Thursday, February 11, 2016

Strand to Prairie, Zeeman to Farmer

A blogger on the dunes
It was spring and the northern evenings were lengthening by the day. After an evening meal of pea soup, bread, and cheese, Sipke Zorgdrager walked down the lane to the dunes lining the strand. He gazed out over the North Sea, imagining the Illinois prairie sea described in letters from Terschellingers who had preceded him. He and his brother had decided to go before the end of summer.

The Terschelling departure record identified Sipke as a laborer, but other records identify him as a zeeman -- a sailor. At 53 degrees north latitude, sailing was probably a seasonal occupation, so many men probably worked on small farms when not at sea. When he boarded a ship for the crossing, it certainly was not his first time at sea.

Sipke married Tryntje Jans de Vries in May 1862. He was a zeeman. A son, Pieter, was born 16 October 1862. Yes, you can count the months. Sipke's occupation again was recorded as zeeman. witnesses were Tijs Dirks Pals, a schipper (skipper) and Rijn Alberts Roos, a zeeman. Sipke's son, Pieter, died only 16 months later in February 1864. The death registration again identified Sipke as a zeeman, but added the additional information that the family lived at Kinnum, a small village about two miles up the island from the port of West Terschelling.

Maria Zorgdrager birth registration, September 1867

TheTerschelling civil registration records record no more children for Sipke and Tryntje until the birth of Maria 2 September 1867. Again, Sipke was identified as a zeeman. The birth registration stated that he was not present to register the birth, which was declared by his father, Pieter Andries Zorgdrager.* Sipke was probably at sea.

Dutch emigration lists record the departure of Sipke, a wife, and one child in 1868 -- the child presumably being Maria. No record has been found of the family arriving on the far shore of America. The family appears next in the 1870 U.S. Census of Stephenson County, Illinois. In the town of Ridott was "Seipke Syadager," with "Tria" and a 6-month old girl, Mary, who had been born the previous November in Illinois.

Mary was not the daughter Maria that left Terschelling in 1868. Maria must have died either en route to Illinois or shortly after the family reached the rolling prairie west of Chicago. Without a passenger arrival record, it is not known if Maria survived the trip across the ocean. Illinois church records might record a death or burial in or near Ridott.

The first years in America were almost certainly hard. In the summer of 1870, the Zorgdragers were living in the household of Pieter and Martha "De Fries," and their four children. "Fries" was obviously "Vries." Pieter de Vries was Sipke's brother-in-law; he was Tryntje's sister. They had also sailed from Terschelling in 1868.

The 1870 Census reports that Sipke was a farm laborer. He lived a short distance east across the county-line in Seward Township in 1880. He was now a full-fledged farmer -- at least in the eyes of the census-taker. By 1885, he had moved another 150 miles west to Hardin County, Iowa. He lived the last 20 years of his life in Sioux County, Iowa. He probably never saw the sea again. The Midwest prairie was his ocean.

* Thanks to Yvette Hoitink for assisting with translation. The digital image of the birth registration is viewable at

Thursday, February 4, 2016

More Dutch Name Fun: Zorgdrager and Qoryedruger

Let's be clear about one thing: Fonkert is an odd name. Let's be clear about one more thing: Zorgdrager sounds at least as odd.

Those are my two main Dutch lines.  My grandfather was the son of an immigrant from the Rhine delta are south of Rotterdam. My grandmother was the daughter of immigrants from Terschelling, a narrow sandspit of an island off the coast of Friesland.

Sipke Zorgdrager
I wrote about the Fonkert name a few weeks ago. This week, the focus is on Zorgdrager. Sipke, that is. Sipke Zorgdrager emigrated from Terschelling to Stephenson County, Illinois, in 1867. Upon his departure, his occupation was classified as arbeider, or laborer. But, several months earlier, upon the birth of his daughter, Maria, the civil birth registration stated his occupation as zeeman (seaman). It is not known how much time he spent at sea -- it could have been a seasonal occupation -- but there no doubt was a zeeman or two among his ancestors.

