Der Nederlanden: Part 15

Moers and Kaldenkirchen – Day 7 afternoon

My great-grandfather Otto Ferdinand deGruyter was christened in Sankt Josef Kirche, Moers, Germany, on 21 July 1845. Long ago when I started researching him, I found many de Gruyter mentions in the church book, but not his christening. It was only after I had given up and scrolled back in the microfilm far before the birth year – 1852- on his death certificate and gravestone that I found it. He was 40 when he married my great-grandmother, Jane Hill, who was 25, and I can only think that he told her he was much younger. The 1880 census, 5 years before they married, gives his correct age.

Otto’s father Ferdinand’s only surviving brother, Martin, moved to Duisburg by 1833, just east of Moers, and had a coal and shipping company. (His grandson Walter deGruyter founded the scholarly publishing house.) Their mother, Maria van der Hoeven, died when Ferdinand was 9, Martin was 11, and their only sister, Maria Josephina, was 8. Their father, who was a needle maker (as his father and grandfather had been pinmakers), and grain trader died in September 1829. Ferdinand married Louisa Venhorst, in Meerlo, that December and they had three children by 1834. Sometime after the youngest, Josephine, died in March 1835, Ferdinand and Louisa moved to Moers, where their four younger children were born, starting in 1842. I do wonder about the 8-year gap in children. Louisa’s parents, Peter Venhorst and Antonetta Nienhaus, died in 1833 and 1835. Louisa’s brother Otto apparently moved with Ferdinand and Louisa – he would have been just 11 when his parents died; he died in Moers, at the age of 17, in 1841. Her brother Eduard was working as a goldsmith in Kleves when he died at 24, in 1842, but was buried from St. Josef’s in Moers. Of Peter and Antonetta’s 15 children, only four survived to marry.

Ferdinand was a watchmaker, and his son Otto, grandson Olen, and his namesake and great-grandson, my father Ferd, were also. deGruyter-FJ-Sig-1845.jpgHere is Ferdinand’s signature from Otto’s birth certificate.

The church was not open, and it was built after the deGruyters left. The old church, built in 1778-79, now called Marienheim, is across the street and houses the parish kindergarten.

Datei:Moers, Marienheim, 2014-01 CN-02.jpg

Moers was Reformed, and there was no Catholic parish from the Reformation until after the Seven Years War in 1771, when there were enough former French soldiers, artisans, and day laborers who had moved in to warrant it. The city, which had been under Dutch rule until the beginning of the 18th, then Prussian, was under French rule from 1794 to 1815, when it went back to Prussia.

I didn’t know where they had lived, but suspected it was in the commercial area between the old and new markets, near the castle and their church, which is full of houses with shops in the ground floor. Here are some views of the area of the old market, where they likely lived and worked. It probably looked much like this in the mid-19th century.

After we got back, I found that the municipal birth certificate for Otto’s brother Ferdinand had a street address, 90 Steinstrasse.

It is just inside the old wall, and we walked past it at least twice, since it was near our parking in one of the bastions from the old star-shaped fortifications – which we have now seen from Zwolle in the north all the way to Timisoara, in western Romania, where we went last year on the hunt for Robert’s family from there.

We had coffee on the patio at a cafe on the old market square, and headed back towards Venlo.

We missed a turn and ended up wandering on back roads rather more than we had intended, but the countryside was lovely. Instead of endless utility poles, Dutch and German roads are bordered by planted trees, and all but the smallest have parallel bike paths. And there is no junk, abandoned buildings, litter, or indeed anything unlovely. We had intended to go through Krefeld, where the Quaker and Mennonite founders of Germantown, Pennsylvania, came from in the 1680s. A few also came from Kaldenkirchen, but I was interested because Arnold Custer and Gertrude Doors, who immigrated to Germantown a bit later, were from there. One of their sons, Conrad, was an original settler of what is now Rockingham County, Virginia. His granddaughter Susannah married John Runyon, and they were first settlers of Harrison County, and grandparents of Margaret Morrison, who married Mark Hersman and is my great-great-grandmother. So after 200 years a descendant of theirs married a deGruyter from Venlo and Moers. (Arnold Custer and Gertrude Doors were also the ancestors of George Armstrong Custer. So.)

On the way back from Kaldenkirchen, we passed through the area where the van Leeuwens and Schonckens lived in the 18th century.   In 1733, just after their second child was born, Peter Leeuw and his wife Helena Canjels bought 5 and a half morgens of cropland on the Wylderbeek, next to the Weijeclooster (Mariaweide Klooster) land, which is now along the A73, southwest of Venlo. It was between there and the Sinselbergh, which is the slight sandhill, now parkland, between Kaldenkirchen and Venlo. In 1796 their first child, Anna Maria, had died, and her widower Christian Schoncken borrowed money against it. This was probably the area now the train station and railyards. In 1785, Jan Venhorst and his wife, Helena Schoncken (daughter of Maria van Leeuwen and Christian Schonken) rented another piece of land they owned nearby, 4 morgens at the bottom of the Bergh near the Onderste Houtmolen, which still stands, and along the road.

