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 3

Haarlem and Amsterdam, Day 2

We trickled down to breakfast, a wonderful spread of fresh, slice-your-own brown bread, sliced cheese, ham, and sausages, warm boiled eggs, jam, pastries, omelettes on demand, juice, espresso and cappuccino. Why Americans think a “continental breakfast” is a Danish in cellophane is beyond me.

On the way to the train station, we stopped to look at this gasthuis gate, dated 1624. The gasthuis itself was founded in 1435, and only the gate remains.

Barbera Vrouwen Gasthuis

Barbera Vrouwen Gasthuis Gate, Anno 1624

Gasthuisen, or guesthouses, sometimes called hospitals (as in hospitality – the Dutch call hospitals ziekenhuisensickhouses) were places for refugees, the homeless, and pilgrims. It is worth using Google translate to read the Dutch Wikipedia entry.

In Amsterdam, we wanted to walk along the canal, and see, but not necessarily visit, the Anne Frank House, and visit the Homomonument, which commemorates all gay men and lesbians who have been subjected to persecution because of their homosexuality, particularly those killed by the Nazis, which is nearby. It is difficult to photograph – or even to see all at once.


Having walked down one canal, we walked up another, to find Het West-Indisch Huis (the West Indies House), headquarters of the Dutch West Indies Company. One of Judy’s ancestors worked for the company, and eventually moved to Nieuw Amsterdam.


Judy reading the West Indies House plaque


Pieter Stuyvestant, first governor of New Amsterdam, in the West Indies House Courtyard

The John Adams Institute is next door. He was the first US envoy to the Netherlands, before he was Ambassador to England, and President.


John Adams Institute

Just across the street from the Adams Institute, this building caught my eye:

Koffie Thee Cacao

Koffie Thee Cacao

Zoom in for tiles of chickens across the top, and “Koffie Thee Cacao” above the ground floor windows.

It was time to find lunch.

Pleasant Valley Sunday

My virus scan had slowed my computer to a crawl, so I spent the morning cleaning out the mess at the top of the basement stairs, which was used as the cleaning closet by the previous owners, despite the fact that it is less than three feet square and is in fact the stair landing and needs to be used to get up and down, and brainstorming how to rearrange it.  We had gotten mop clips to be put up, but you can never just do one thing.  There is a circuit box there, for which a giant hole was cut in the plaster wall and never finished, leaving cable, rough plaster edges, and the inside of the wall exposed, and something needed to be done about that.  We brainstormed and decided to surround the thing with pegboard, so I put chicken in the crockpot for green chile enchiladas later, and we went to Lowe’s and then off to the mountains again, figuring there wasn’t any daylight in the staircase so the afternoon would be better spent where there was.

We went to Pleasant Creek WMA, where we didn’t find skunk cabbage, and then back down to see if we could actually find Arden, a swimming spot on the Tygart Valley River.  We weren’t planning a swim, but we got lost in the wilds of Barbour County a few years ago while planning a picnic there on the way to take our daughter to the Pittsburgh airport.  It was meant to be the scenic route, and was, but not what we had planned, and we wanted to try again.  We did find Arden, a pretty spot on the Tygart, and then went over the hill to Moatsville, a beautiful spot on Teter Creek just above where it joins the Tygart.


So while Robert finished the pegboard, I made these brownies.  I found the recipe while adding all my recipes to this blog, partly as part of the “automate menu planning and the grocery list” project, for which I’m using Ziplist, but don’t want to copy all my recipes there.  I can put them here, link their ingredients there, use them for schedule and grocery list generation in Ziplist, and still have them under my control.  I suspect this was my mother’s recipe, but I don’t remember her ever making them – and I haven’t either.  An experiment.  I suspected from the tiny amount of flour that they would be the kind described as “fudgie” but they are more like baked mousse or maybe divinity (and way less trouble than divinity).

And the top of the stairs now looks like this, and will be quite lovely, as basement stairs go, once we paint it all gray to match the kitchen.  Broom closet


How different the explosions in Boston and West, Texas, and our reactions to them.   

