Thursday, December 3, 2015

At the Right Place at the Right Time: Meet the Fonkerts

You had to be there.

You have to make your own luck.

Would you believe that a Google search for "make your own luck" returns 322,000 hits?

What does all this have to do with genealogy?  Well, sometimes you have to prepare to be lucky, and sometimes, you just have to be there.

Back in the olden days, before I knew anything about FamilySearch or, I had some amazing luck. On my family's first European trip in 1993, I had the most memorable family heritage day of my life. I had been in touch with a 2nd cousin in New Jersey, who had shared a copy of a family history that said that, going back to the 1600s, Dirck Adriaensz Fonckert (yes, with a "c") had lived just outside the town of Westmass in Zuid Holland.*  That's South Holland in the Netherlands. I was prepared -- at least a bit.

Westmaas is on an island in the Rhine delta called de Hoekse Waard, just a few miles south of Rotterdam. We crossed under the river (through a tunnel) and came to the exit off the A29 freeway for Klaaswaal -- another town that appeared in the Fonckert history. A left, and a right, and another left brought us to the corner of Oud Cromstrijendijk and Molendijk. When I pulled off the road to get my bearings, my wife pointed up at a sign on the building on the corner: "Fonkert Technoservice." Klaaswaal is less than two miles from Westmaas. I thought, this must be my family! (O.K., the sign in the photo does not say "Technoservice," but I'm pretty certain the sign at the corner of the building did say Fonkert Technoservice; it was was a small electronics shop.

A short (actually, rather small) man was just locking up. I jumped out and accosted him (so it must have seemed to him), pointed up at the sign, and then pointed back at myself and said, "Fonkert aus America" (yes, that was German; I knew no Dutch). I swear, he nearly fell over in surprise. Language was no barrier. Rokus gestured for me to follow him. He led me a couple of doors down the street, entered a "Fonkert" bicycle shop, walked through, and passed through another door that opened into his home.

He pulled down a three-ring binder off a shelf above the couch. It was a lengthy Fonkert  family history (not the one I received from my cousin). I scanned through the notebook, but did not recognize any family connection. Language was now becoming a problem, so Rokus called his daughter, who came over to help translate. I don't remember a lot else, but I left with the name and address of the nephew of Rokus who had done the family history.

We ran out of time to track down the nephew, but after our return home and an exchange of letters we determined that the nephew and I are 9th cousins. That's a completely un-close relationship, but we were both Fonkerts! We have since had the pleasure of visiting Pieter Pot and his parents in 's-Gravendeel.

I must tell you that a good friend who can not resist a good joke likes to tell this story for me, but in his version the Fonkert Technoservice sign translates to mean "no parking." And, to be honest, I do think I was probably illegally parked.

Quite a day, but this was just the beginning of my good luck. I was in the right place at the right time, and there was more genealogical good fortune around the corner -- which means there is another blog post coming next week.

* At left, is an illustration of the Fonckert wapen, or arms from Dr. N. Vels Heijn and F. M. Vels Heijn-van der Kolk, Kwartierstaat Fonkert-Steehouwer, 1982. A condensed English version was given me by Phyllis Good (deceased) of Butler, New Jersey.

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