Thursday, July 7, 2016

My Family Tree

We all have ancestors, but we don't always know who they were, where they lived, and what they did. During much of  the 70 plus years that I have been alive, I knew only a handful of people from my grandparent's generation and a few from my parent's, especially those who had immigrated to Canada.And I did know some of my many first cousins, but there are many more whom I have never met, although their names are recorded on my family tree. I often asked myself: where did my family originate, and who were all these ancestors?

My paternal grandparents were very prolific, so that is where I began my search. A few years ago I had received a Helleman family tree from someone bearing that name, but who was not a member of the many branches of this family that he had discovered. He had also learned that not all these different branches were related either, as far as he was able to determine.

Recently, I decided to start my own investigation. Although I have not yet discovered any connection between these major branches bearing the Helleman name, I was quickly  surprised to learn of how many relatives I have on both my father's and mother's sides. For reasons of privacy, I will refrain as much as possible from mentioning names. As someone once wrote, "Some family trees have beautiful leaves, and some have just a bunch of nuts. Remember, it is the nuts that make the tree worth shaking."

One problem with family trees is that they grow larger and larger. In the first month alone, my tree acquired more than 600 members. Not all are direct ancestors, but there are more ancestors than I had anticipated. My tree also has a descendants portion which is growing as well.


Nearly all my mother's descendants, with spouses, after her funeral (2014)

On my father's side, I have traced this clan as far back as Gerrit Helleman, who was born in Germany in 1728. On my mother's side, the earliest ancestor I discovered died in 1609. His son, who was born in 1600,  was the first to bear her maiden name, Wildschut. Other surnames, of course, also appeared and more are being revealed every day.

The problem with going back that far on my mother's side is that by the 12th generation from me, which is the earliest I have found thus far, there are more than 4000 other people in that generation from whom I am also descended, even if I assume that some of them may have entered my tree at several points. If I could trace all their descendants, this is no longer a tree, it is a forest where many of us can discover that we are related.

Even my ancestor who came from Germany is one of only 128 ancestors in hids generation, again assuming that none of them appear more than once in my tree. His descendants now number in the hundreds. My paternal grandfather, who is my namesake, alone left about 100 direct descendants when he died. If I think too much about these ancestors, I am much like the man that Henry S.S. Cooper talked about: "A man who thinks too much about his ancestors is like a potato -- the best part of him is underground."

Yet it is remarkable how much I have been able to discover about these long deceased ancestors, including information about date and place of birth, date and place of marriage, spouse, children, date and place of death, and even burial site. In some cases the information is complete; in others, it is sparse and even non-existent, and is often labelled "Unknown." What is also noteworthy is how many children died in infancy and are listed as dead or their names live on in siblings who were born later.

Model family tree

There is nothing morbid about building family trees. Last year I discovered the truth of what someone has written, "Genealogy is collecting dead relatives and sometimes a live cousin!"  when I found a cousin in the Netherlands, one of many; her grandfather and mine were brothers. Since then, we have been in contact with each other on Facebook. No doubt there will be more such discoveries.

By building this tree, I have been able to establish contact with many other families when we discover connections, in some cases, going back many generations. This is wonderful, as some unknown person once said, "Families are like fudge… mostly sweet with a few nuts."  These nuts, by the way, are not crazy people, but rather the exceptional ones who make the entire investigation worthwhile.

So far, I have enjoyed my search, although I have not yet found the gems, as I would prefer to call them, that pop up in other family trees. I have yet to find aristocrats in mine, much less royalty. My ancestors were humble farmers or tradespeople. Not a single one had such pretensions, as far as I have been able to ascertain, unlike in the TV ad which shows a woman holding a portrait of her cousin, George Washington.

My ancestors were born, lived, and died, often in the same communities, in Friesland or in other parts of the Netherlands. By now their descendants have multiplied and can be found in many parts of the world. Because of this multiplication, the odds are that the further back all of us would go, we would discover that we are all related and share common ancestors.

The Family Tree of Jesus Christ

In the Bible, ancestry is important as well. There are many genealogies in the Bible. Some of them relate to Jesus Christ, whose ancestry is traced back as far as Adam, who in turn is described as the son of God. These family trees are often stylized and serve a theological rather than a historical purpose.

I consider myself a hobbyist genealogist, in the sense that I am only concerned with my own genealogy and that of my wife, Her family has its own family tree which can be traced back to the 14th century. Although it follows the paternal Elgersma line, her mother also appears in it, since her parents were distant cousins. Such marriages were not uncommon in many communities in the Netherlands. What is unusual in her family was the use of the surname from a very early period in history.

In Friesland, where all of Wendy's ancestors and half of mine lived, the use of patronymics was very common. This involves using the father's first name as the middle name of the children. This is useful in helping to  determine who the father was, but since many names were common in families, confusion is still possible. On my father' side, there was the practice of repeating the same first names in every generation. Dirk and Gerrit alternate many times, which can also be confusing.

Family names are simultaneously one of the most important pieces of genealogical information, and a source of significant confusion for researchers such as myself. Mistakes are inevitable, especially in earlier generations when records were poorly kept. Memories are often faulty and the possibility of transcriptional errors also contributes to the errors. I know that I have made such errors myself, not all of which can be blamed on my sources.

