Thursday, May 29, 2014

Jeltje "Jennie" van der Ploeg Korstanje - my 2nd great grandmother

I was going to stick to my Perkins family theme from my last blogs but after Memorial Day and making a trip to the cemetery last night to give a badly needed cleaning to Jennie's headstone I decided I'd write what little I know about her.  I'll start with her headstone as that's fresh in my head:

 I've always kept an eye on Jennie's headstone as she and 3 of my grandpa's uncles are buried in close proximity at Greenwood Cemetery in Grand Rapids MI.  They are right as you pull in the cemetery and close to the road so easy to find.  My dad remembers finding them when he used to work at the cemetery (he didn't know who they were).  My grandpa took me here once to visit them and after my grandpa's health started to slide (and he's now since passed) I've taken it upon myself to be the caregiver.
As you can see, Jennie's stone was in pretty bad shape.  The top photo is actually easier to read than it really was because I soaked it down in preparation for cleaning before I took the "before" photo. 

I brought my grandma with me and as we were leaving the cemetery I told her I like to think my grandpa smiled with his approval that I came and did this.  Jennie has very few descendants and even fewer that know she existed so I don't believe anyone else is going to do it.

Jennie was born Jeltje van der Ploeg 2/16/1871 at Hantum, Friesland Netherlands to Jan Folkerts van der Ploeg (1827-1879) and Etje Sjoerds Heeringa (1834-1917).  She was one of only two children born to them, the other being her sister Folkje "Florence" (1867-1941) who married 1st to Jan Gerbens van der Woude (1862-1907) and 2nd to Anne Jans Machiela (1865-1949).

I know very little about Jennie's life.  In 1861 her father's occupation is listed as farmer - in 1871 (at her birth) he's listed as a "roadworker".  I'd assume they were just your average family.  Upon his death the family stayed in Hantum until 3/27/1893 when they embarked (as steerage passengers) for Grand Rapids MI aboard the ship "Obdam" under the family name "van der Woude".  Folkje and her husband had their children Gerben Jans and Ettje Jans, Jeltje and their mother Etje traveled with Jan Gerbens and his mother and 3 of his siblings.  I'm unsure why they left the Netherlands or chose Grand Rapids as their new home.  They arrived in New York 4/15/1893.

Ship "Obdam" - source of photo unknown
 Jennie married Jan Korstanje (of Wolphaartsdijk, Zeeland Netherlands) 4/8/1896 at Grand Rapids MI.  This photo is from their wedding.  It was in an old steamer trunk that was in my grandpa's half-brother's possession (it has since vanished under despicable circumstances).  The trunk had a bunch of old family memorabilia in it including Jan's funeral book, my great grandpa's (Jan and Jennie's son) auxiliary police effects and these 2 photos.  I believe it belonged to Jan, was passed down to his son James and upon James' death became the property of my great grandfather Nicholas.  As you can see this photo was folded in half (it was a hard cardboard photo).  Luckily I scanned this before the belongings were stolen.  I had seen a head shot of Jennie from this picture from an album my grandpa had but for years didn't know it was her wedding photo or that any other photos of her existed. 
 When I met with my grandpa's half brother he also showed me this photo that was in the trunk.  Luckily this one wasn't folded in half (it probably would have ruined Jennie's face).  This is the only other known photo of Jennie.  My great grandpa Nicholas (1903-1981) is the baby so this is circa 1903-1904.  The older boy is their son John (1898-1919) and the 2nd youngest is James (1900-1954).  I'll blog about the Korstanje boys at a different time.  Their son Edward (1906-1923) hadn't yet been born. 

Jennie died 3/24/1918 at Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids. Due to the butchering of the Korstanje name (that I still deal with myself to this day with Korstange) it took me years to find the death record or an obituary.  The Western Michigan Genealogical Society ( has it indexed as Korseanje (I've sent them a request to update).  It's indexed even worse at as "James Koestarve".  Looking at the obituary I can understand the error there - the death certificate, not so much. 