Terschelling had a long sailing history, including whaling and exploration. The famous Arctic maritime explorer Willem Barents was from Terschelling. He died in 1597 during the sail home from Novaya Zemblya after being stranded there over the winter. As you can imagine, he was not the only zeeman to not come home to Terschelling from the stormy North Sea.

This may explain the origin of the Zorgdrager name. In Nederlands, een zorg is a care or a worry, perhaps even a sorrow. The verb dragen means to carry or suffer something. So, there you have it: a Zorgdrager is a bearer of sorrow -- perhaps for a zeeman who didn't come home.

Three Zorgdrager brothers -- Sipke Pieters, Andries Pieters, and Jan Pieters -- emigrated to North America, eventually all settling in northwest Iowa. Their elderly father joined them sometime in the early 1880s.

The name gave American census-takers some trouble. While it's not always clear if the informant gave a variant spelling of the name, the enumerator wrote it down incorrectly, or the enumerator just had bad penmanship, the name has been indexed a variety of ways: Syadager, Zorganager, Zorggedrazar, Zorgdragar, and even Gorgedrager.

Andries Sorgdrager, Alton, Iowa
Andries, or Andrew,  seemed to give census-takers the most trouble. First, he sometimes spelled his name with a "Z," but seemed to prefer it with an "S" -- Sorgdrager. His gravestone reads Sorgdrager. It is not clear why he preferred Sorgdrager, but the S-spelling was not unheard of in The Netherlands. It was in use on the eastern part of Terschelling in the early 1800s, but in later years was found mostly on Ameland, the next Frisian Island to the east.

In census indexes, the name seems to flip back and forth from Z to S.

  • 1870, Hardin County, Iowa -- "Anchises Sorgadrane"
  • 1880, Sioux County, Iowa -- "Andrew Qoryedruger"
  • 1885, Sioux County, Iowa -- "Andries P. Zorggedrazar"
  • 1900, Sioux County, Iowa -- "Andrew Zorgedrag"
The spellings are all understandable -- even "Qoryedruger" in the 1880 U.S. Census. In some handwriting styles, a capital Z can look like a Q. If you look at the actual census manuscript, you can see that the enumerator meant the first letter to be a Z. index and manuscript, Sioux County, IA, 1880 U.S. Census

Thursday, January 28, 2016

What's in a Name?

What's in a name? Heck, what was the name?

This is the story of my Dutch grandmother's name. I really never knew her -- our lives overlapped by only about 18 months. I guess I must have heard my Dad and my uncles and aunts talk about her. I'm not certain, but I think they called her Kate --- when they didn't call her Ma.

She was known as Kate when shed died in 1951. Her obituary in the Sioux County Capital named her Kate. She is Kate on her gravestone. My Dad had entered her name as Kate Zorgdrager in some primitive home-made family group sheets he created on his pre-electric, heavy as an anvil, manual typewriter. In the early 1990s, when I started researching her ancestry, I did not have access to the 1930 or 1940 censuses, but both the 1910 and 1920 censuses recorded her as Kate. She was Kate in the registration of her 1903 marriage to Jan (aka John) Fonkert. She has eluded my searches in the 1900 census; she was not living with her parents in Holland Township.

Jan Fonkert and Kate Zorgdrager, 1903
From the marriage record, I knew that her parents were Sipke Zorgdrager and Trijntje de Vries. Censuses told me that Kate was born about 1883 or 1884 in Iowa.  I wish I could accurately remember the chain of events behind the story I am about to tell. Suffice it to say, it took me several years to fully understand why this beautiful Dutch girl was known as Kate.

At some point (back in the microfilm days, as I recall), I found the Zorgdrager family in the 1885 Iowa census of Sioux County. Sipke Zorgdrager had a 1-year old child named Tryntje. I had been expecting Kate. Sipke's wife was also named Trynte, I was  mostly convinced that Kate and  1-year old Trijntje were one and the same. However, I didn't see how Tryntje could have become Kate.