Here is a quote from Amy Goodman:
“The first blast in Boston occurred behind a line of fluttering flags from around the world, reflecting the international stature of the oldest annual marathon in the country – flags that reminded me once again of the words of Howard Zinn:

    There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”

The blood in Boston is on the hands of one or two people, driven beyond the bounds by some extreme ideology or twisted personal thinking, we assume.  Tiny drops from West are on all of our hands.  Nitrogen fertilizer was responsible for the largest industrial accident in US history, in Texas City 66 years ago.  Fertilizer has made cheap food for the US possible, and fed most of the world, except Africa.  It has also polluted more than half of the rivers in the US, created a growing dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, and sickened the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay, among others.  And more people die in the US every year from industrial accidents than have died from terrorism since 1970.

Maybe it’s too uncomfortable for us to think that the factory (or the coal mine, or the power plant) next door, that employs our neighbors or friends, or even us, and supplies, directly or indirectly, our electricity and our food, is more dangerous than terrorists.  But it is true, and maybe we need to be working more to prevent death by changing the way we do things every day.

Long, Dark, and Shameful Corridors of Time

It is one thing to read about the Holocaust, about the banality of evil, about the ordinary Germans who turned on their neighbors, about our own internment of Japanese citizens, about lynchings in our South, about many horrible things that people have done to people in fights over territory, principles, and even in the name of religion.  It is entirely another to have it brought home that those thoughts are here today, in ordinary people, friends, neighbors.

Last fall, I quoted on Facebook

We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence, or violent co-annihilation. We must move past indecision to action. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

Martin Luther King Jr. delivered 4 April 1967, Riverside Church, New York City

I was taken aback at one response, from a vocally Christian friend:

Get the radical Islamist, Russia, the Taliban and the Sunnis to agree and I am all for that.  Oh…I forgot to mention the Chinese, the Serbs and the others who want to kill us….

And then, late last night after a weekend church workshop and a wonderful evening service, I found this Facebook comment on someone else’s post in my mailbox, from a retired teacher, friend of a Facebook friend:

Our government is out of control !! Look at how they have imprisoned 4 United States Marines for pissing on the bodies of those traitors/terrorists !!! I find our soldiers’ message appropriate and true from our hearts !! It is against the Geneva Convention ?? Obama and Hilary take exception and APOLOGIZE for insulting those fork-tongued ,treacherous devil-worshippers ?? WTF !! How about those heathens’ practice of beheading our soldiers and dragging their bodies through the streets —I guess that is okay and not that big a deal—they are just Americans.

These are the most extreme of what I have heard lately, but almost every day someone says, with vehemence or, more distressing, casually, something that judges some individual or a whole group of people as Other, irretrievably different, lesser, immoral, evil, to be scorned or annihilated, violently or slowly through neglect or abuse.  I belong to a denomination whose first principle is “the inherent worth and dignity of every human being.” My daily meditation is the Metta  Sutra. But working on my own compassion for all seems like not nearly enough.  It feels as if we are going down yet another dark and shameful maze of twisty little passages, all alike. How can I, how can even we, heal the hurt, the anger, the fear, the mistrust?

‘Tis the Season

For millennia, all across the northern hemisphere, human beings have huddled in the cold and dark as the winds picked up, snow fell, and the days grew ever shorter.  Hunting, gathering, farming done, they gathered together, kept up the fires, visited, told stories, sang, and feasted as much as they could.

All across Europe, the Yule log, the largest and straightest to be found, gave warmth through the longest night of the winter. From Rome to Ireland, holly wreaths were worn at solstice celebrations. In Egypt, palm trees brought indoors symbolized resurrection; from Rome to the far northern reaches of Norway, evergreen branches were brought in and decorated, celebrating life in the dead of winter.  In Germany in the 17th century, people started bringing in trees on December 24, the Feast of Adam and Eve, to represent the Tree of Paradise.

In northern Germany and Scandinavia, the Julebok is everywhere. Originally it symbolized the goats that drew Thor’s chariot, which he sacrificed to feed his guests and resurrected the next day. Made of the straw left from the harvest, it was burned at Yule.

