Back of a letter from Joseph Ferraubella at Stalag VB 19 to Gertrude van Hier in 1942.

POW LETTERS: To Gertrude van Lier, from Joseph Terraubella at Stalag VB 19

Front of a letter from Joseph Ferraubella at Stalag VB 19 to Gertrude van Hier in 1942.

Front of a letter from Joseph Ferraubella at Stalag VB 19 to Gertrude van Hier in 1942.

Back of a letter from Joseph Ferraubella at Stalag VB 19 to Gertrude van Hier in 1942.

Back of a letter from Joseph Ferraubella at Stalag VB 19 to Gertrude van Hier in 1942.

This letter was in a box of my great-grandmother’s things and it stood out to me for obvious reasons. Turns out, one beautiful thing did make it out of the war -this painted rose by Joseph Terraubella. I don’t even know how painting materials make it into a prisoner of war camp.

Anyhow, I would really like to know more about Joseph and Gertrude, who I am guessing was a friend or relative of my great-grandmother’s. I’ve scoured the Internet with no luck. My great-grandmother, Helena de Wit, also lived in Utrecht, a fact which lends itself to my theory that they were friends or relatives.

UPDATE: After reading through Anje’s comments below (thank goodness she can read cursive better than I can), I remembered this newspaper clipping I also found in a box that originally belonged to my great-grandmother:

Newspaper clipping about Gertrude "Truus" van Lier.

Newspaper clipping about Gertrude “Truus” van Lier.

As Anje notes, van Lier, a CS-6 Dutch Resistance fighter, was executed Oct. 27, 1943, at a POW camp. She was 22 years old. Please see Anje’s comments below for links to webpages about her.

Johan Siersema

Bio: Johan Siersema (1924), the early years

Johan Siersema is seen at bottom right in this family photo.

A young Johan Siersema at the foot of Maria Wilhelmina van Erp and Klaas Siersema in this undated photo.

The early years

In his own words, Johan Nico Siersema had a hard life.

Hans, as he was called by family and friends, was born on the 9th of October, 1924, in Venlo, Limberg, Netherlands, and was the first son of Helena “Lenie” de Wit and Klaas “Niek” Siersema.

Hans later had one brother, named Tonny, but Tonny died at the age of 2. After Hans’ parents divorced when he was 5, he was essentially raised by his step-mother, Maria Wilhelmina van Erp, and never really had a good relationship with his birth mother thereafter.

Johan "Hans" Siersema and cousins.

Johan “Hans” Siersema and cousins. Date unknown.

Hans was 13 when he started smoking and drinking, and those became lifelong habits. Later in life, he sometimes smoked from a pipe, but preferred unfiltered cigarettes — I’m not sure what kind — and Scotch.

He met his future wife and my grandmother, Christina “Tineke” Kool, in wartime during the end of his high school years (he was 17 and she was 14), but I don’t know the story of it.

Hans was very smart — with an 139 I.Q. — but he was waylaid from attending university by the war.

Wartime

During the German occupation, he was a member of the Dutch Resistance and was involved in clandestine operations. Some of these included exerting pressure on Dutch police to set an example as to why it was a bad idea for local police to help the Nazis.

Hans went by at least two aliases: Ferdinand de Wit and Johan de Wit. The way he put it, the Nazis couldn’t really confirm his identity one way or the other. They didn’t have the technology that we do.

In 1942, Hans was captured and became a prisoner of war and a notice was sent to Maria Wilhelmina.

Johan "Hans" Siersema in the POW camp where he was forced to dig up the un-detonated bombs dropped from air forces. In one story, he reached a bomb and it started ticking. He scrambled out of the hole and started running and when the Nazi guard started shouting at him to get back down there, Hans shouted back that the guard ought to run too.

Here, Johan “Hans” Siersema is shown in the POW camp where he was forced to dig up un-detonated bombs dropped from airplanes. Helena de Wit reportedly bribed a guard in order to visit her son and this photo is a product of that visit. In one story, he reached a bomb and it started ticking. He scrambled out of the hole and started running and when a Nazi guard started shouting at him to get back down there, Hans shouted back that the guard ought to run, too.

