Sunday, July 29, 2012

Some Ancestral Heraldry

"In green a silver swan with a red bill and black spots and a red neckband; and in a blue shield two golden stars next to each other. Helmet: the head with neck and breast of the swan with the neckband."

This is one of the Daams coats of arms described by an archivist in a letter to Mom's cousin Jasper in the red notebook. The archivist, who signs himself as Dr. A.R. Kleijn, goes on to describe two other Daams coats of arms which date back to the 16th century. Although he notes that it is not possible to be certain, the coat of arms described above is the one most likely to be related to Mom's family.

A Daams Coat of Arms
But wait! That is not the one painted for our family 50 years ago. There is another coat of arms described by Dr. Kleijn: "In silver, a red crossbeam, on the right side of a black anchor; and on the left side of a green bird with a leafy branch in its beak."

This is the image that I recall from my childhood, when the watercolor hung in an upstairs room in the house where I grew up.

Dr. Kleijn's research came from a manuscript entitled, "Wapenboek van de Gelders-Overijsselse Studentenbond" ["Armorial of the Student Union of Gelder-Overijssel"], which lists the first coat of arms described above as that of a Henricus Daems, from Deventer in the Netherlands, living in Leiden in 1656 as a student. The researcher found the design depicted in the painting in a quarter-chart in the records of the Museum of Leiden.

You may wonder how a mere student came to have a coat of arms. In the late Middle Ages in the Netherlands, coats of arms were apparently not controlled by any official heraldic system as they were in England, nor were they used exclusively by the nobility. Anyone could design and use a coat of arms, and thus many burgers or merchants had coats of arms, although they were not members of the nobility.

On the other side of the family, the Van Slyke coat of arms has been described as portraying "a clover leaf on one side of a battlement, three fish natant [i.e., swimming] on the other side." This example of heraldry apparently dates from the 14th century. This was also painted for us by a family friend many years ago:

Van Slyke Coat of Arms

It's probably impossible to determine so many centuries later which is the "correct" coat of arms for our ancestry. Interesting to speculate, but does it really matter in today's digital age?

                                                                       *     *     *

There is of course a whole science and art of heraldry, dating back to the Middle Ages, in which I claim no particular expertise. Those who wish to explore some additional examples of medieval Dutch heraldry may be interested to take a look at the digitized manuscript of the Wapenboek Beyeren, which dates from around 1405, at the link noted below.


"Dutch Heraldry,"; accessed 7/28/2012.

Hudson-Mohawk Genealogical and Family Memoirs: Van Slyke;; accessed 7/28/2012.

Wapenboek Beyeren;; accessed 7/29/2012.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Back to the Future in 's-Graveland

In an earlier post, we took a trip back in time to Grandma VandenBergh's home village of Loosdrecht. This week, thanks to words and pictures preserved by Mom's cousin Jasper in the Netherlands, we go back in time to the hometown of my grandfather Barend VandenBergh, 's-Graveland. Jasper found some old postcards in an old shop in that village, postcards which date from 1900-1910. He pasted them in the album he put together for Mom, with his own commentary (quoted here), probably about 40 years ago. So the pictures and words are like a double time-warp. Hang on to your hats as we step into the time machine:

Jasper writes: 

I happened to find some old postcards in an old shop in 's-Graveland, which I thought would be of interest to you, as they date back to 1900-1910. On the postcard above I indicated with an X the house where your paternal grandfather [i.e., my great-grandfather] lived for many years. He worked first as "tuinmansknecht," [gardener's apprentice] later as "tuinbaas" or "head gardener" (The American word "boss" comes from Dutch "baas.") on the property of Jonkvrouwe de Backer, a descendant of the 17th century "regenten" from Amsterdam. They had at least 12 people working at their mansion and garden, and I assure you it was hard working under those feudal gentry.

With his large family he had to live on 7 guilders a week. His house belonged to the de Backers and the rent was f.1.25 a week (1 1/4 guilders). Tante Ger ["Aunt Gertie"] told me that the weekly bakers bill amounted to f. 5  --  Potatoes and vegetables he had to grow in his garden. For clothing and fuel hardly a penny remained.

In summer he worked from 6 in the morning to 9, sometimes 11:00 in the evening for his boss. From 4 to 6 in the morning he worked in his own garden. To earn a few pennies extra, he often took over nightwatch duties from other people.

Your grandmother [my great-grandmother] tried to earn extra money by sewing for other people. As the family had a good reputation, the baker and grocer gave credits for years.

It is unbelievable when you read about working and living conditions in those days. Seven families reigned in the village, which was their private property. Even the church was their property. Mrs. de Backer disapproved strongly of your grandfather's large family; she also made many objections when your grandmother [my great-grandmother] used window curtains, which use belonged to the higher classes.  

The church is about 325 years old [perhaps now about 375 years old]. In this church, Jacob Van den Bergh played the church organ for more than forty years.