Mistletoe is the ancient Norse plant of peace. The death of Baldur, the god of vegetation, by a spear of mistletoe wood, brought winter upon the world. Baldur was resurrected, and his mother Frigga declared that it would be a plant of love, not death.  Enemies meeting by chance in the woods beneath mistletoe had to declare a truce, and people kissed beneath the mistletoe to celebrate life and Baldur’s resurrection.

The new year begins in late fall in India, with Diwali, the Festival of Lights, a celebration of the triumph of good over evil.  The house is cleaned, family gathers, and dozens of small oil lamps burn all night. Jews light Hanukkah candles, to commemorate the rededication of the Temple, for eight days starting on a day in the dead of winter, chosen because it was the day when Nehemiah had miraculously rekindled the altar fire from remnants of coals hidden generations before, when the Jews were taken into their Babylonian captivity.  At the very end of winter, just before the spring equinox, Iranians of all religions prepare for the New Year with a Festival of Lights, jumping over bonfires and crying “Give me your beautiful red colour and take back my sickly pallor.”

We gather in the cold and the dark with our friends and family, decking our halls with evergreens and lights. We tell each other stories of love, hope, rebirth, and the return of warmth and light.  We sing and feast as much as we can. Jesus’ birth is part of one of the old, old stories of death, sorrow, love, and rebirth.

Let all of us say to each other many greetings and not begrudge one another the warmth of love in the dark and cold.

Words Can Never Hurt Me

An apparent high school suicide in our community, attributed to bullying, has emotions running high, and a lot of memories of our own young experiences coming back.

I did some looking around when it was said that the school involved had no policy, and in fact had a “no tattling” policy, so that children were discouraged from reporting.  What I found was that there is a state anti-bullying law, a statewide policy, and local policies and programs.  I also read a good bit of teacher discussion on “no tattling”, and found that teachers are aware of the need to distinguish between tattling to get someone in trouble, and telling to get someone out of trouble. But I didn’t agree with the approach the laws, policies, and programs seem to be taking. I think we may be emphasizing “fixing” the bullies too much, and strengthening our kids in how to react, too little.

When I was young and harassed, I was repeatedly told “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Now, apparently, we are telling children, and each other, indeed, words can hurt us.  When I was young, I never quite got what it meant.  I could see part of the difference, but the words did hurt. Being excluded hurt. It didn’t help that my mother’s mantra was “What will people think?” I couldn’t wait to get out of my home town, where it seemed hardly anyone understood or liked me.

In my twenties, I read Albert Ellis’s book A Guide to Rational Living, which includes “Ten Irrational Ideas” which I wrote about here.  Putting what he said into practice changed my life. His irrational ideas are things that people tell themselves that make them miserable. The first one is “It is a dire necessity for an adult to be loved or approved by almost everyone for virtually everything he or she does.” Aha! Words hurt because I tell myself they do.

I think we need to be telling our kids – at home, at school, at church, in clubs, on teams – that it not a dire necessity that everyone love or approve you. It is not achievable, and the desire to make it so will make you miserable, possibly suicidal. Much of the harm from even physical and sexual abuse comes from the “awfulizing,” both by the community and the victim. We tell child abuse and rape victims “It’s not your fault, and you are not a bad person because of it.” We need to tell harassment victims “It is not your fault.”

It’s not your problem – it’s their problem – if they don’t like you or say mean things because you are tall, short, black,white, gay, red-headed, cross-eyed, rich, poor, fat, skinny, smart, stupid, or ugly. If it is sticks and stones – physical – report it; that’s not acceptable. If it’s words – consider whether it is something you did, something you can change, that caused it – if it wasn’t – that’s their problem.

Of course, we don’t want to raise kids who are self-righteous, or be that ourselves. Not everything is “their” problem, either. Human society doesn’t work without people considering other people’s needs. If we are inconsiderate ourselves, that’s our problem. Bullying works because of that – we always have to consider if part of what they say is true, or if there is something else we do that makes us a target.

Bullying never goes away. There is a whole literature on bullying in the workplace.  At work, as at school and home, it is a tempting way to gain power, and there are grownups as well as children who just gain pleasure from hurting other people. So bringing up children to deal with it is a life skill. It is a life’s work, and the work of our religions, to learn what truly hurts us and others, to examine our consciences and learn what  is important to change and what it is important to ignore.