Jan went on to remarry but didn't have any more children.  He's buried with his 2nd wife but Jennie's 2 young sons are buried near her and her son James within a few lots.  My grandfather always told me that she died during the flu pandemic of 1918 which made him guess that's how she died.  When I finally found her death certificate it showed she died of uterine cancer.  I've been in touch with grandchildren of her sister Florence but I don't know of much contact between the families otherwise.  I wish my grandpa could have known his grandmother and that I had a better story for Jennie.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The oldest person I've ever known - my great grandmother Doris Denhof

In my last blog I highlighted my great grandfather who I was lucky enough to know for 18 years.  In this one I want to highlight his wife, my great grandmother Doris, who I was fortunate enough to know for 25 years and actually gave me some useful genealogical information.

Doris Lydia Colson was born 9/21/1903 at Bridgeton, Newaygo County Michigan to Charles Perkins and Freda Johnson.  Her birthdate was just a guesstimate that was established when she filed for Social Security as the courthouse burned down and she had no record of her birth.  I alluded to it in an earlier post but she literally had to prove she existed and have people testify and piece together when she was born.

On 3/18/1904 her mother Freda died of pneumonia, leaving her father with Doris and her older brother Milo (1901-1964).  For reasons nobody has ever been able to explain, Charles gave her to the next door neighbors and moved to the Lansing area with Milo.  Doris was now the daughter of George (1867-1943) and Anna Buskirk Colson (1875-1949).  In this photo taken in Bridgeton she's with George and Anna, their son James "Elmer" (1894-1974) and Anna's mother Lydia Baum Buskirk (1847-1924).  George and Anna divorced and George moved to the Muskegon area so although my grandma remembers her "grandma Colson" she has no recollection of her grandfather.  There was contact with "uncle Elmer" and my grandma had a good relationship with her cousins via he and his wife.  I know there was contact with Charles and Milo as my grandma's baby book mentions gifts from Milo and Charles' obituary lists Doris as a surviving daughter.

Doris at age 15, assumed taken at the home in Bridgeton.  Doris graduated from Conklin High School in 1920 and I inherited her diploma.  It's in a green felt sleeve with a class "souvenier" that has a class list and a statement written by their teacher "J.S. Hossler" and includes his photo.  Interesting to me is a student on the list with her, Charles Morey - I have several pictures of Doris and Charles and wonder if perhaps they were an item before she met my great grandfather.

Doris with Charles Morey.  Doris had a stack of photo albums that I used to go through, just to see the old photos.  I didn't go through the albums with her (I probably should have) but my grandma did so many of the photos were identified.  When she died I ended up with the albums.  In them were photos of her father and mother, her mother's mother and of course her children, etc.  There were about 100+ photos like this one with Charles from the early 1920s and many of them appear to be classmates and friends and aren't labeled, or only have names like "Beulah" on them.  I've got them in a separate album as I can't bring myself to throw them out but I'm sure they'll never be identified.  When her dementia got bad she used to go outside and pick leaves up and put them in her photo albums.  I wonder if any photos were lost this way. 

This is one of my favorite photos of her.  There is a certain elegance and beauty to the photo and the hat is just cute.  I wonder what the occasion was?

I'm unsure when this photo was taken but it's obviously a very old car.

On the left is Doris with her biological aunt Emily Johnson Fellows Lambson.  There was obviously contact with Emily as there were several photos of her in the albums.  There was also a brother Frank Johnson who lived in Fremont MI who has descendants that I communicate with and who stayed in contact with Doris.  Emily fostered several children but her 2 children died very young.  There was also an aunt Hilda Johnson McKenzie who lived in Presque Isle WI and Doris used to threaten to send her children there when they were "naughty".  Hilda had one son Milon which is interesting because my grandma has a brother of the same name (and it's not exactly common).

 Doris in her wedding gown from 2/6/1926
On the left is Doris with her daughter Devonne, on the right is a photo taken about 1965.  