Even my Dad's birth certificate -- a "delayed" certificate issued in  1950 -- named his mother "Kate." Birth registrations for his sister, Nellie, and brother, Peter, also called their mother Kate.

Now comes the part I wish I could remember better. I had learned that that the Zorgdragers had come from Terschelling, a North Sea island just of the coast of Friesland, a northern province of The Netherlands. Using the WieWasWie index ( of Dutch civil registration records, I can sort of reconstruct how I figured this all out.  First, I found several young girls on Terschelling named Catharina. Even more interesting, I found the K-version of the name fairly common on the mainland: Katharina, Katrijn, Katrijne. On Terschelling, I found many young girls named Trijntje.

If I had only had at hand a copy of Christine Rose's Nicknames Past and Present I could have just looked it up. In an appendix of Dutch and Frisian names, she states that Katrijn is the Dutch equivalent of Catherine and that the English names Kate or Kathleen derive from Katryntje.

It dawned on me that "Tryjn" was a shortened version of Kathrijn or Katharina. The, their was the matter of the "je" at the end of the name. At some point, I learned that the suffix "je" is a diminutive applied to female names, literally meaning small, but in the case of names indicating affection.

When I was struggling with these names 20 years ago, the Internet was in its infancy. Now, you can find numerous articles, and even a few videos about the "je" suffix. The first one I clicked on hit the spot. Try

So, was Tryntje a casual version of something like Trynt? Not quite. It turns out that Tryntje was a shortened version of  Kathryntje. Yep, Tryntje was derived from Katherina, and of course, in America Tryntje was anglicized to Kate.

 Only when I found my great-grandfather's will did I see an official record calling her Tryntje. Sipke Zorgdrager willed a portion of his estate to Tryntje Fonkert, and when she gave a receipt for $20 from the estate, she signed her name "Tryntje Fonkert." Kate's given name was Tryntje.

So, what's in a name? Would you care to guess about Zorgdrager? I will dig deeper into the Zorgdragers next week.

A final note on spelling -- The "y" in Tryntje is not really the letter "y." Instead, it is the Dutch letter ÿ, representing a "long i." Today, it is commonly typed as "ij." So, you might see either either Tryntje or Trijntje instead of Trÿntje. You can type "ÿ" by holding down the alt-key while typing 0255.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

So, Maybe Dad Did Get to Okinawa

When I took up the Fonkert history five or six weeks ago, I thought it would be just a two or three week tour -- something easy to blog about over the holidays. Well, I've got at least one more story to tell before I go on to some other strange family like the Tidballs or Zorgdragers. (Yes, those are real family names).

Sometimes family history researchers know the least about the ancestors they think they know the best. We usually know who our parents are and where they came from, so we don't spend much of our research time on them. I know my Dad was in the army during World War II, but he never seemed to want to talk about it. I also know that most 20th-century military personnel records were lost in a 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, so I figured my chances of finding anything were slim, anyway.

I do have a vague memory of Dad saying he had been in Okinawa, and I have some old black and white snapshots that look like they could have come from that part of the world. Of course, I can't find them now.  I could also swear I remember seeing a record somewhere (quite recently, somewhere in my files) that states he served on a hospital ship as a chaplain's assistant, but now can't lay my hands on it, either.  So, let's start with what I have.

First I have a copy of his honorable discharge filed at the Sioux County, Iowa, courthouse.  It gives his serial number and states he was discharged as a technical sergeant from "Ship Complement 9222nd Transportation Unit in the Army Transportation Corps." His occupational specialty number was NCO 502 -- an administrative job title. He served outside the U.S. on the SS Marine Flasher -- he was on a ship! He had received the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal -- perhaps he really was on Okinawa.

He was discharged at Ft. Dix, New Jersey, but I think he might have come ashore at Seattle, where he met my mother (see January 14 post). His World War II bonus application states that he departed on foreign service 7 August 1945 -- the day after Hiroshima. He returned from foreign service 26 March 1946.

