Holland, here I come

Published 10:49 am Thursday, January 5, 2012

Growing up there was always a slight dilemma between my grandparents.

The dilemma boiled down to their ancestry. Grams was a “mutt,” as she often referred to herself, made up of Irish, Scottish and German Palatine stock from the Catskill Mountains in New York.

On the other hand, Papa’s ancestry was half Dutch. His grandfather, great-uncles and aunts were F.O.B. (fresh off the boat).

However, other half was a big question mark to Papa. His mother was separated from her family at a young age and refused to talk about her family history. Still today it’s something I’m attempting to unravel through researching his genealogy.

Being American is first and foremost what my grandparents took pride in, but they also took pride in their own heritage—a mutual trait that often gave way to the occasional mocking comment. In fact, my grandmother named each one of their girls with Irish names “since they would all have Dutch last names.”

I always relished in their friendly feud that pit the Irish against the Dutch. Ultimately, I, along with the other family members, knew it was all in good fun.

My grandparent’s feud along with their family stories always made me interested in our genealogy. And I’m not the only one in the family, my cousin Tracy (from the VanDerBroek side), has long dug into our family’s past.

With Grams having researched her family back to their origins, I set about researching Papa’s Dutch roots. With the help of another cousin (cousins just come out of the woodwork with genealogy) I was able to determine they came from Waterlandkerkje, Zeeland in the Netherlands, a small village near the border between Holland and Belgium.

While relaying this information to Tracy, she came up with what I thought was at the time a crazy notion. She suggested we go to the Netherlands.

“Let’s go,” she said. “How good is your Dutch?”

“VanDerBroek is the extent of it,” I responded.

She promptly sent me a list of words I must know before setting foot in Holland.

What started off as a “crazy notion” has now turned into reality as Tracy and I have planned (and are still planning) our trip to Holland that will happen within the next few months.

In addition to arranging travel plans and where to stay, we’ve been trying to familiarize ourselves with the language and culture. The latter has been a little bit of a strange experience considering four generations ago our family had Dutch language and culture down pat.

Our experience in the Netherlands will not just be a leisurely one, but a homecoming of sorts as we plan to visit that little village where our great-great grandparents came from.

But in the meantime I’ll let my excitement grow about seeing real Dutch tulips and windmills dotting the skyline. And with fingers crossed, widening my Dutch vocabulary.

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.