Great-Great Grandma from Groningen

Today is the anniversary of the birth, in the province of Groningen, the Netherlands, of my 2nd great-grandmother, Stientje Roffel Reitsema, more than 170 years ago. Because this ancestral line is one of the more mysterious lines in my family, I know relatively little about Stientje. I do know the name Stientje was sometimes Americanized to “Stella” among Dutch American immigrants. I also know Stientje was born on Oct. 24, in the early 1840s in the village of Tolbert, Leek, in the northern province of Groningen (map above), most likely to Roelfke Jans Lap, her mother, and Fokke Derks Roffel, her father.  Unconfirmed evidence suggests this family was in the Groningen region at least as far back as the late 1700s.


Tolbert Reformed Church – photo by Michiel Verbeek via Wikimedia Commons

Informal online research indicates that the municipality of Leek has a long history in the Netherlands. The small village of Tolbert, specifically, has a church with portions that date back to the 12th century (at right), which means it would have been around in Stientje’s time.

Current evidence points to Stientje having immigrated to Iowa with her husband Jan Reitsema and their children, including my great grandmother Mattie (Metje), in the 1880s or 1890s. The family went to Sioux County in northwest Iowa, which was already home to many other Dutch immigrants and their descendants. Stientje would have been roughly in her 40s or 50s at this time, and my great grandmother, who was born in 1878, would have been a young girl or perhaps a teenager.

About 20 or 30 years later, Stientje and her husband Jan appear in a 1910 federal Census for Floyd Township, Sioux County, Iowa. Both were listed as age 68 and as having been married for 39 years (see below).


A Dutch marriage record indicates that Stientje and Jan were married on May 7, 1870. An online Dutch family tree indicates that Stientje died in Hospers, Iowa, but as of now, I do not know when. Her husband Jan is believed to have died in 1926, and I have previously located an obituary for him. I know Stientje was still alive in 1911, at least, because a news clipping from the Hospers Tribune that year says, “Mrs. Jan Reitsema and her daughter, Mrs. Arie Kreykes (that’s Mattie), left here Monday for Murray County, Minnesota, to visit members of the Reitsema family who live in that vicinity.”

redtulipI would very much like to learn more about the family in those years just following their immigration to Iowa … when Stientje was raising her family and my great grandmother was still a young girl. Such missing pieces are a big part of what keeps me going in this family history quest, and filling in some gaps with this family is one of my priorities. I often hesitate to do birthday profiles of people I don’t know or understand as well, but it compels me to think through the information I do have and helps me form a more complete picture of my ancestor, even as I continue the quest to learn more. Occasionally, it provokes a response from someone with information to share.

Happy birthday, Stientje Roffel Reitsema. I look forward to learning more about you. Rest in perfect peace.

This is the seventh post in the birthday profiles series, which provides 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. 

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4 Responses to Great-Great Grandma from Groningen

  1. Greta Grond says:

    I’m a librarian at Northwestern College, Iowa, and my coworker shared your post with me. I found a couple references to a J. Reitsema and a J. Reitsma in the Alton Democrat in 1899 and 1900, one for a land purchase and one for a land auction. The Sioux County newspapers have been digitized and are available online.

    • Laura says:

      How kind of you to reply. I would love to have a look at these! I will check to see if the Alton newspaper is available through, to which I currently have a subscription. I’ve done casual searches in the past but had never come across these references. Thanks so much for taking the time. Many thanks!

  2. Luanne says:

    Happy birthday to your great great! I have a branch that goes back to Groningen also.

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