So, what next?
DNA test results
Laura told me she had taken a DNA test. One of her matches was a descendant of the family John possibly belonged too. It was the same family as the ‘same name’ guy who was too old. With this information, we developed the hypothesis that ‘our man’ was somehow related. Many men in this family served in the Dutch army. That information matched the family legend that John first served in the nacy and then in the US Civil War. In the most likely family, we found one man who was born in the same year as John. Besides the year no other detail matched: day and month of birth were wrong, names were wrong. Laura asked me to look into this man, named Melgert, simply because we had no other candidate to investigate. So I did.
After a few months I had found out that Melgert was a son of an army officer. He lived with his family until he reached the age for military service. Online research placed him in Groningen, no other information was found online. No death record, no population register entry. What had happened to Melgert? When and where did he die? Or did his death not take place in the Netherlands because he emigrated? The only thing I did now, was that he served in the Dutch army.
I visited the National Archives and search for his army details. What I found was very interesting: he was dismissed from the army and was sentenced to prison. After a while I learned where he spent his prison time. The archivist was so kind to send me a digital image of the prison register. Now I knew Melgert moved to Vlaardingen after his prison time. In Vlaardingen he signed up to work on a ship. When the day came to set sail, he did not show up. The captain asked for his arrest and Melgert was arrested in his parents house, who then lived in Zeeland. He was brought back to Vlaardingen, where he… disappeared from the radar.
That is where we are now. We did not find John in the Netherlands. We did find Melgert, but lost track of him. The last documents that mentioned Melgert, were written only a few years before John showed up in the US. Could Melgert have left the Netherlands and have changed his name into John? Did he change his name because of his criminal past? More research is needed. But one day… yes, one day…
Today’s giveaway is… AMAZING! If you enter this contest, you can win a Gold Two Day Pass for THE Genealogy Show, that will take place in Birmingham (England) on 26 and 27 June 2020. This pass not only gives you access to the show on both days, you can also attend upto six talks each day! One of these talks is about Dutch genealogy, presented by me (John Boeren).
If you have plans to attend THE Genealogy Show, you can now enter this contest and win a free pass, worth £55.00! If you did not have plans yet, then winning this pass might convince you to go. Because the prize is a real catch, you need to do two things. (1) Like and share my post on Facebook, or like and retweet my post on Twitter (or do both) and (2) answer this question: In which Dutch city did Melgert disappear from the records? Send me the answer in an email or through a private message on social media.