The only job I'm aware of Doris having was at Herpolshimer's in downtown Grand Rapids.  Come to think of it, I'm not even sure what she did there.  I'll have to make a note to ask my grandma.  I know she drove as I saw her driver's license when it was expired (I think 1986-1988).  I don't remember her driving but I remember her yelling at Nick when I was riding in their 1983 Cavalier with him driving.  It was 1986 and we were moving to a new house.  Nick's driving wasn't great (he was 85) and he almost sideswiped a street sweeper!  I remember her yelling "Nick, look out!".  She sang (was in the "Grandmother's Chorus" in FL), she bowled until she was 88 on the "Bonnie Belles" at Northfield Lanes in Grand Rapids (with my grandma), she loved garage sales, knick knacks and cooking.  I remember her Dutch cookies that landed her in the Grand Rapids Press.  She also loved to crochet and had made an afghan for her 4 children, 10 grandchildren, 21 great grandchildren and 5 great great grandchildren (upon her death at the age of 98 - October 18th, 2001).  She tried to teach me but I just couldn't wrap my head around it.  The afghan she made me as a child is still in my possession and it's got several spots where I brought it back to her to repair holes that happened over the years.  She made me another one prior to her death and that one is in better shape but I refuse to use it (since she's not here to fix it for me).  She also taught herself to play the piano and played from memory.  She had music books on her piano but other than looking at them for ideas of what to play she never read the music.  I have video of her at 95 playing the piano in her home. 

In spite of severe osteoarthritis in her lower back and the onset of dementia around the age of 89 she lived alone after Nick's death until she was 96 and a half.  It ended up being unsafe for her and she was moved into Pilgrim Manor.   She ALWAYS had a smile on her face and when I'd ask how she was doing she'd say "I'm still kicking".  The summer prior to her move to the nursing home I used to go on the weekends and get her breakfast and medicine to her and then go back and get her dinner and medicine to her.  I'd sit and watch her eat and she'd occasionally share a story from her childhood.  Much of what she remembered was way back but in researching it seems pretty accurate.

When my 1st son was born I'd already lost both of my mom's parents (my maternal grandmother died 4 months before his birth).  I had my grandma get her out of Pilgrim Manor so she could meet him and we could get photos.  She was able to walk until the last couple weeks before her death so we were able to have her to my grandma's for holidays and her birthday.  I remember one Christmas my grandma and her sister in law each got her a shoe - she didn't have the complete pair until she opened both.  Her and my grandma also got matching oak toilet seats one year.  The last Christmas with her we all thought she looked odd.  It took about an hour to realize she'd grabbed someone else's glasses at the home!  Her vision was so poor that she probably didn't even notice.  In addition to her back and her vision issues her hearing was also very poor.  She ultimately died of a colon blockage that they'd have done surgery on if she'd been younger and in better health.  
This has to be my favorite picture of her.  I believe this was my son's 1st Easter.  She also attended his 1st birthday party.  I have (3) 5 generation photos with her, my grandma, my dad, myself and my son.

She was an incredibly quiet woman of deep faith, who maintained a positive attitude despite health issues I know I couldn't bear with that fortitude.  She was a great cook and amazing to all of her grandchildren and is deeply missed by all.  

Saturday, May 17, 2014

My birthday buddy - my great grandpa Nick Denhof

So far I haven't blogged about anyone that I have any recollection of - most of my "subjects" were long dead and gone before my arrival on Earth.  As I've dug through boxes upon boxes of more "recent" keepsakes I've decided the time has come to blog about a few of those that I knew.

My father's maternal grandfather was born Nicholas Paul Denhof 8/30/1901 at Conklin, Ottawa County Michigan, the 10th and final child of Nicholas Denhof and Margaret Cook.  If you recall my first real blog post about why I got into genealogy, you read that my great grandpa gave me their names, that they were from the Netherlands and wouldn't tell me anything else.  So, via stories and pictures and my personal recollection this is what I know about him.

 I've never understood why baby boys of that day were dressed in dresses but he was.  It certainly didn't fit his personality later in life.  I'm not sure when this photo was taken but he doesn't appear to be over a year old.  I wonder if the dress had anything to do with his baptism.  The Denhof family was (and still is) strictly Catholic and perhaps this was his outfit for that. 