A family tree with a specific purpose

Purposely, I am not including details of my family tree. The current practice is to avoid information concerning living persons as much as possible in order to protect their privacy. In this blog, my interest is to present my family tree as an example. Genealogy has become a popular hobby for many people today. There are countless ads by companies that will assist people in this research. 

The Mormons are in the forefront of such research because of their practice of baptism for the dead. For this reason, they have assembled the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, which houses over 2 million microfiche and microfilms of genealogically relevant material, These are also available for on-site research at over 4500 Family History Centers worldwide.

My project has just begun. In the last month, I have been able to compile more than 800 names in almost 200 families. This tree is growing by the day. Much work remains to be done. Any suggestions will be much appreciated.  I currently have more than 50 members who can access my family tree. 

If you would also like to do so, please send me your name and explain the reason why I should let you join. You should list any contributions you can make to my search. If you suspect that you are somehow related to me, you are especially invited to apply and enlarge this family tree.

For those who might be interested, here is some data from another source of the descendants of Gerrit Helleman who was born in Germany in 1728. I do not have similar data from other families to whom I am related. There are other branches of the Helleman family that are not (yet) connected with this one.

Gerrit Helleman
Catharina Margrita Vreese
9 generations, 160 members
1755 - 2008
Given Names
Aafina, Aafje, Aart, Adriaan, Adriana, Adrianus, Amber, Anna, Anneke, Annie, Antje, Arnold, Atze, Barbara, Berent, Bouke, Brenda, Caroline, Catharina, Christina, Cornelia, Cornelis, Daniel, Derk, Diewertje, Dirk, Donald, Eduard, Eleonora, Elisabeth, Emma, Engelbertus, Engelina, Erwin, Esther, Eveline, Evert, Evertje, Folkert, Francina, Francine, Frank, Fred, Frederieke, Frederik, Frits, Geert, Geertje, Geertrui, Geertruid, Gerardus, Gerrit, Gert, Gertrud, Gijsbertus, Hans-Dirk, Harmanna, Harmien, Harry, Hendrica, Hendrik, Hendrika, Hendrikje, Hendrikus, Hendrina, Henk, Henri, Henrick, Henrietta, Henriette, Hermannus, Hilda, Hugh, Iet, Ineke, Jacob, Jacoba, Jacobus, Jan, Jannetje, Jansje, Jeanette, Joanna, Joany, Johan, Johanna, Johannes, John, Joseph, Josephine, Jozina, Kim, Kornelis, Lambert, Lambertus, Lana, Leendert, Leon, Leonora, Lianne, Liesje, Lucas, Lucienne, Luuk, Machteld, Marc, Margaretha, Margrieta, Margrita, Mari, Maria, Marianne, Marinus, Maritje, Marjan, Marjolein, Mary, Meintina, Monique, Nathalie, Niesje, Patricia, Paul, Peter, Renata, Renate, Renee, Richard, Rick, Rob, Robert, Robin, Roelf, Ronald, Rudolf, Sanne, Siem, Simeon, Simon, Sofie, Theresia, Tjitske, Tom, Trijntje, Wendy, Wilhelmina, Willem, Willemtje, Wouter
In-law Names
Akerboom, Albert, Asselen, Beek, Berghuis, Boendermaker, Bos, Burger, Buytelaar, Chevalier, De Boer, De Fouw, Dell, De Putter, De Vrieze, Dirksen, Elfering, Gravesteyn, Hagg, Heijstek, Huetink, Hulleman, Hulsebos, IJzerman, Korenhof, Kranenburg, Langelaar, Lemmen, Lunenberg, Maring, Messchaert, Moek, Nouwen, Pas, Rense, Ronnenberg, Schaffers, Senechal, Slot, Sluerink, Stam, Teerink, Van der Kleij, Van der Kooy, Van der Pols, Van Dijk, Van Donkelaar, Van Egmond, Van Ekeren, Van Enk, Van Geest, Van Loon, Van Veen, Van Wezel, Veenman, Verdel, Verleur, Vervoorn, Vreese, Wiegerink, Wildschut, Zijlstra
Alblasserdam, Almere, Alphen a/d Rijn, Amersfoort, Amsterdam, Arnhem, Assen, Axel, Bad Kreuznach, Balikpapan, Bergen op Zoom, Brandwijk, Bussum, Calcutta, Canada, Delft, Den Haag, Den Helder, Davonport, Deventer, Dordrecht, Drachten, Dronten, Edam, Ede, Geldermalsen, Groede, Groningen, Haarlem, Heemstede, Hellevoetsluis, Hilversum, Hoorn, IJsselmuiden, Kampen, Lemelerveld, Lisse, Ludwigshafen am Rhein, Makassar, Mannheim, Naaldwijk, Naarden, Nieuwegein, Nieuw-Lekkerland, Nunspeet, Pernis, Pladju, Rotterdam, Sliedrecht, Sneek, Soest, Surabaja, Tasmania, Ter Aar, Utrecht, Vlaardingen, Voorburg, Wageningen, Wormerveer, Zaandam, Zutphen, Zwolle

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting indeed. I have a lot of Irish ancestry, which isn't that easy to trace. But my Welsh ancestry got traced back to the early 1700s, with possible earlier Cornish connections. Amazing what you can find.