Favorite Discovery? Too many to choose

The theme for week 7 of 52 ancestors in 52 weeks was “favorite discovery.” Of course, I cannot choose just one favorite. Being somewhat behind in these posts, and racing to catch up, I finally settled on a brief discussion of a few of my favorite discoveries that I can actually show you: some letters, a book, a picture, and an organ.

JanLetterFourThe letters. Discovering that my 2nd great grandfather, Jan Willem Kreijkes, had written a series of letters from Iowa to the Netherlands around the turn of the 20th century — and that they were available to read and copy — was one of my earliest and most cherished discoveries. The letters are included in a collection of Dutch immigrant letters housed in the archives of the Christian Reformed Church at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They were translated from Dutch to English by an unknown translator. I acquired copies a few years ago and not only enjoyed reading them as a way to get to know Jan Willem better, but I am still mining them for clues and information about the Kreijkes/Kreykes family. I have a series on this blog, Letters to the Netherlands, with excerpts from the letters.

Books3The book. Another early discovery was a book called Sleeps Not the Valley by Carmen Moe. The series of events that led to me discovering this book were so swift and unexpected that I don’t even remember how they originated. The book was self-published by a distant cousin and includes an introductory section on Norwegian history and a full chapter about my direct ancestors, the Malums of Øyer. The information was drawn from Norwegian records and bygdeboks. Bygdeboks are local histories that were written by Norwegian communities and sometimes included rich details of people’s lives. Sleeps Not the Valley was out of print, and at the time I was able to find only one available pre-owned copy from a book seller online. I bought it, and from that book I learned not only more details of the Malum genealogy but a little about what their home was like and about their involvement in the Haugean religious movement. It opened up my understanding of my Norwegian ancestors.

arne_marit2The pictures. All of the photos I’ve discovered that I never thought I would, especially the oldest ones, have absolutely been among my favorite discoveries. But speaking of the Malums (above), the pictures that came to light of my 3rd great grandparents, who never left Norway, truly caught me by surprise. I call them “pictures” rather than “photos” because they seemed to be a combination of photo and illustration and thus intrigued me. I had come to terms with Arne and Marit Malum remaining silhouettes in the family tree — because after all, they were born in the 1780s and never left Norway — but then their pictures emerged. It started me on a quest to find out how such pictures were produced, and I even wrote a post speculating that the pictures were a form of charcoal portrait.

organThe organ.  It was a 3rd cousin who first pointed me to the small pipe organ built by my 2nd great grandfather, Harmen Van der Maaten, a Dutch immigrant. I learned that it was housed in a local historic home (unrelated to the family) in Orange City, Iowa, that was open to the public. However, because the home was only truly open certain times of the year, some very kind people in the community arranged for me to be let in, see the organ, and even try to play it a little. I have been back a couple of times since, during the annual Tulip Festival when tours through the home are ongoing, and I always stop to take another look and pay respects. Here is a more information about the organ.

Final thoughts. A more disciplined writer — and one with more time — would have settled on a single favorite discovery and written on it in more detail. I just couldn’t do it, though, and as it is, these discoveries just scratch the surface. Family history is a never-ending quest for answers … which leads to more questions … punctuated by occasional discoveries that sometimes seem to fall from the sky right into my lap … and all of them are my favorites.

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