Nicholas was baptised at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Conklin.  I spoke with the secretary there via telephone several years ago and she looked some records up for me but I failed to write down the baptism date.  His godparents were Frank and Gesina Hug.  In the course of my research I discovered that Gesina was born Gesina Kock, daughter of Henderikus Kock and Catharina Drieborg with Henderikus being an uncle to Margaret Cook Denhof, Nicholas' mother.  Her parents died young and from census records it appears she lived with Margaret's parents.
 He attended school in Chester Township, Ottawa County Michigan.  Note that his siblings Rickie (Henrietta), Peter, Bertha and Sena were also in his class.  After doing some research I wonder if he ever knew he was related to all the Vander Laans in his class.  Their parents were John Vander Laan and Ida Kock, Ida being the sister of the above named Gesina. 
Here he is as a teenager.  He was not a tall man by any means, probably 5'6 but he certainly looked and dressed sharp and here looks like he's a ladies man.  I can't quite tell from this picture but he always wore a ring that had an "N" in the middle of it - not sure that's the ring but it does stand out that he was wearing one, even at this age.  He wore the other ring until his death and as far as I know it was given to a great-grandson that carries his name.  I'd love to get a picture of it because I remember it quite well. 


I don't know how or when but he met my great grandmother Doris Colson and they were married 2/6/1926 at Grand Rapids, Kent County Michigan.  I'm not sure what church it was in but they were married by Father A.M. Fitzpatrick and the marriage was witnessed by Nick's brother and sister in law Peter and Florence (Armock) Denhof.  They had my grandmother the next year but didn't have their next child Duane until 1932.  There is then a 3 year gap followed by another 6 year gap.  I found this odd given that they were Catholic but my grandma said that her mom left him quite a few times.
 Nick's children say he was a good father but that he was quite stern.  He ruled the house and what he said was law.  If he decided it was time to go to bed at 8pm then off went the TV, even if Doris was watching it and she was to go to bed too. 
That couldn't have been easy to live with but it was a different time and a different way of life.  Ultimately their marriage lasted 68 years and 10 months and what I witnessed was a loving marriage so I suspect that it all worked out just fine!  An example of Nick's "my way or the highway" thinking - my dad recalls that Nick had a beagle for hunting.  The dog absolutely wouldn't hunt so Nick took him out in the woods and shot him.  It may sound harsh but that's not the light I'm trying to paint him in.  Remember, Nick lived through the depression and it impacted how he lived the remainder of his life.  He said about the dog - if you won't work, you won't eat.  It's just a mindset created by living through those tough times.  If I overheard the talk correctly after his death the money for his funeral was in a mason jar in the crawlspace under the house.  This may or may not be true but it's my recollection.  

Nick was known as a hard-working man and a good provider.  I'm not sure when it was but he worked at General Motors for a little bit (before it was a good place to work).  My knowledge of what else he did for a living is pretty sparse but it usually involved cement work. 

I'm not sure who the "& Son" refers to but I suspect it was my grandpa, Nick's son in law Jerry.  Jerry built houses for a living and they worked on many jobs together.  Jerry's home life  was not smooth but he always connected with his in-laws in a special way.  My grandma remembers that Jerry would knock when he visited his dad and stepmother but he'd walk right in when he was visiting Nick and Doris.

 My grandma and grandpa's house has a 2nd level to their backyard and Nick did the cement work to build the stairs up to the upper level and I'm guessing the retaining walls and possibly even the foundation of the garage itself.

He made sure to leave his mark so that everyone could see that it was his handiwork.  When my grandma finally sells the house I hope the person that buys it leaves this.  If they don't want it I'll gladly chisel it out of there and use it as a stepping stone or something in our yard. 

Nick and Doris spent many winters in Florida - I don't have the city handy but I want to say it was Bradenton.  I've found pictures from the 1940s through the 1970s so I'm guessing they made a lot of trips down there.  He loved to fish down there and was quite successful.

This picture was taken at their trailer.  Doris was horrible about looking at the camera when photos were taken so she's always looking the wrong direction.  I don't remember grandpa smoking but everyone did back then.

I'm sure the picture doesn't do it justice but trust me, that little patch of green was immaculate and the flowers were tended to daily.  Gardening was a passion of Nick's.  
This picture was taken at Daytona Beach 2/20/1948.  In these older pictures he's often without a hat but when I knew him he usually had a hat on (because he was without hair!). 

I'm told that Nick softened up a bit when it came to his grandchildren and as he aged.  He and Doris were blessed with 10 grandchildren and they all thought so highly of him.

This was taken Christmas of 1961 - his youngest son Darrell wasn't married yet so it's only 8 of their 10 grandchildren.  In my eyes they look like the prototypical grandparents and he certainly looks happy in the role!