In 1944, he was still a prisoner of war and was held in Kamp Amersfort, about 20 miles from Arnhem, Holland. His job as a prisoner was to dig 10-foot deep holes around the perimeter of the camp in search for buried land mines. Consequently, he watched his friends who worked with him be blown up and die, according to what my mom remembers from a conversation with him.

He attempted to escape several times before he was eventually successful in September of 1944. According to an interview he did in the 1980s with my mom, English planes were landing at Arnhem, 20 miles away…

“When that happened, the Germans … let the Red Cross in and the Red Cross insisted that anybody that was sick would be released immediately, so that there would only be healthy people there.”

“…I had a friend who was a medical student who worked for the doctor and he took a blood sample and switched mine with one that had T.B. So I had to leave and they gave me my walking papers and I got out.”

Hans returned to his family then. When my mom asked what he did between the time of his escape in ’44 and when the war ended in ’45, his response was, “I was hungry.” They were on rations then of two pounds of potatoes and four pounds of sugar beets per week. In the same interview, he talked about his aunt Leentje Siersema and his uncle Leendert Vlaasbloem, who died of starvation just three days apart.

I am not sure at what point, but on the run from the Nazis either before his capture or after his escape, Hans went to his mother looking for a place to hide. She turned him away for fear of being found out, so the story goes, and their relationship was further damaged.

Johan Siersema

Johan Siersema

Hans enlisted in the Royal Netherlands Army in Eindhoven on the 9th of July, 1945. At that time, the German Occupation had ended, but the war with Japan was still going. He was sent to England, where he was a small arms instructor for the new Dutch Army until 1946, when the military wanted to send him to Indonesia. Hans resigned his commission then, wanting to get away from the fighting, which he’d just done for five years.

In a story Hans later told my Uncle Nick, Hans once found himself guarding Nazi prisoners. One of them spoke up, saying Hans looked familiar. It turned out the Nazi prisoner had guarded Hans before and their roles were reversed.

Later, he was commended to be of good character by the mayor of Doorn, but I am not sure why.

Following wartime, a 23-years-old Hans returned university. Because he felt like he’d lost so much time already, he rarely went to classes. Instead, he studied books and showed up to take exams. He graduated with a degree in economics after two years instead of the typical four.

“You know, I’d lost a number of years,” he explained his motivation.

In 1950, he and Tineke eloped just northeast of London.

Christina Kool and Johan Siersema in 1945.

Christina Kool and Johan Siersema in 1945.

“What happened is, we started sleeping together, and in those days, Sweetheart, that wasn’t done — that was not done. But we wanted to keep on sleeping together, so we secretly got married,” he said in the interview with my mom.

They were officially married with family present the following year.

Note: I will continue my grandfather’s story in a second bio post. Here, I tried to be as factual as possible, but if I’ve learned anything looking into my family history, it’s that everyone can have a different story about the same events. I welcome anyone who wants to share their story of Opa John in the comments. I would love to do a separate post with everyone’s memories. For instance, until recently, I’d forgotten how he made a sort of whistling noise through his teeth when he spoke.

Finally, I met my grandmother, Carmen Dominguez

Grandma Carmen on the Becky Ann riverboat on the Mississippi River. It was an extremely hot day and ended up walking much farther than intended to get to the boat. Luckily, it was air-conditioned inside. As we were sitting there, a couple of the crew in uniform walked by. "Excuse me, do you know CPR?" Grandma Carmen called.

Here, Grandma Carmen cools off on the Becky Ann riverboat on the Mississippi River. It was an extremely hot day and ended up walking much farther than intended to get to the boat. Luckily, it was air-conditioned inside. As we were sitting there, a couple of the crew in uniform walked by. “Excuse me, do you know CPR?” Grandma Carmen called.

Until recently, I’d never met my grandmother. I turn 30 years old this year, but I’ve lived in California all my life. Meanwhile, my grandmother, Carmen Dominguez (born Oct. 10, 1932, to Spanish immigrants Benito Dominguez and Mary Menacho), lives in Lake St. Louis, Missouri. A couple months ago, my dad, step-mom and I went out to visit.

I learned a lot of things. I learned where my dad got the Gift of Gab, how my grandparents met (it was totally classy), and that Grandma Carmen loved working for General Motors until she retired.