So, what was the SS Marine Flasher? It was a Type C-4 ship, the largest ships built by the United State Maritime Commission during World War II. It was built in Vancouver, Washington, and delivered for troopship service in August 1945, just after V-J Day,* which means it was a shiny new ship when Dad boarded. It is better known for its service after the wear carrying Holocaust survivors and displaced persons from Europe to New York. However, it did have a short military resume. One source states that the Marine Flasher sailed from San Francisco for Okinawa in late September and returned to Seattle in time to depart for Inchon (Korea) and Shanghai. The Marine Flasher returned to Seattle in March and was on its way to Europe by April.**

I don't know if Dad was on both trips. I certainly had no clue that he might have been in Korea or China (even if just anchored in harbor). I am now wondering if the National Personnel Center might be able to tell me more. While actual personnel files were lost in the fire, the Center is able to reconstruct some records from records of military units. I think it might be worth a try.

* Japan surrendered 15 August, but the surrender was not announced in the U.S. until 2 September, when it is officially recognized.
** "The Story of the S.S. Marine Flasher," http://thekesslers.como/family/tibor/Marine_Flasher.html, accessed 11 January 2016. A newspaper story says the Marine Flasher was due in Los Angeles xxxx, 1946 with more than 3,200 passengers. Pittsburgh Press, 11 February 1946, p. 2, and other papers (

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Braided Migration Streams: Fonkerts and Weedas

One of my favorite geographical features is braided streams. These are streams that run across terrain so flat that the they split into diverging channels that meander, wend back and forth across each other, and recombine as the stream works across a meadow or down a shallow valley on its way to the sea. Something like this happens to individuals and families as they stream across time toward the present. Paths cross, separate, and sometimes come back together in the most unexpected places.

John Fonkert-Monefay Hanson Marriage, Tingley, Iowa
Let's start with the easy part. John Marion Fonkert married Monefay Grace Hanson 10 August 1946 in the wood frame Methodist church in tiny Tingley, Iowa.  Monefay had grown up in Tingley in Ringgold County along the Iowa-Missouri border. John had grown up in deeply Dutch Sioux County in far northwest Iowa.  Monefay's father and mother were Swedish and German, respectively. John's parents were 2nd generation Dutch immigrants.

It's not completely clear how John and Monefay met, except that it was in Seattle, a very long way from Iowa. John Fonkert, who had been in active duty since May 1942, shipped out for foreign service 7 August 1945, one day after the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and two days before the attack on Nagasaki. Actually, because the International Dateline was involved, I'm not completely certain of the exact timing of his departure relative to the dropping of the bombs. One wonders what was on the mind of the sailors aboard the ship -- I have in my mind that it was a hospital ship. He returned from foreign service in March 1946 and was discharged -- at Seattle, I think -- in April 1946. This is all from his World War II Bonus case file (State Historical Society of Iowa).

I think it was the summer of 1946 (1945 seems unlikely, given the status of the war) that Monefay Hanson and some high school or college friends took a road trip to Seattle. How they managed this, I have no idea. Anyway, the story is that John and Monefay met in Seattle.  If it was the summer of 1946, it was a short engagement.

Thus concludes the front end of this story. Now for the short middle part. Monefay's mother was Eda (aka Edith) Romkee, daughter of William Romkee and Cahta (aka Kate) Gerloff. Edith had a sister named Cahta (aka Kate) who married Dick Weeda in Ringgold County in 1903.

Now, the back end of the story. While researching my Fonkert ancestors, I found my great-grandfather -- John Marion's grandfather -- living in Pella, Iowa, in 1870 with the family of Dirk and Maaike Weeda. I wasn't aware of the 1903 Weeda-Romkee marriage at this point, but the Weeda name was familiar from childhood visits to Tingley. It seemed there were Weedas everywher. Now, I wondered, could this Pella family be the Weeda family that Kate Romkee married into in Ringgold County?

1870 U.S. Census, Pella, Marion County, Iowa

Indeed, it was. In 1870, Dirk and Maaike Weeda had a son, Arie, 18.  In March 1871, Arie married Aaltje van Vliet in Pella. Dick (actually, Dirk) Weeda was born in December. The Arie Weeda family was living in Tingley, Ringgold County in 1900; Dick, 28, headed a separate household including his brother, Neal, and his sister, Maggie. Then, in December 1903, Dick Weeda married Kate Romkee, daughter of William Romkee and Katie Gerloff.  The bride was Monefay Hanson's aunt.

Kate Romkee and Dick Weeda
Put in personal terms, my great-grandfather, Peter Fonkert emigrated to Pella, Iowa, in 1870, where he first boarded with the family of Dirk Weeda. More than 75 years later, my father, John Marion Fonkert, married Monefay Grace Hanson, a niece of Kate Romkee, who married Dirk Weeda's grandson, Dick.

Weeda is a Dutch name. Arie Weeda was born to Dirk Weeda and Maaike Waardenburg 21 November 1851 in Oud Beijerland -- where Peter Fonkert was born in 1845. There is no evidence the Fonkerts and Weedas were related, but the families likely knew each other in Oud Beijerland. It is possible Peter knew he had a place to stay when he arrived in Pella.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

One Who Gives off Sparks?

 The Fonkert name is rare. Even in The Netherlands, it is uncommon.* If you encounter a Fonkert anywhere in the world, you can be nearly certain that her or his family origins are in the Hoekse Waard of Zuid (South) Holland. (A waard is low-lying land between river that is subject to flooding unless protected by dikes).

The Fonkert name, spelled "Fonckert," first appeared in Rhoon, on the island of IJsselmonde just north across the Oude Maas from the Hoekse Waard. (The Oude (old) Maas and Nieuwe (new) Maas are rivers the flow just south of Rotterdam in the Rhine-Maas delta.) Three Fonckert brothers -- Dirck Adriaensz, Willem Adriaensz, and Adriaen Adraiensz** -- lived in Rhoon in the late 1500s. Their apparent father, Adriaensz Willemsz, is mentioned in connection of several pieces of land in Rhoon between 1572 and 1594.

The Fonckerts likely came from somewhere else. One possible origin in the village of Driel, located on the south bank of the Nederrijn (Lower Rhine) near Arnhem in Gelderland, about two miles from the modern Netherlands-Germany border, and only about 60 miles upstream from Rhoon. Two pieces of evidence suggest Driel. First, the wife of Adriaen Willemsz Fonckert was a granddaughter of Doen Beijensz van Driel -- Doen, son of Beijen, of Driel. A Dutch genealogist has suggested that Doen Beijensz may have come from the manor of Driel in Gelderland. Second, a family named "Fonck" lived in Driel in the 1500s. Dirck Fonck Dirksz was schepen of Driel in 1566. During the reformation in the 1500s, a religious boundary developed near Driel, with Catholics to the east and Protestants to the west. This might explain the movements of Foncks-related families west down the Nederrijn (see

The "ert" name-suffix occurs in other German and Dutch names (e.g., Dekkert, Eckert, etc.). The suffix "ert" is attached to verbs to indicate someone who does something, much like, in English, a baker is someone who bakes (in German, Beckert is a baker). So, it is possible that a Fonckert is someone who Foncks. Some 20 years ago, a German genealogist*** told me that "fonck" might derive from the German verb "funck." He explained that as old German moved in the direction of modern German, shifts of "u" to "o" were common. In modern German, the noun "funk" means radio, and the verb "funken" means to transmit or broadcast, or in other situations, to spark or flash. The genealogist explained that blacksmiths or hammerers were called "funkers" because they made sparks in their work. Dutch is closely related to German, and in modern Dutch, the verb "fonkelen" means to sparkle or scintillate.

Nemerous Fonck or Fonk families are recorded in the Rhineland area of western Germany in the 1700s and 1800s.*** The name "Vonk" (pronounced "fonk") also appears in the same area. The names Vonck and Vonk were also common in Zuid Holland.

