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).