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

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