On his 75th birthday I came along.  He'd already had a granddaughter born on his 64th birthday and a grandson born a day before his 50th birthday so we had several birthday parties celebrating them all at once.

The left picture is one of my favorite pictures.  He's there with his Hills Bros coffee and Copenhagen snuff (that he used until his death).  In the right picture he's a proud great grandfather again (I was his 3rd out of the 13 he met). 

I mentioned gardening was a passion of his.  He had the most immaculately kept lawn.  He was always outside watering and mowing and tending to his flowers.  On the side of his garage he had the biggest tomato plants I've ever seen and he always had bags of fresh tomatoes.

As he got older he started developing quite the shake in his hands.  I remember his coffee spilling as he drank it but otherwise I can't think of any (unexpected) age related maladies he had.  He never had heart issues (in spite of his eating lard sandwiches and dipping his toast in his bacon and sausage grease every morning).  I think he had surgery for a prostate issue and that's literally all he had.  He loved playing cards but loved garage sales even more.  This man knew how to dicker with someone on price.  He had a year round garage sale at his house that was the result of his purchases at other sales.  He'd talk someone down to $6 on the bike they were selling for $10 and then bring it home and put it in his sale for $10.  I remember once someone made him an offer on his car and he sold it to him, in the garage sale.  I often wonder how my great grandmother didn't get sold!

Their 50th wedding anniversary photo.
Christmas 1986 - this is how I remember him.  He was always seated and just observing.  His age shouldn't fool you though.  He's 85 in this picture and the year before I remember him coming over and discovering there was a garage sale on the street behind us.  Instead of driving over there he walked up to our chain link fence, grabbed the top and flung his legs over the fence (literally used his arms to throw himself over the fence).  I'm not sure I could do that and he did it 47 years older than I am now!
For his 90th birthday my grandma got this sign made and people did drive by and honk.  He enjoyed the day outside with some neighbors, drinking his Faygo Red Pop (that and Little Debbies were his vices).  He was slower now but he still drove daily and had his garage sales.  When I'd drive up to visit in my 1983 Chevy Cavalier (that had been his car) I'd always ask how he was doing and he'd say "Bub, I'm doing pretty good for an old fart"

I knew something was wrong on Thanksgiving 1994.  We arrived to my grandparent's house as normal and great grandma and grandpa weren't there.  My parents took plates of food over to them and when they got back they were both crying.  His arthritis had gotten so painful that he was just sitting in a corner crying.  He stopped eating because of the pain and ended up over at the Home of Hope Hospice with kidney failure.  At my age I just couldn't wrap my head around why they weren't doing dialysis.  I remember my grandpa saying "sometimes people live too long" and in this case he was right (and I'm old enough to see it now).  What had once been a vibrant man, so full of energy and life had been reduced to a shell of himself.  Thankfully, the regression was only a matter of months and his quality of life was excellent almost til the end.  I feel when someone lives that long they should be able to just go in their sleep, not be dragged into a nursing facility but obviously we don't have control over that.  Nick's cousin Bernie Boomgaard had a heart attack and died while eating with him at Fat Boy Burgers - was sitting there talking and just bam, face first into the table dead.  My dad says his grandpa said "way to go Bernie" (as in if you're going to go that's the way to do it, quick). 

While in hospice he often visited other rooms and sat and talked with the other residents.  I don't think these were "welcome" visits so to speak but it drove him nuts to be there.  My dad was recovering from a knee surgery and was always visiting with him and Nick always begged him to just take him home.  A moment of levity came when he asked my grandmother if she saw the butterflies flying around in his room (his meds had him loopy) - she went along with it and said yes.  Later her brother Duane came in and he asked him and he told him there weren't any butterflies and he said "that's funny, Devonne saw them!" 

He was a tough old man with a soft spot for children.  My mom didn't know either of her grandfathers so Nick filled that role for her.  He was so good to her.  He confided in her that it was scary being the last sibling left after the death of his brother Peter.  It's probably the only fear he ever verbalized.  Nick passed away 12/18/1994 and was laid to rest at Fairplains Cemetery in Grand Rapids.  His widow Doris was 91 and would live another 7 years without him.  I remember at his funeral when they walked her in - I couldn't fathom spending that much time with someone and to then face your remaining days alone.  In her case dementia had set in and I'm not even sure she knew why she was in the church that day. 

