Der Nederlanden: Part 11

Venlo – Arrival and Day 6

We arrived in Venlo after a wandering drive from Dingden, near sunset, to the Hotel Wilhelmina, across from the station.  It had served as the US headquarters after the Liberation. Arend had arrived, and had eaten in Utrecht, where he changed trains. We had had a big lunch, so we had a beer on the patio, and went to bed.

In the morning, it was cool and a bit drizzly. We set out for Sint Martinuskerk, where dozens of my ancestors and hundreds of their families were christened back to at least 1660 (before that, the names are almost all patronymics and it is hard to identify them in the records) — Bihet, Bocks, Cramers, Damen, De Wilde, Faessen, Frere, van der Hoeven, Horsteins, Janssen, van Leeuwen, Martels, Michelse, Schelbergh, Schoncken, Somers, Venhorst, Verheijen, and, of course, de Gruijter. (Here’s the tree again; search the tree for Venlo in Birth Place.)

We got disoriented in the curving streets, but Arend set us straight — but the church, like many museums and restaurants, was closed on Monday. I had a list of other places to look for, though. This building, marked 1588, in Grotekerkstraat, was not one of them, but my ancestors would have gone by it frequently.

1588 building in Grotekerkstraat

1588 in Grotekerkstraat

This rooster in the market square outside the Stadhuis is the symbol of Jocus, the society for Venlo’s pre-Lenten carnival. It was organized in 1842, and one of the organizers was a de Gruyter. I’ve not been able to find out who, but Otto’s parents had moved to Moers by then. It was probably Frans, son of Martin’s much younger half-brother Cornelis, who was in banking and real estate, and an alderman. It is a nice sculpture, anyway. Martin deGruyter, Otto’s grandfather, was mayor of Venlo in 1794, and would have had an office in this Stadthuis (but the exterior has been remodeled since then.)

We were in search of this. There has been an inn here since the late Middle Ages, and from the 1700s until the 20th century it was called Het Swinjhoofd (The Pig’s Head).

Het Swijnhoofd 11-13 Houtsraat, Venlo

Het Swijnhoofd 11-13 Houtsraat, Venlo

Jan Venhorst, Otto deGruyter’s great-grandfather, who had come from Dingden in the 1760s, was the innkeeper. He was apparently quite the high-liver and a popular caterer. The daybook of the priest at the time, J. C. van Postel, has many mentions of him.

On October 13, 1788, Jan Venhorst was summoned from “Het Zwijnshoofd” to the town hall and there he was convicted by five witnesses of having smashed the magistrate at Hoeckse, calling him a rascal and deceiver. He was retired and sentenced to sit in the fool’s cupboard for eight days on water and bread. He went like a lamb with the police commissioner to No. 2 on that record. He has got a bed and his son brings him food. Jan was released on the 20th.


March 8, 1789 The birthday of the Prince was a great meal in the summer refectory with the Crosiers. The council and magistrate paid the expenses. We had a great drink there. At 5 o’clock the company was done. They started shooting cannons from the garden in such a way that about 80 glasses were broken in the windows. Toasting glasses and bottles were in abundance without words falling. At Venhorst in “het Zwijnshoofd” was a supper for citizens. All officers were at Timmermans (in the Golden Lion). While there was trouble among them, there was someone from the garrison with the Crosiers as the commander and the place major.

And they seem to have taken up the new art of ballooning.

Reported from Postel on August 3, 1797, the balloon master continued on Kaldenkirchen. Jan Venhorst and Sieur Huberts put to him that Venhorst must have 36 French Crowns and Huberts, for ribbon and paper supplied, 172 Guilders. The creditors thought that the balloon would go up on the 6th itself, but a counter-order from the magistrate. The beater called on the 6th at half past two that anyone who wants to buy the balloon will come out this afternoon. At “St. Anna ” (Inn at soc. Prins van Oranje) it will be sold. In the evening at 7 o’clock the carpenter Berculaer released the balloon to admire the crowd of spectators. Has fallen to Tegelen on the the “Glazenap” estate


Der Nederlanden: Part 10

Dingden and the drive to Venlo – Day 5 afternoon

The name Dingden came from Ding or Thing – the name for the governing council in old Germanic societies, and probably it was the old regional meeting place for the Thing.