We had dinner at the Eetcafé de Brasserie. I had zuurvlees – “sourflesh” – the Dutch equivalent of sauerbraten, and a Limburg speciality – in both Belgian and Dutch Limburg.

Der Nederlanden: Part 14

Venlo – Day 7

We started with another delicious Dutch breakfast buffet – several slice-it-yourself breads, croissants, butter and jams, sliced meats and cheeses, boiled and scrambled eggs, hot sausages and bacon. The hotels, even the smallest, had the coffee machines we saw last year in Eastern Europe, which grind the beans and allow you a choice of espresso, latte, cappuccino – and, if you must, Americano, at the press of a button.

We had planned to go back to Sint-Martinuskerk, which was posted as open from 9:30 to noon, walk through some streets where ancestors had lived or had property in the 18th century, and then go off to Moers with maybe a stop in Kaldenkirchen, where a completely different set of ancestors on the Hersman side of the family had lived.

The church was not yet open when we got there, and almost as soon as they unlocked and we went in, we were asked to leave as it wasn’t open until 10:30. We were out from discussing what to do in the meantime when a woman who lived nearby introduced herself, and kindly spent the next hour or so with us, looking for the verger, recruiting someone to answer questions, and admiring the church with us.IMG_20190917_104400850.jpg

The earliest church on the site is thought to have been in the 9th century, although there was a church in Venlo dating to 760. Around 1000 it was replaced by a Romanesque church, and the beginnings of the Gothic building was in the 1420s. It was expanded over the centuries, and the tower was replaced after World War II, when the tower and roof were destroyed by bombing.

The copper baptismal font dates from 1619. The sculpture on top represents a baptism in the river Jordan. On the lower left you can see the levers used to raise the lid so the font can be used.

Hundreds of my ancestors’ families would have gathered around this font over the centuries to welcome each new baby.

In the baptistry side chapel, there is this carving of a pelican mother. In medieval times, the pelican was believed to be a particularly good mother, to the point of providing her blood by wounding her breast when no other food was available. The pelican became a symbol of the passion of Jesus, and we saw it in many churches, but I thought it was particularly apt in this chapel.IMG_20190917_104826335-1.jpg

The Baroque pulpit dates from 1701, and my various families in Venlo would have looked at it every Sunday.IMG_20190917_103336719

My ancestors were also buried in the churchyard, and at least one is listed as being buried in the church, but the churchyard is no paved or built over, although a few gravestones have been set into the foundation walls of the church. I was told that no-one was buried in the church except the Bishop of Roermond, Damianus van Hoensbroeck, who died in 1793, and was exhumed and reburied in the church in 2018-19, to make his grave in the floor visible again. There is a documentary teaser here.

IMG_20190917_104714481.jpgIt seems likely to me that, like most churches of the time, the rich were buried in the church, the gravestones forming the floor, and they were all removed or covered, as the Bishop’s was, in the 1830s. Arnold Schoncken’s 1735 death record in the church book says he was buried in the “moederkerk”, when most other death records from the church say “kerkhof”, which is churchyard. I lit a candle for them all.

It was time to walk back to the Markt for lunch. We went along the Lomstraat again, and along Peperstraat, and Steenstraat, which leads into the Oude Markt, and where Jan Venhorst and his wife Helena Schoncken owned property.

In 1760, Wolterius De Gruyter and his second wife, Anna Catharina Spee, bought half of a house and yard “op de hoek van de Oude Markt“, a corner of the Old Market Square, and also a share in a saltworks. There is no clue to which corner, and most of what surrounds the old market square is now new, or with new facades. But here is an older building just off the square, on the corner of Heilige Geeststraat (Holy Ghost Street). IMG_20190916_120037810

His son Martin is listed as a zoutzieder – a saltmaker (also a speldenmaker (pinmaker), kruidenier (grocer), and koopman (merchant). The de Gruijters in Den Bosch had been speldenmakers. Martin was also kerkmeester, what the English call church warden, at Sint-Martinuskerk.

Lunch was at the Hungry Hippo, a Middle Eastern place which was one of the few we found with vegan choices.

We walked back to the Wilhelmina to get the car, and set off east again into Germany for the afternoon, to Moers, where my great-grandfather deGruyter’s family moved in the late 1830s, not long before he was born.


Der Nederlanden: Part 13

Meerlo, Maasduinen, Blerick – Day 6 afternoon

Meerlo is a small village about ten miles north of Venlo. This is where Peter Venhorst, son of Jan Venhorst, innkeeper and apparent bon vivant in Venlo, was appointed burgemeester – mayor – of the district, which included Meerlo, Tienray, Blitterswijk, and Swolgen. He continued serving under the Dutch administration after the defeat of Napoleon, until 1831, and died soon after. Louisa Venhorst, Otto de Gruyter’s mother, grew up there, and married Ferdinand Jan de Gruyter there in 1829.

It was still drizzling when we got there, and the church was not open. We walked around it, and through the graveyard, although I didn’t expect to see any family graves, since in most of Europe land is limited and old gravestones are removed and the space reused.


Sint Johannes de Doper, Meerlo

Sint Johannes de Doper is St. John the Baptist. Something I noticed in the graveyard is that the married couples (marked with an infinity sign on the stones) had different names. I hadn’t realized it was still the custom, as it was formerly, making genealogy research much easier, since the christening records give both parents’ full names.


“Carnaval is een bijzonder onderdeel van de volkscultuur in Limburg, en tijdens Carnaval hebben vele dorpen, steden en haar inwoners een alternatieve naam. In het verleden zijn de dorpen in de omgeving van Meerlo sterk met elkaar verbonden geweest waarbij men een scheldwoord gebruikte voor de inwoners uit de andere dorpen. Heden wordt dit echter niet meer zoervaren, maar als een erenaam gevoeld.
De Carnavals-naam voor de mensen in Meerlo is “De Vöskes” (vossen).”

This is the fox in the town car park next to the village hall and across from the church. The sign says “Carnival is a special part of folk culture in Limburg, and during Carnival, many villages, towns and its inhabitants have an alternative name. In the past, the villages in the vicinity of Meerlo have been strongly interconnected using a swear word for the residents of the other villages, but today this is no longer boasting, but felt like an honor. The Carnival name for the people in Meerlo is “De Vöskes” (foxes).”

Since we always like to get into the countryside, we went across the Maas to the Nationaal Park De Maasduinen.    The Maasduinen – the dunes of the Maas  (Meuse) are a long stretch of sand dunes formed by the wind during the last ice age, along the east side of the Maas. The area has heathland, lakes, and forest. We walked along a sluice, across a bridge, along some dunes through the woods, and had hot chocolate in a cafe and visitors center with a lovely water view, built on the dam, and with a sod roof – seen here in the distant from the footbridge.



There were many tree-stump sculptures along the path through the woods, including this dragonfly.


Our last stop of the day was somewhere special, to me, at least. In my research before the trip, I had found these beautiful old maps of Blerick, a farming community across the river from Venlo. In the upper left corner of this one, made about 1650, is a farm labelled Baesdonck.


Baesdonck at Blerick

Jan Venhorst the innkeeper’s wife was Helena Schoncken. Her father Christian’s family, and her mother Maria deLeuuw’s, had been in Venlo since the available records started. But her mother’s mother, Helena Caniels, was the daughter of Ida Verheijen, daughter of Hendrick Verbaesdonck, later known as Verheijen, born 1629, son of Matthias Verbaesdonck, whose grandfather Wilhelmus, born about 1550, is one of the farthest ancestor I can document in any of my lines, and the oldest I can tie to a specific plot of land. Christening and marriage records still exist.

Verbaesdonck is a farm name, and Matthias later moved to a farm called Ter Heyden (Verheijen) and became known by that name. The farm is one of the few farms still in the area, and is at the intersection of two elevated expressways. The medieval house is still there, but with a modern exterior.

We walked down the lane, now a dead end. It was dusk, and not much to see but the pasture, vegetable fields, and modern greenhouses. But it was good to stand on land I knew my ancestors worked 500 and more years ago.

We went back to dinner in Venlo at a restaurant, Grand Café Bonaparte, whose logo

had captivated Judy that morning. Robert and I had been wanting Indonesian, and had satay, with Venloosch Alt, billed as the Netherlands first Altbier (although altbier originated in Dusseldorf, which is less than 30 miles away).

Something I learned when we visited the Netherlands briefly in our long Europe trip with our children is that saying “deGruyter” the American way is incomprehensible to the Dutch. Here is the Dutch pronunciation:

I still didn’t get it right, I think. I had a conversation with the waitress about why we were in Venlo, and we eventually were writing the name on a napkin – she thought I was saying de Ruijter, a completely different name.

The Wilhelmina in the sunset, and the sunset itself, were lovely.

IMG_20190916_200329145  IMG_20190916_200913879.jpg



Der Nederlanden: Part 12

Venlo – Day 6 continued

[Our new grandson, Aidan Jacob McKissick, arrived just as I was finishing this post, so I have been occupied with other things for a while.]

Here is a good summary of the de Gruijter family of Venlo, from the Limburg GenWiki. I suspect the information on Otto’s family, and his brother Martin’s, came from either Julius, Martin’s grandson in Charleston, or my aunt Elizabeth deGruyter Turner, or perhaps from me in correspondence years ago.

Venlo has been a trading center since probably Roman times, a major port, and a member of the Hanseatic League. I wanted to explore the area between the Markt and the river, where the Schonckens had property in 1609 on Peperstraat, which leads down to the wharf. The wharf area is now a park, with views up and down the river, and sculpture.



I also found my first interesting manhole cover. There were lots in eastern Europe last year, not so many in the Netherlands. This has the city arms and motto – Make haste slowly, with a sound mind.

Geemente Venlo Festina lente cauta fac omina mente

Geemente Venlo – Festina lente cauta fac omina mente

We had a bit of lunch in the Grote Markt – Robert and I split more bitterballen – and headed back to get the car and visit Meerlo, the Maasduinen national park, and Blerick.