The Gift of Gab

Carmen Dominguez and Steven Gullickson (my grandmother and father) back in the day.

Carmen Dominguez and Steven Gullickson (my grandmother and father) back in the day.

Growing up, my dad would always talk forever on the phone, and my sister and I would have to drag him away from conversations when it was time to leave a social function. My grandmother, it turns out, is equally as talkative. She loves to talk about the weather (once a tornado tore up a neighbor’s house just one cul-de-sac over), working at G.M. (she used to make huge plates of “enchiladies” for work parties and everyone would call her “mom”), and even my grandfather, who she was hoping would join her in Missouri after she moved there about 30 years ago but who never did.

How George Gullicksen and Carmen Dominguez met

My grandparents were neighbors before they ever met. They lived across the street from each other in San Francisco. Grandma Carmen’s apartment building had a series of steps to get to the street. One day, she was hopping down the steps. George spotted her from across the street and called something along the lines of “It looks like two bouncing footballs!” referring to her chest.

Obviously, true love.

I told you. It was classy.

How they were married

George was four years older and in the Navy, so when he was on the ship, he would still make a point to call Grandma Carmen on special occasions, such as her birthday. They eventually eloped, but George’s mother, a devout Catholic, freaked out and demanded they be married by the Church.

Grandma Carmen was 17 at the time, so she needed parental consent. She and George tracked down her mother and pulled her out of a movie theater so everything could be done officially.

After they were married, George Gullicksen and Carmen Dominguez had four children. From left, Christina "Tina" Gullickson, Otto Gullickson, George Gullicksen, and Steven Gullickson.

After they were married, George Gullicksen and Carmen Dominguez had four children. From left, Christina “Tina” Gullickson, Otto Gullickson, George Gullicksen, and Steven “Steve” Gullickson.

Working for General Motors

Grandma Carmen never finished high school, but she did earn her GED afterwards — I believe to work for G.M. For a while, she worked out of a factory in California, but when that factory closed, the company made employees an offer — move on, or move to Missouri, where they could still be gainfully employed.

My grandmother decided to move out to Missouri, where my grandfather bought her a house on Lake St. Louis. He left with the agreement to return, but never did. Meanwhile, Grandma Carmen kept busy at the factory, where she gave as good as she got. Once, a guy slapped her on the butt as she was walking past. Her response was something along the lines of: “Don’t you dare! The only man whose allow to put a hand on me is my husband, and you’re not him!”

Yeah, she’s pretty hardcore.

She also lost part of her finger when a machine double-punched, had a lot of friends there, and got a cool shiny jacket upon retirement.

Image

WWII Photo: Crowd celebrates as armored car drives down street in Netherlands

An armored car rolls down the street a s a crowd celebrates in the Netherlands during WWII. (Philip Siersema/Contributed)

An armored car rolls down the street as a crowd celebrates in the Netherlands during WWII. (Philip Siersema/Contributed)

This photo was in a box that belonged to my grandfather Johan Nico Siersema, so I could infer that it was taken in the Netherlands during WWII — likely by one of his relatives. But, since I didn’t know much else about it, I posted on the military history sub-Reddit to see if anyone might know more.

Alex Clumpkens identified the car as being of the Canadian Corps’ 49th (West Riding) Infantry Division, aka “the Polar Bears,” and suggesting Utretch as a location:

“It is probably a candadian Humber Armoured car. As far as I can make out it belonged to the British 49th(West Riding) Infantry division, nick named the Polar bear division. It was attached to the Canadian 1 Corps during the later stages of World war 2

This Unit was heavily involved in the liberation of Utrecht! Hm saw that city mentioned in your blog. For pictures see http://www.mapleleafup.ca/ve2.html

Redditor hydrogenjoule also responded, but with an alternative location:

“Because your grandfather was Dutch, and there seems to be a Dutch flag in the photo, I’m going to say that this was at Arnhem in April 1945, during I Canadian Corps liberation of the city. This was, as far as I know, the only major action in the Netherlands that the 49th took part in, and would certainly have merited a celebration.

After the failed Operation Market-Garden in ’44, Arnhem was the front line of the German resistance in the Netherlands until I Canadian Corps secured it during Operation Anger.”