One last photo shows "Boekesteyn," where Mom's cousin Jasper worked. It is now surrounded by a nature park:

Sunday, July 15, 2012

"The Red Notebook"

In the 1960s, Mom’s cousin Jasper in the Netherlands put together an album for her about the Van den Bergh and Daams genealogy. It includes much information about the hometowns of our grandparents. What follows is Jasper D’s (lightly edited) article about our Van den Bergh forebears and some of the social history of their region of origin dating back to the 17th century:

Genealogy, the English say, is a hobby for fools with a long memory. This may be true for maniacs, but I hope to show you that if you look at your own family history, there are some general interesting aspects.

It looks quite simple to draw up a family tree, but it takes time. To start with the Van den Berghs, you try to get as much information from still living relatives, which in this case is rather easy as Tante Ger ["Aunt Gertie"] had many data going back to about 1880. The official registers from small towns and villages are deposited in the Rijks-Archieven, where you can consult them without cost. After 1811, all baptisms, marriages and deaths [in the Netherlands] had to be registered at the Burger-Stand, a government institution, due to Napoleon who introduced a modern registration system (which was very convenient for his conscription). Before 1811 all data were registered by the churches.

Van den Bergh is a very common name in the Netherlands. In Amsterdam at least 7000 people with this name are living [in the 1960s]. They are generally not related to each other. Van den Bergh, sometimes spelled van den Berg, van de Berg, van den Berghe is a topographical name. “Berg” is the Dutch word for “mountain” or “hill.” Mountains we have not in Holland; some hills; and people living near or on a hill, sometimes not more than a mole-hill, are called by that name. 

Van den Bergh family,  in 's-Graveland, ca. 1910
 Around Amsterdam there is a good possibility that the name is derived from Nederhorst den Berg and Muiderberg. In ‘s-Graveland, people living in Nederhorst den Berg and working in‘s-Graveland are mentioned as “komende van den Berg” (i.e., "coming from the mountain).

The letter “h” at the end of the name is by many people considered as a sign of distinction, which it is not, as it is only an old spelling.

In the family tree I could trace the Van den Berghs back to about 1750, when they were living at Ouder-Amstel, a village near Amsterdam. You’ll see, that the same first names occur repeatedly and also that large families were common. Of course many children died very early in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Your grandfather [i.e., my great-grandfather] Jacob, born 1865, was a gardener on a big estate, owned by Jvr. de Backer, in ‘s-Graveland, which village lived a 17th century life till 1925. It consisted of about ten big estates, owned by members of the Amsterdam ruling class of “regenten,” since 1634.

Living conditions of the working people, mainly in the service of the noble families and working at the many laundries in this village, were very bad. Tante Ger ["Aunt Gertie"] still remembers that she had to work from 5 o’clock in the morning till 10 or 11 at night, especially in summer. Those people were called “blekers” [bleachers] and “wassers” [washers or laundresses].

Now it is a very picturesque village; some of the old estates are national parks and on one of them, your not-too-distant relative is working for his daily bread, in a park where your grandfather [i.e., my great-grandfather] has been often, as those old-fashioned gardeners kept close contacts with each other, as it was their pride to have the most beautiful garden and the rarest plants. Not far from our “Boekesteijn” he worked for about 50 years, after which he was pensioned at f. 2.-  [2 guilders] a week. 
Ouderkerk aan den Amstel 1670 etching

His father Barend was born in Ouder Amstel, came to Loosdrecht as “schildersknegt” [painter's apprentice] and married Gerbregtje Vakker. The information below is copied from the [archival] documents:  [See translation below.]

“Barend van den Bergh, geboren te Ouder-Amstel op 6-5-1795, zoon van Abraham van den Bergh en Hendrikje de Roos, wonende te OUder Amstel, Nr. 3 geloot by Nationale Militie, ingelijfd by 5e Afdeling Infant eerier en den tijd van 5 jaar hebbende gediend, behoorlijk out de dienst ontslagen is.

“Getuigen by het huwelijk: Klaas Bakker, broer van de bruid; Tomas Meijers, oom van de bruid; Meijndert Meijer, behuwdvader van de bruid.

“Signalement van Barend:
Land: 1 el, 5 palm, 9 duim, 6 streep
aangezicht: bleek
voorhoofd: plat
ogen: blauw
neus: klein
mond: ordinaries
kin: rond
haaren: bruin
wenkbrauwen: bruin
Merkbare tekenen: gene
Beroep Barend: schildersknegt

He marries Gerbregte Bakker, daughter of Pieter Bakker and Neeltje Schipper.

Both Bakker and Schipper are so-called professional names, in English “Baker” and “Skipper,” both very common in Holland.

This part of the Netherlands is lowland with many lakes and canals. In the past there has always been heavy water traffic, as this was a center of peat production for towns like Amsterdam and Utrecht. Besides there was always been much sand transport from Hilversum, ‘s-Graveland and Bussum to Amsterdam, so many “skippers” were needed.

Many [Daams] ancestors found their daily bread in the peat industry, but in the Van den Bergh history, I found no traditional profession, in contrast with the Daams family, where many members were blacksmiths.

