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Long lost relative leads to family discovery

If you have read any of my columns before then you know I’ve always faced a conundrum when it comes to my last name.

From misspellings to mispronunciations to endless inquires as to the origins, I’ve seen and heard it all. And I’ve come to accept the fact that VanDerBroek doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue unless you’ve been stuck with the surname for 28 years.

As I’ve explained before, VanDerBroek is pronounced as it seems with the last part being pronounced “Brook” as in a brook or stream.

Approximately a year ago I decided to delve into researching my family tree and so far I’ve found quite a few interesting facts and ancestors.

While my research has answered a lot of my questions about certain family members and their histories, it also left me with questions regarding those relatives with the VanDerBroek surname.

When I began my research, I knew two things for sure about the VanDerBroeks: they were Dutch and my great great grandfather, Abram Vanderbrook I, (that’s right he spelled his name differently) immigrated from the Netherlands to the United States.

The family story told was that as an immigrant he couldn’t get a job with his Dutch name, therefore, he Anglicized it bit. Back then different ethnic groups were territorial when it came to their area in towns.  If you were Dutch and looking for a job in an Italian, Irish or English populated area there was a good chance you were not going to get that job.

Census records helped me pinpoint that Abram I came from the Netherlands to the U.S. in 1897. Another interesting fact I found out was that Abram’s mother also immigrated to this country while his father presumably stayed in Holland.

However, I was at a lost as to where they came into the country and what town they came from.

That changed last week when I met up with a long lost relative, using the same website for researching his family. After a few chats through email we were able to determine his great great grandmother and Abram I were sister and brother.

I also learned from his research that the VandenBroeke (which turns out to be the correct spelling of the name) family came from Waterlandkerjke in the providence of Zeeland in the Netherlands.

Zeeland is in the most southwestern part of the country near the border with Belgium and is made up of numerous islands near the North Sea. The providence is now known as a holiday hotspot, offering sandy beaches to tourists.

However, located in the lowlands of the Netherlands, Zeeland has unfortunately seen its share of flooding throughout the years, including the North Sea Flood of 1953, which led to the construction of the Delta Works to help protect the low-lying areas.

Over history, Zeeland has been occupied by many, including the French during Phillip The Good of Burgundy’s rule, the Spanish and even the Germans during World War II.

Long before those occupations, around the 2nd century BC, the locals worshipped a goddess named Nehalennia who was believed to have protected sea-faring travelers across the treacherous North Sea.

I was completely blown away that I had finally found my great great grandfather’s hometown.

In addition to finding out where Abram I came from, the relative also gave me the names of his parents as well as their parents. He also informed me that Dutch women, when they are married, have a choice of taking their husband’s last name or keeping their maiden names, so included with those names were the surnames of the female ancestors.

I’m sure I’ve just reached the tip of the iceberg with all the research I have planned for this side of the family.

Amanda VanDerBroek is a Staff Writer for the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald. For comments and column suggestions email: amanda.vanderbroek@r-cnews.com or call (252) 332-7209.