Her name means ‘narrow bridge’: Happy Birthday, Hendrika Smalbrugge Kreykes

HendrikjeMy 2nd great-grandmother Hendrika, a Dutch immigrant to America, was born 181 years ago this weekend. She was born on August 17, 1838, to Jan Smalbrugge and Aleida Horsman Smalbrugge in Rijssen, Overijssel, in the eastern Netherlands.

Before I started my family history research, I knew little about Hendrika, other than that my grandfather had apparently told his family that his grandmother’s maiden name meant something like “little bridge.” Indeed, it does.

I have three aged photos of Hendrika … two with her husband Jan and the third a family portrait. I do not know if the light appearance of her eyes here is natural, a trick of the camera, or the result of photo deterioration, but I was startled by it the first time I saw it. My best guess is camera light, and I’m still trying to bring greater clarity to the photo.

KreijkesfamilyHendrika was the second wife of Jan Willem Kreykes (Kreijkes), whom she married in 1869, following the death of Jan’s first wife Janna. Twenty years later, Jan and Hendrika boarded the ship Rotterdam to travel to America with three of their children. In addition to Jan’s children with his first wife, the couple had at least three, possibly four, more children, including my great-grandfather Arend (“Arie”), who arrived in New York with them as a teenager in 1889. There was no Ellis Island operating at this time, so it’s likely they arrived at Castle Garden. My great grandfather Arie Kreykes is pictured in the family portrait at right, standing behind Hendrika.

According to the ship manifest below, Jan and Hendrika and their family were headed to Alton, Iowa. They eventually settled in Hospers … same county (Sioux), just a couple of communities away.


The little I know about Hendrika comes mostly from letters (translated from Dutch) that her husband Jan wrote from America to family and friends back in the Netherlands. Jan wrote mostly of spiritual matters but also of the family’s life in northwest Iowa and of their children and grandchildren. Hendrika is mentioned specifically a few times … sometimes to convey simple greetings to loved ones, including the Smalbrugges (“[R]eceive our hearty greetings and in particular from my wife Hendrika.”).

Hendrika is mentioned when Jan discusses their home in Iowa and a daughter back in the Netherlands. Jan wrote of their home:

KreijkesHome“My wife and I … have purchased a little land upon which we can raise enough food — and we have built a house upon it. We are going to live by ourselves. I can work that land myself. Our Johan and Arend Jan and Jenneken are paying for that land from their earnings. Now they say we have our own home, and my wife and I are happy to have it. There is nothing better than having one’s own hearth — isn’t that true? … My wife is very happy.”

Jan also wrote to and about a daughter Janna in the Netherlands, who became ill. Jan shares his and Hendrika’s laments in his letters:

“Yes, friends, I hardly know what to write. I am heartbroken about our Janna, and her mother, my wife, is worried about her. Up to that time, my wife was happy.”

And later:

“Yes brother, I became frightened when I received the letter stating that our Janna was very sick … I called upon God to be merciful to her, and amid my sighing I heard these words — she is in an exalted state. I was in the living-room and with joy went into the kitchen and said to my wife that I believe that the Lord had shown her mercy … or that she might already be in Heaven. My wife wept — and I did too … A day or two later we received a letter stating that she had fallen asleep in her Savior Jesus Christ.”

Hendrika died in November of 1919, nearly 10 years following the death of her husband Jan, in Hospers, where she is said to be buried. I know little about Hendrika’s life during her widowed years, nor much yet about her Dutch family of origin, the Smalbrugges, except that they may have originated from an area north of Rijssen. These are the unknowns, along with the origin of Hendrika’s maiden name, that I hope to be able to fill in further on this family history journey. Rest in perfect peace, Hendrika.

This is the fifth in a series, Birthday Profiles. The series includes descriptions of ancestors on the anniversary dates of their births. It is one good way to slow down the data-gathering and consider individuals in their totality. You can read more about Jan’s letters to the Netherlands here.]

This entry was posted in birthday profiles, IOWA (ALL), IOWA (Sioux County), Kreykes, Smalbrugge and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Her name means ‘narrow bridge’: Happy Birthday, Hendrika Smalbrugge Kreykes

  1. Amy says:

    I am always amazed by the courage of those who left home (and children) behind to come to the US. Do you know what motivated them to come to the US and specifically to Iowa?

    • Laura says:

      Hi, Amy. I’m not sure about the specific motivation for this couple, but they moved to a region of Iowa that was settled and heavily populated by Dutch immigrants who shared their culture and their Reformed religious beliefs … at a time when their more orthodox beliefs were waning in the Netherlands. I am sure the economic opportunity of access to farmland was also a significant factor. Also, two of their eldest children had migrated a few years before and I assume sent back good reports. Those are great questions! Thanks for asking.

  2. Reinier Bredeweg says:

    really nice I just reading about the history of rijssen, there they telling why kreykes went to Iowa.

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