From old postcards of Loosdrecht, you can get an impression of how this village looked in your mother’s (i.e., my grandmother’s) youth [around 1901]. I assure you that something changed in the meantime. From a quiet village, still in the 1930s, it changed into a crowded holiday resort with 4000 yachts on 220 hectares.

The most characteristic features of this old village disappear quickly, making place for summerhouses and expensive bungalows for the rich, old and new.

Some early Van den Bergh "huismerken", i.e. trademarks, recorded by Jasper D.

Translation of marriage record:

"Barend van den Bergh, born in Ouder-Amstel on 6-5-1795 [May 6, 1795] son of Abraham van den Bergh and Hendrikje Roos, living in Ouder Amstel, No. 3 of the National Military lotery, conscripted into the the 5th detachment of the Infantry, and having served for 5 years, given an honorable discharge.

" Witnesses to the marriage: Klaas Bakker, brother of the bride; Tomas Meijer, uncle of the bride; Meijndert Meijer, father-in-law of the bride.

"Description of Barend:
Height: 1 yard, 5 hands, 9 thumbs, 6 strokes [!]
Complexion: fair
Forehead: flat
Eyes: blue
Nose: small
Mouth: ordinary
Chin: round
Hair: brown
Eyebrows: brown
Distinguishing features: none
Occupation: painter's apprentice"

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Family Bible, Part II

Earlier this year, we learned about the set of Bibles brought from the Netherlands by my maternal grandparents, Grandma and Grandpa VandenBergh. On the other side of the family, there are also two old Bibles in the family archives.

The American Bible Society, founded in 1816, has published Bibles since those early days, and two editions were purchased by a Van Slyke father and son. David D. Van Slyke (1813-1893), owned a copy of the 1851 edition. Here is the title page of the New Testament section, showing the publication date:

Cover page 1851 Bible
Note the old fashioned (and British) spelling of the word "Savior." David, who lived to be eighty years old, would have been 38 when he either purchased or was given this Bible. He lived in the town of Mindenville, in the central Mohawk Valley. I suppose that Bibles would have been shipped along the Erie Canal just as other goods were.

The cover itself is so blackened with age that it is impossible to determine the original color of the leather binding. Who knows how many hands held the book and smoothed its pages, perhaps in innumerable lengthy church services where a piano or organ thumped out the old tunes such as "Beautiful Savior" or "Amazing Grace"?

1851 Bible

It must have been the custom in those days for the owner of such a volume to sign his or her name not on the front page, but in the back of the book. At least, that is what David did, signing his name thus:

The daguerreotype below of David and his young son Jonas, was taken in the mid- to late 1840's, certainly before David acquired the Bible.

Jonas and David D. Van Slyke

It gives you an idea of what passed for high fashion in the mid-1840s in the Mohawk Valley. David appears to be wearing a striped waistcoat or vest, with pants with a checkered pattern, likely considered a fashion faux pas in our day and age. His cravat is fixed with a stickpin that seems almost three-dimensional. The tails of his frock coat fan out behind him, framing his hips. David's deep-set eyes gaze calmly at the camera, and thus directly at the viewer. I almost feel that I know him; the features are so clear in this image that dates from more than 150 years ago, that I would surely recognize David if I met him on the street tomorrow.

The young boy standing next to his father is his son Jonas, my great-great grandfather. He appears to be about five years old in this picture. But here he is at age 72, in 1912:

Jonas Van Slyke 1912

Jonas also had a Bible, published by the American Bible Society in 1872. Its leather cover is similar to that of his father's book, and similarly darkened with age:

1872 Bible

The cover page is similar as well:

Cover page 1872 Bible

And like father, like son, Jonas signed his Bible on the back page as well:

Some pages are missing from this volume, where following a long-standing custom, family members had written birth, marriage and death dates of several generations. The pages were later removed for safe-keeping. I'm sure they will turn up in a later search of the family archives.

In the meantime, searching digitized census records through Heritage Quest, I found the 1880 census at Mindenville, where Jonas is listed as the head of a multi-generational household of eight persons: Jonas himself is listed as a 39-year-old lock-tender; his wife Margaret, housekeeper, same as age her husband; their four children, Kittie (age 13, misspelled as "Caty" by the census taker), Minnie (age 9), Mary (age 6), Georgie (age 2); Jonas's father, David D. (age 67; laborer); and mother Sally (age 70, housekeeper). It must have been a lively household!

Sunday, July 1, 2012


Minnie and her girls all did some form of needlework, whether embroidery, knitting, crocheting, or sewing. Minnie's forte was cross stitch, often on pillow cases, such as the one at left. 

Or this one, a more stylized floral pattern:

Minnie also embroidered this apron for me, with a fruity motif, which I have carefully kept all these many years:

One of my favorites is this young girl in a sunbonnet. I don't know who embroidered this one, but the label indicates that the linen fabric upon which the stitching is done was woven by Sally Moyer, Minnie's great-grandmother (and my 3x great-grandmother), who lived from 1811 to 1890. This hung over the bed in Minnie's room:

And one last piece is the handiwork of Minnie's daughter Glenadore. I like this one too, because it expresses the family's sentiments about their home. This one hung over Minnie's bed as well: