Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Month of History Events

This month there have been quite a few history events here in New York's Capital District. Here's a list of the ones I have attended:

- Sunday, September 14, 2014: 90th Anniversary Celebration of the Dutch Settlers Society of Albany. The DSSA was founded in 1924, in connection with the celebration of the tercentenary of the settlement of the City of Albany. Its mission is to: perpetuate the memory of the individuals who resided here during the time it was a Dutch colony; collect and preserve records and information concerning the history and settlement of Albany and its vicinity, including genealogical records of the settlers and their descendants; and to foster the study of the early history of the City of Albany.

The anniversary luncheon took place at the Stockade Inn in the city of Schenectady, with fifty members and friends in attendance. The Mayor of Albany, the Honorable Kathy Sheehan, was an honored guest.  A speaker from the Historic Albany Foundation gave an illustrated talk on what the city of Albany was like in 1924, when the Society was founded. Attendees found the table of DSSA memorabilia an interesting trip through the Society's history. An album of photos taken at the celebration can be found here.

Friday, September 19, 2014: Talk and book-signing by Professor Susannah Shaw Romney, at the Albany Institute of History and Art, about her recently published volume, New Netherland Connections: Intimate Networks and Atlantic Ties in Seventeenth-Century America. I found a brief mention of my ancestor Cornelis van Slijck in her book, so I could not resist purchasing it!

Saturday, September 20, 2014: New Netherland Institute Seminar, at the New York State Museum. The Seminar featured speakers from several universities in the United States as well as from the Netherlands. There were 150 attendees this year, who filled the auditorium with their enthusiasm. Following the seminar, attendees enjoyed a dinner at Albany's historic Fort Orange Club.

Indian Statue in Schenectady Stockade Area
Saturday, September 27, 2014: 54th Annual "Stockade Walkabout" in Schenectady, NY's historic stockade district, sponsored by the Stockade Association and the Schenectady County Historical Society. The buildings on the self-guided walking tour represent three centuries of local architecture and history. Of course, there are few, if any, buildings that date from the 17th century left, but there are indeed several that were originally built during the early 18th century. In contrast with nearby Albany, Schenectady's business sector moved away from the area of the original settlement, leaving the oldest part of the city mostly residential, which surely saved many old homes from being torn down to set up businesses.

I was particularly interested and intrigued to see the names of a couple of my ancestors on historical plaques adorning homes along one street. The plaques indicate where the original homes were, but are on structures that were built later than those inhabited earlier by the original settlers:

And another plaque indicated the location of Jacques van Slijck's early tavern, near a narrow street known as Cucumber Alley:

One of the oldest houses in the city of Schenectady is the Yates house; it dates from the early 18th century:

Abraham Yates House

Halve Maen Replica Ship
Sunday, September 28, 2014: Early Albany Hudson River Festival. At this day-long festival and encampment, the replica ship of Henry Hudson's 1609 voyage of exploration, the Half Moon, or "Halve Maen" in Dutch, lay at anchor in the river. We also saw demonstrations of 17th-century handcrafts and technology, such as a cooper, blacksmith, and broom-maker. Members of the Stockbridge-Munsee band of Native Americans were also present to interpret current and past practices of their tribe.

It was right around the third week of September 1609 that Hudson's ship reached the area near present-day Albany, in the heart of what was then the main population area of the Mahican Indians. As the replica ship floated near the riverside park, it was tempting to try to visualize what the scene may have looked like four hundred years ago. The replica ship is a floating museum, with a multinational crew of volunteers and student sailors.

Mahican Wigwam Replica at Hudson River Encampment

The Half Moon will still be docked in Albany for the next couple of weekends. Perhaps I'll have an opportunity to tour the ship to get an idea of what it must have been like aboard for Hudson and his crew. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Excursion to Ellis Island

Grandma and Grandpa with baby Jacob, 1912
I spent last weekend in New York City, during which time I had an opportunity to take a trip via ferry to Ellis Island. Although my grandparents did not enter the United States through Ellis Island in 1911, visiting the museum there gave me a good idea of how it was for the twelve million other immigrants who were processed through that point of entry between 1892 and 1954.

Grandma and Grandpa Vanden Bergh left the Netherlands in May 1911, the day after their wedding. In later years, Grandma was always quick to tell people that they did not travel "steerage," but rather had saved enough money to purchase second-class tickets aboard the SS Potsdam. Thus, they apparently went through the customs and immigration formalities at Hoboken, New Jersey, instead of Ellis Island.

It was a thrill, though, to stand on the deck of the ferry crossing New York Harbor, and glide past the Statue of Liberty, and try to imagine what their thoughts might have been as they caught sight of the statue for the first time.

Liberty Island, from ferry

Coincidentally, as I stood on the deck of the ferry taking pictures, I heard the sound of Dutch being spoken next to me. I couldn't resist telling the family of Dutch tourists about my grandparents' passage to the United States through that very same harbor a hundred years ago. Of course, they politely corrected my pronunciation of our grandparents' hometowns, Loosdrecht and s'Graveland. The Dutch family disembarked at Liberty Island, while I continued on to Ellis Island.

The main building on Ellis Island, which now houses the museum, was opened in 1900.

Ellis Island - Museum

As I clambered up the stairs to the great hall on the second floor to the main room where the arriving immigrants were interviewed, once again I heard Dutch spoken by more tourists. It was an almost eerie echo reminding me of past generations.

Exhibits along the walls and in adjoining rooms gave a vivid idea of what it was like to pass through the medical exams, background checks, and interviews. Immigrants were scanned for contagious diseases in a six-second preliminary check-up even while they snaked up the stairs. This check consisted partly of an eye examination for trachoma, when a button hook was used to turn back the person's eyelid to check for inflammation.

Those with contagious diseases, which they may have contracted aboard ship, were sent to be cared for at the hospital that was part of the island's complex of buildings. Staff at the facility included nurses, doctors, inspectors, clerks, and interpreters for the myriad languages spoken by the newcomers.

Because of the vast numbers of people who passed through the doors, it is easy to get the idea that the process was necessarily a very impersonal one. But various details included in the exhibits do paint a picture that includes a more personal touch, for example the note that children staying at the complex were served an evening snack of warm milk; or the instruction to nurses caring for sick children "not to kiss the children" for fear of catching whatever ailment the sick child had.

After visiting the museum, I went outside to study the Immigrant Wall of Honor, in hopes of locating my grandparents' names. Although they had not come through Ellis Island, but arrived during the era that the point of entry was active, my mother had registered their names for addition to the wall. After consulting the alphabetical chart, and walking twice along the perimeter of the monument, I found them, among a number of other Dutch names: Barend and Elizabeth Daams Van den Bergh.

It would soon be time to catch the ferry back to Manhattan, but I couldn't resist taking one last photo of the skyline, in which I was able to capture the old and the new: a three-masted sailing ship in the shadow of the skyscrapers, including the new World Trade Center:

Manhattan skyline with sailing ship

And aboard the ferry on the return trip, one more photo of the Statue of Liberty against the Manhattan skyline:

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For much more information about Ellis Island, go to the National Park Services Web site at:  

To learn more details about my grandparents' early lives and voyage to America in 1911, you may wish to take a look at these earlier posts:

Starched Caps and Aprons

Making Plans

Arrival at Last

Settling In

A Home of Their Own