I wish he could have met my children but no one can live forever.  I know he sees them and I will make sure that when they grow up they get a glimpse into his life and who he was.  We even gave our youngest son the middle name Nicholas, as an homage to both of my dad's grandparents but since I didn't know the other one it's more for this Nicholas.  I'm glad I got to know him as well as I did and I am proud to have been called "Bub".
 He gave me this crocodile bank when I was little.  He was always giving me his pennies and gave me this to put them in.  I also have a small brass lock box he gave me at one of his garage sales but I've got it put away somewhere where I can't find it at the moment.  Because he was so Dutch and thrifty and because he sold things all the time there wasn't anything real old or meaningful left of his so I treasure this bank as my little remaining piece of him. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Forgotten cards and letters

I have a folder on my desktop with a bunch of signatures that I've clipped for a future blog post.  I knew I had some cards put away somewhere that came from some of my great-grandparents so I went digging yesterday.  I found a couple shoe boxes of cards tucked away in the corner of my storage room.  I don't consider myself a "pack rat" but I do get sentimental about stuff and I've always had a hard time throwing away cards.  I'm also fortunate that for the first 3-4 years of my life my mom kept cards I received so I have some pretty old ones.

Anyway, I was expecting to find just run of the mill Christmas cards, etc and knew there would be a bunch from both sets of my grandparents.  I noted that my dad's mother signed all of the cards from them (every one of them - my grandpa, who's signature I showcased a few blogs ago, never signed a card).  My mom's parents were different - my grandpa signed most all of the cards until his last couple of years when my grandma started signing some (not sure why, his health was fine).  What I wasn't expecting were the things I kept and forgot I had, in particular letters from my mom's mom the last couple of years before she passed away and cards she sent for making the "Honors Convocation" each year, from May of 1990-November of 1999.

I was caught off guard by the content of some of the letters.  The little nuggets of wisdom and advice are right there in front of me and I can relate to it now in a way I couldn't back then.  I wish I'd have had a better understanding of it when I was younger.  I was just on the cusp of understanding when my grandfather passed away and my grandmother was a very private person so, although I knew she loved me very much there is so much about her that I still don't know. 

I found myself overwhelmed with emotions when reading them, reliving some good and some bad, realizing that my grandmother was trying to tell me things that I wasn't hearing at the time and truly realizing that she understood her time was short and she wanted to impart her wisdom while she still could.  I found myself "looking in the mirror" and wondering if I'd lived up to their "expectations" (probably not the word I'm looking for but it'll have to do).

Perhaps she understood that I'd keep them and find myself reading them again someday.  I found this snippet very interesting:
She sent this letter July 14th, 1997 and included a clipping from the Detroit Free Press about how genealogy was starting to really take off on the internet.  It saddened me a bit because a)I don't remember her sending me that clipping and b)she obviously knew of my interest in family history and yet we never sat down and discussed it or looked at pictures.  I'm guessing this was right after I interviewed my grandpa (who passed away a couple months later) and life just got in the way and I never pursued it.  Several of the letters she wrote told me I could stop anytime.  I feel I did better than most grandchildren keeping in touch but I could have done better.

One thing that gave me a chuckle was a folded up napkin that I found tucked away.  I figured I'd lost it years ago.  After my grandpa's death it could be tough to get her out of the house and she'd often turn down chances to go out.  One time I got over there and found this taped to the back door:
She didn't drive and I knew darn well she was home.  When she opened the door she was laughing so hard about this......she thought it was hilarious.  This was not very long before her death and I kept it folded up in my winter jacket pocket for several years.  I'm not sure when I took it out of my jacket and I thought I'd lost it but I must have tucked it in with her letters.

All in all I'm glad I found what I found but I did have a strange emotional reaction to some of it.  Has this ever happened to you?  I was going to post some of the letters but I decided against it.  My grandma was very private and I'm going to respect that when it comes to some of them.  That said, here are a couple snippets from cards regarding my schoolwork and my graduation from high school.

Man she had amazing handwriting.  It was always so impeccable.  There was a letter from 1993 that was to my sister and I but I'm keeping that one offline.  The last one was written by my grandpa in my graduation card.  They both had such good (and yet basic) advice to give...........I like to think I've made them proud.