The Netherlands, like most of what was the Holy Roman Empire, was divided into many small principalities, which changed hands often for a thousand years and more. Bocholt, Rhede, and Dingden were in the Principality of the Bishopric of Munster, which was created by Charlemagne in 795, and part of the Holy Roman Empire. It bordered on the Duchy of Cleve. It was dissolved in 1802, and the area of Bocholt, Rhede, and Dingden became the Principality of Salm, which was taken over by the French Empire shortly thereafter, until 1815, when it went to Prussia. Venlo, to the southwest, also bordered Cleve, and from 1096 was in the quarter of the Duchy of Guelders that remained in the Hapsburg Spanish Netherlands. In 1713, Venlo and the area around it became part of the Dutch Republic. The areas of Upper Guelders to the east became Prussian, and the German border dates from then. From 1795 to 1815 both the Dutch and German areas were held by the French. The whole area spoke closely related dialects of East Dutch: South Guelderish, East Bergish, and Klevelander. Since then, standard German has taken over in the German area.

Sankt Pankratius in Dingden was bombed in 1945 by Americans and Poles. Only the tower survived, and after much discussion, the church was replaced by a simple stucco – inside and out – design. As the church site says (translated by Google)

A simple solution should be: “A hall church without pillars, which could obstruct the view, with small worship chapels should arise”, as it is called in a Festschrift to 60 years of reconstruction. The Dingden vernacular puts it mundane: “Like a barn.” Fits the village character of Dingden and its peasants. In the Festschrift it is well-put: “Sober and cool presents the interior and inevitably directs the view of the brightly lit chancel.”

And the light is stunning.

Sankt Pankratius, Dingden

Sankt Pankratius, Dingden


Font, Sankt Pankratius, early 17th c.

The font apparently survived the bombing, and dates from the early 1600s. The church records only go back to the late 1600s, so all of my known Dingden ancestors – Nienhaus, ten Busch, Klueck, Syverding, Hoffmans, were christened in this font. The Germans have not been nearly as good as the Dutch in putting old records on-line, so I haven’t learned much more about them than can be gleaned for the church records.

Peter Arnold Venhorst, son of Jan, who had moved to Venlo in the 1760s, was appointed mayor of Meerlo, north of Venlo, in 1800, under the new government after France occupied Limburg. He was only 26. The next year he married Agnes Douveren, who must have died, perhaps in first childbirth, because in 1803 he married Antonetta Nienhaus, and they were the parents of Louisa Venhorst, Otto deGruyter’s mother. Antonetta’s parents, Joan Henrich Nienhaus and Marianna ten Busch, never left Dingden, and in fact had their last child there the year after Antonetta married, in Meerlo. I wonder, but have not found a clue, how Antonetta ended up in Meerlo.

Antonetta was descended from several cousin marriages. Her father’s father was Arnold Neinhaus b. 1716, her mother’s grandfather was his brother Henrich Nienhaus b. 1709, and his wife was Maria Anna Elisabeth Nienhaus b. 1719, daughter of Henrich b. 1674, son of Jacob, who was probably an uncle of Arnold and Henrich’s father Joannes.

Robert spotted this plaque on our way from the church to the car.

Today’s nursing home St. Josef in Dingden goes back to a former inn. This house is mentioned for the first time in 1657 in a document and called “white horse”. At that time it was a tavern.
For a long time the house was owned by the respected and wealthy Nienhaus family. Here also the sessions of the poor board took place. In the year 1729 Heinrich Nienhaus is called as supervisor of the poor.
In 1829 the house was demolished. The following year, the reconstruction took place. Several times the owner changed.

Source – KuLaDig

Nearby is the Jacobshaus, now the Humbergerhaus Museum, which commemorates the Jewish family Humberg. In the late 1600s it was the home of Jacob Neinhaus.



Here is a family tree of Otto deGruyter’s ancestors, again.

And here is a musical interlude, by Dutch folk band Rowwen Hèze (Wiki in English), while we drive to Venlo.

“Een kwestie van geduld” means “A matter of patience” and is about how North Limburgerish, one of the remaining East Dutch dialects will eventually take over.

“Vanoavend vur altied” lyrics but it is Limburgerish and Google Translate doesn’t deal. But it includes “Consumption is mandatory. The bank gentleman in the room makes himself happy”

Der Nederlanden: Part 9

Bucholt and Rhede – Day 5

Most of my great-grandfather Otto deGruyter’s father’s family was in Venlo or Blerick, just across the river Maas, as far back as the records go – the 1620s, except for Walter deGruyter, who moved there from Den Bosch in the 1740s. But his mother’s family, the Venhorsts and Nienhauses, were from east across the Rhine in Germany, in Rhede and Dingden and came in the 1760s.

Here is a family tree of Otto’s ancestors tree

It took me so long to get to this post because I was reviewing who was from where and trying to figure out how to display them so they made sense. In the process, I started looking at church records again, found many I had not before (confirming another generation in a few lines), and discovering that some information I picked up from OPR (the notorious Other People’s Research) was wrong, and, no, I didn’t have anyone from Bucholt – only a fifth great-grandfather who married his second wife there – and I am descended from his first. But it was a lovely town, anyway.

Here is the beautiful Dutch Renaissance Rathaus, which now has a cafe with elaborate ice cream. We had coffee on the plaza.

Rathaus, Bocholt, Germany

Rathaus, Bocholt, Germany

We also visited St. George Church, immediately behind the Rathaus, which was bombed and burned in World War II, thinking at the time I had ancestors who attended.

Next was Rhede, where I did have many ancestors, back to the oldest records, unfortunately only to the late 1600s — the Venhorst, Wülfing, Schwers, and Hoveke great-grandparents of Jan Venhorst, who moved to Venlo in the 1760s, grandfather of Louisa Venhorst, Otto deGruyter’s mother. Her mother’s grandmother, Margaretha Ten Esse, whose parents moved from Ramsberg a few miles away, was also christened here.

This is the 12th century font of the church in Rhede, Sankt Gudula. The old church was replaced in 1898, and the font was used elsewhere until it was returned to Sankt Gudula in 1996.  While the church is new, and the records are gone, many generations of my ancestors were christened at this font.

12th c. Font, Sankt Gudula, Rhede

12th c. Font, Sankt Gudula, Rhede

Leaving the church, the first thing I saw was this store window; I took a picture for our daughter, Hilde, whose full name is Anna Mathilde.

"Mathilde", shop window, Rhede

Shop window, Rhede

It was past lunch-time, so we ate in the church plaza at Zum Griechen (To the Greeks) which was nevertheless quite German.  I had Jägerschnitzel.


And so off to Dingden, which is just only 10 miles away.

Der Nederlanden: Part 8

The Hunebedden, Day 4 afternoon

Robert and I like the small towns and countryside as much as (or more than) cities, and are interested in history, prehistory, geology, and nature wherever we go. I had noticed De Weerribben-Wieden National Park, a large fen – formed by centuries of peat- and reed-cutting – north of Meppel. When Judy told us about the Hunebedden, we were ready to go. Saturday afternoon, after picking up the picnic  ingredients, we drove west, along the south side of the fens, and then north  past the lakes. We missed a turn, didn’t find a convenient place to walk in the fens, and went on to find the hunebedden, specifically D53 and D54, which are a pair, and two of three that are apart from the long line of them along the eastern border of Drenthe. A wonderful site and map here, no English version.

So, what are hunnebedden? In the UK, they are called barrows – burial mounds, in this case stone tunnels covered by earth, but now only the stones remain. These are from around 4500 BCE, and built by Beaker people, who belonged to a culture which spread from Spain all over Europe, without a migration, and then Beaker people from, probably, the area of the Netherlands migrated to Great Britain, replacing the farmers who had moved in from the steppes, who had replaced the hunter-gatherers who had built Stonehenge.

While we try not to do a lot of research or have expectations when we travel, at the same time, seeing through a lens of reconstructing/imagining what was rather than just what is. And afterwards, researching what we didn’t understand or what we want to know. Here is a site on the geography and geology of the Netherlands. Almost all of the Netherlands is the flat delta of the Rhine, and the major divisions of the soil types are sea clay and river clay, sea sand and river sand. The few hills and stones are sand dunes and boulders pushed ahead of the glaciers in the ice ages, including the boulders used for the hunebedden, and the low ridge near the two we visited.


Deltawerken.Com / Delta Works .Org

We looked at the first hunebed and took a walk through the woods on the dune above it, which was full of bomb craters from World War II, now filled with water and home to salamanders. The Germans built an airfield here during the occupation, dismantling D53, which the Dutch reconstructed from photographs and field notes after the war.


Woods on the Havelterberg


“Een bulldozer van ijs”


Huunebedden in the distance

We walked back up to the parking, where there were picnic tables, had our picnic supper, and drove back through the country to Meppel.

Der Nederlanden: Part 7


On our plane to Amsterdam were a group of  US World War II veterans going to the Netherlands, where they had been part of the liberation from the Germans 75 years ago.

In Meppel, this plaque was on the wall of the Grote de Mariakerk

Geknecht, verdrukt, doch nooit gebukt, noch ooit de strijd gemeden Met bronzen klank aan God bedank en aan wat helden deden

Liberation plaque Meppel

Geknecht…Verdrukt…Doch nooit gebukt
Noch ooit de strijd gemeden
Met bronzen klank aan God de dank
en aan wat helden deden

(Enslaved, oppressed, but never stooped, nor ever the battle avoided
With brazen sound to God the thanks and to what heroes did)

The Netherlands was occupied by Germany for five years during World War II, and nearly a quarter-million Dutch died, including an estimated ten to twenty thousand by starvation in the last year of the war.

May 4 is a Memorial Day for all victims of war, and May 5 is Liberation Day, celebrating freedom. The Allied troops who liberated the Netherlands were mostly Canadian, but the Dutch remember and are grateful to all the Allies, including the US. All of the Dutch we talked to mentioned the liberation and our role, and Hannie Huigsloot, who we met later in Venlo, told us how her mother went every year to her home town for the Liberation Day celebration.

This is a film on the occupation and resistance from the Verzetsmuseum (Resistance Museum) in Amsterdam.

Der Nederlanden: Part 6

Meppel, Day 4

We discovered that Saturday was Open Monumentendag (Open Monument, or Heritage Day), when thousands of historical buildings and museums are open and free. It’s part of a Europe-wide program. We started out with a map of the sites in Meppel, but soon got lost. We saw the modern Stadhuis (Town Hall), which is more beautiful than the photographs. We got to the Grote de Mariakerk, where Judy’s ancestors would have attended, just as they were opening for the day, and an art exhibit. We talked to artist Thea Gerritsen, who told us about her portrait of Queen Beatrix, after a photograph Thea’s brother had taken, and she was excited that her son, King Wilhelm-Alexander, would be visiting the church and see it.

Grote de Mariakerk Altar Cloth

Grote de Mariakerk Altar Cloth

After lots of talk, and coffee and cookies, we went out to find the windmills, and Stichting Oud Meppel (Old Meppel Foundation), which turned out to overlap. It is in the building at the base of this windmill.


We had a good visit with the folks at the history center (where there was more coffee, and poppyseed cake, which we declined, since we had just done coffee and cookies.) It is all-volunteer, and they have over 90, and maintain a library and an incredible and well-indexed photograph collection. Judy had a long talk about her van Alstyne ancestors from Meppel, and when they learned my name was deGruyter, reminisced about the deGruyter grocery store in town, which their mothers had all used, and that children got 10 cents worth of candy when they went with their mothers. They searched out pictures of the old store, which is now offered to print pictures of the old store, which is now an electronics shop, next to a Subway (they are everywhere0, and kindly emailed them to me.

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Piet de Gruyter, who founded the grocery chain in 1818, was from Den Bosch, and probably a sixth or seventh cousin or so of my great-grandfather, Otto deGruyter, who was descended from Walter de Gruijter who moved from den Bosch to Venlo about 1740. A distant relation, but the chain grew to over 500 stores, and it is fun to see the family name. When my Aunt Elizabeth visited the Netherlands in the early 60s, she brought back chocolates and matchboxes with the de Gruyter brand.

After the history center, we climbed up into the windmill, which is being restored and has shops in the lower levels, and a wood-worker’s shop at the top. They are awaiting the arrival of a millstone, and plan to grind mustard seed and produce mustard. They had mustard from elsewhere, and when Judy said she had never had Dutch mustard, gave us each two samples. Fortunately, the jars were small enough to pass TSA guidelines.

This is the other windmill, which is not working, but which is also a historic site, with a museum.


We had planned to visit the fens and hunebedden north of Meppel in the afternoon, with a picnic supper, so we stopped at De Brasserie again for a bit of lunch. This time I wanted to try bitterballen, even though I had no idea what they were, and Robert and I split an order of eight, which was too much, even though we persuaded Judy to take one. They are deep-fried balls of meat and gravy, what we would call bar food. (Do look at the recipe link.)

We stopped in the Jumbo supermarket near our hotel, and got a brown baguette, sliced (.99 euros, a bit more than half the price at our Kroger’s and better bread), some “red berries” I had also seen in the outdoor green market by the church, a convenient small package of a variety of cheeses, half a dozen small pies with a nut filling, and a paring knife, since we hadn’t checked luggage and Robert didn’t have the pocket knife we usually use for these occasions. The red berries were labeled “rood bessen”, which just translates “red berries” and was obvious, in any case. I thought they were currants, which you never see fresh in the US, and when I tried translating “currants” into Dutch, sure enough, it told me “red berries.”

For more about our Meppel visit, see Judy’s blog.