Thursday, December 17, 2015

A Fonkert Mystery on the Zinkweg

The day -- 16 August 1993 to be exact --  had exceeded my fondest expectations. We had stood in the house where Dirck Fonkert lived in 1610 (see 10 December post). We had, completely by accident, found a ninth cousin under the Fonkert Technoservice sign in Klaaswaal (see 3 December post).

Oud Beijerland polder, 1810*
With a few more hours of summer daylight, I had one more lead to follow. The family history passed to me by a New Jersey cousin included a map showing the location of two 19th-century Fonkert farms a mile or two west of Klaaswaal on the Zinkweg. One farmhouse had burned in the late 1800s, but been renovated in 1903. According to the family history, a stone table stated: "The first stone was laid by Nelia Jansje Fonkert, 24 years old, 1903."

We found a farm house at 277 Zinkweg that seemed to fit the location indicated by the map, but it was getting on toward dinner time, so I drove wife and daughter back to our hotel in Oud Beijerland before returning on my own to investigate.

There were people in the yard so I walked down the driveway to make inquiries. They knew little English, but eventually a young woman figured out that I was asking about Fonkerts. She pointed to a tablet set, perhaps, 12 feet high on the north exterior wall.  Sure enough, it read:
OP DEN 5 MEI 1858

No complaints, but it was not the tablet I was looking for. The current ownders said they knew of a Fonkert family up the road and led me to 276 Zinkweg, where a knock on the door brought out a real Fonkert. Aart invited me in, but language remained a challenge. Luckily, Aart's sister soon arrived and helped with the translating. Looking at the family history that had led me to the Zinkweg, she recognized their great-grandfather: Dirk Fonkert, born 1833 to Dirk Pietersz Fonkert and Neeltje Schelling. According to the family history, after the elder Dirk died in 1860, the younger Dirk bought the parental farm house and 24 hectares of the 100-hectare farm (about 247 acres).

Aart drove me to a second farm house, the next house south of the first house I had visited. The first was about 500 feet north of where the Plaastsweg, now called 2nd Kruisweg (crossway), dead-ends into the Zinkweg. The second house was on the south side of the Plaatsweg. Aart's sister thought her father's cousin had lived there until 1960. My journal, written later that evening, says there, "sure enough, was the 1903 Nelia Fonkert stone I had been looking for." There is a problem, however: from the photo I took, the inscription appears to read:

DEN 12 JULI 1800

Something is wrong. The name is slightly different (Jansje instead of Jannetje) from the translation above, but more importantly, it is in error by 103 years. (My journal entry says "1903," but I probably copied the name and date from the family history later that evening at the hotel.) The "8" in 1800 might possibly be a "9," but the lower loop seems to be closed in the style of an "8." Is it possible the stone should read "1900?"

Aart Fonkert had said that Nelia was his grandfather's sister. Indeed, civil registrations document that Nelia Jannetje Fonkert was born at Oud Beijerland 31 December 1875, the daughter of Dirk Fonkert and Jannetje Saarloos; she would have been 24 in 1900. The family history says the farm house was rebuilt in 1903 after a house fire, but "1903" might be the author's typo. Possibly, Netherlands property records might clarify the date.

The day already had delivered more "happy dance" moments that a family history researcher could ever expect, but more surprises were in store. The Zinkweg is a dijk-road -- that is, it runs on top of the dike forming the west boundary of the Oud Beijerland polder. In front of the second house, a small arched stone and brick bridge connects the farm house to the the Zinkweg. It, too, has a stone tablet. It reads: "DEN EERSTEN STEEN GELEGD DOOR DIRK FONKERT DZ OP DEN 26 JUNI 1856." This was likely Nelia Jannetje's father, Dirk, son of Dirk Fonkert and Neeltje Schelling.

The biggest surprise was back at the hotel. I had been gone longer than I should have been. When I belatedly returned, I found wife and daughters sitting in the dining room with the woman from Marienhof (see "Dirck Fonckert," 10 December 2015). An unfamiliar man was with her. He, too, had a notebook. He was Henry den Hartigh, the local historian who had researched the farm history. He told us that 17th-century house (now used as a garage) we had visited at Marienhof was the oldest surviving building in Westmaas. He had photos of the hearth, ceiling timbers, windows and other architectural features of the 1610 house.

But, what about those houses back on the Zinkweg? The two sons -- Dirk and Klaas -- who bought the two farm houses were brother of my great-great-grandfather, Pieter Fonkert. Pieter got cash, but apparently no land from the 1860s auction. My Christmas Eve post will summarize 300 years of Fonkert history in the Hoekse Waard, including two sets of cousin marriages and the gift of a valuable silver baptismal bowl to the Klaaswaal church.

1 comment:

  1. What a great story. How wonderful that you were able to visit several sites still in existence in the ancestral village.