Is is possible? Is a Fonkert really a Smith? A plain, old ordinary blacksmith? Possibly from Driel.

I'm not certain of any of this.  I'm not sure I ever will be. I'm not even sure it matters.  For now, it's just fun to explore the possibilities.

* A search at finds only 24 Fonkert listings.
**The "sz" ending stands for "szoon," indicating the name is a patronymic. Thus, Dirck Adriaensz is Dirck, son of Adriaen.
*** Fred Rump, Beverly, NJ; email 18 November 1995.
**** The "Fonck" name and variants appear in these time periods and regions in the International Genealogical Index.

NOTE: The Family History Library ( has microfilm of both Catholic church records beginning 1633 and Protestant records beginning 1650for Driel.

Sources for early Fonckert history:

A. P. van den Hoek, Genealogie van het Geslacht Fonkert.
K. J. Slijkerman, "Het Geslacht Coorneef (Koreneef enz.) te Rhoon, Poortugaal, Oudenhoorn en Spijkenisse," Deel (Part) 6 of Geslachten an het Eiland Ijsselmonde (Rotterdam, 1991).
J. J. Vervloet (in association with the Workgroup Doen Beijensz.), De Parenteel van Doen Beijensz. (Rotterdam: 1989).

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Here Lies Dirck Under the Floor of the Church

Gelukkig Nieuw Jaar!

If you've followed this blog the past 4-5 weeks, you know that the Fonkert family first appeared in the 1500s on the Hoekse Waard, an island of reclaimed land in the Rhine delta just south of Rotterdam.

The western part of the island was still swampland when the Count of Egmont gained ownership in 1531. The Westmaas-Nieuwland polder, where Dirck Adriaensz Fonckert lived (see Dirck Fonckert: "He Lived in a Former Monastery of Monks," 10 December 2015), was drained by 1539. The two polders to the west where later generations of Fonkerts lived -- Oud Beijerland and Nieuw Beijerland -- were created in 1557 and 1583, respectively.*

The earliest Fonckert known with certainty is Adriaen Willemsz Fonckert, who died at Rhoon, on the next delta island to the north (IJsselmonde) in 1594. He was married to a daughter of the schout (sheriff) of Rhoon and had there at least four children, including Dirck. While his parents and birthplace are not known, it is estimated that he was born about 1535. Dirck and his two married sisters moved to the Hoekse Waard to farm the new land.

They were landholders of some means. Dirck was an alderman in de Group and in 1622 was appointed dijkgraaf -- dijk sheriff. As a man of some status, he was buried in the Westmaas church upon his death in 1641. The outer part of the stone reads: "HIER LEIT BEGRAVEN DIRCK ADRIAENSZ FONCKERT IN LEVEN DYCKGRAEF VANT WESTMAES" -- Here lies buried Dirck Adriaensz Fonckert  who during his life was dijkgraaf of Westmaas. His first wife, Bastiaantje Zegers Craenendonck, who died in 1626, is also buried in the church. At the base of their bas-relief stones are the family wapens, or arms. They were badly damaged in 1795 by French revolutionaries  who sought to destroy symbols of nobility. A corner of Dirck's gravestone is hidden under the choir "loft."I don't seem to have a photo of Bastiaentje's grave.

Dirck's daughter, Haasje, married Symon Huygen Splinter and is buried in the church at Mijnsheerenland, less than a mile from Westmaas. I do have a photo of her gravestone.

As noted above, Dirck Adrianesz Fonckert came to the Hoekse Waard from Rhoon. There were several Fonckerts at Rhoon in the 1500s, but details about them are fuzzy. Next week, I will kick off the new year with some fairly wild, yet, I think, credible speculation about the origins of these Fonckerts.

And, if you haven't figured it out yet, "Gelukkig Nieuw Jaar" means "Happy New Year." For good measure, I also wish you "een verspoedig Nieuw Jaar.

* It is not clear whether drainage of these polders began, or was finished, in these years. This short description the polders and the role of Adriaen Willems Fonckert is from