So! We know who is in the photo now, just not the when and where. If anyone has any ideas, let me know!

Helena ‘Lenie’ de Wit’s identification papers circa 1944

The cover of Helena de Wit's identification.

The cover of Helena de Wit’s identification.

The inside of Helena de Wit's identification.

The inside of Helena de Wit’s identification.

The back page of Helena de Wit's identification.

The back page of Helena de Wit’s identification.

These are — as near as I can tell — my great-grandmother Helena de Wit’s identification papers from 1944, complete with photo, fingerprint, and address.

Johan Siersema’s University of Amsterdam student ID from 1947

Student identification for Johan Siersema for a university in Amsterdam, dated 1947-1949.

Student identification for Johan Siersema for a university in Amsterdam, dated 1947-1948.

Student identification for Johan Siersema for a university in Amsterdam, dated 1947-1949.

Student identification for Johan Siersema for a university in Amsterdam, dated 1947-1948.

These are scans of the student ID my grandfather Johan Siersema was issued while attending the University of Amsterdam following WWII. By that time, he had fought in the Dutch resistance, been a POW twice over, and lived through a difficult period of starvation during which he lost some family members. The new Dutch army wanted him to stay on, but he decided to go to school instead.

Now, by “go to school,” I don’t mean that he went to classes. He was incredibly intelligent, with a 139 IQ, so he simply read the books, showed up to take the tests and then graduated with a degree in a economics — in two years instead of the usual four.

I’ll write more about him in his bio, but I’m still collecting information on that!

Map: Family marriages, births in Mexico

Maps of my family's births and marriages in Mexico from the late 1600s to the late 1800s, based on  research done by Gloria Delgado and original documents scanned by LDS. (Screen capture in Google MapMaker)

Maps of my family’s births and marriages in Mexico from the late 1600s to the late 1800s, based on research done by Gloria Delgado and original documents scanned by LDS. (Screen capture in Google MapMaker)

When I picked up the phone in late February and dialed a number 20 years old, I hoped the person I was looking for would answer, but I knew it was a long shot. So you can imagine my delight when Gloria Delgado [n. Calvillo], the woman I was trying to track down, picked up. I had in my possession a Family Group Record that Gloria had compiled for one of my great aunts, and I told her how I was trying to look into my family ancestry and asked if she had any information she would be willing to share with me.

Did I speak Spanish she wanted to know? Did I know how to read Latin? Sadly, after four years of high school Spanish, I cannot claim to speak or read either of those languages. But Gloria sounded excited to share what she did have, so we exchanged information and she told me she’d try to get back to me after tax season.

Over the past few months, I found a couple emails in my inbox from Gloria — her letting me know that she was still planning to send information my way and that she hadn’t forgotten about me, and that she was having great success in tracking more details and original documents down. Which makes sense, because not only does Gloria know more languages than I do, but she’s been doing genealogical research longer than I’ve been alive. And luckily, my family, Gloria said, was much easier to track down than her own.

Anyway, a couple weeks ago, I got this in the mail:

BlogPic

It’s quite a hefty binder, containing about two hundred years of records of my family’s history in Mexico. Not only did Gloria find and photocopy the original documents, but she typed out the cursive and then translated everything. (Needless to say, I will be sending her the biggest box of chocolate I could find at See’s Candies.) It’s been quite exciting to go through, but with a lot of the research done already, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it all.

Then, I just decided to start mapping. I don’t know a lot about Mexico and if I’m going to start learning, I decided to pinpoint the regions in which my family was more highly concentrated.

I created this map, which tracks where births were, or baptisms if I couldn’t find the actual birth place:

And this map, which tracks where marriages took place:

To see the hybrid map layering both in Google Map Maker Lite, go here. And you can expect more details on all these people in the coming  months!

And, because I had a fun time figuring it out, Gloria and I are related like this: My great-great-great grandfather Miguel Marin Rosales [born 1848 in Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico, to Casimiro Marin and Manuela Rosales] and my great-great-great grandmother Rosa Hernandez Lopez [born 1853 in Ameca, Jalisco, Mexico, to Jose Nepomuceno Hernandez Ramos and Maria Petra de Jesus Perez Robles] are also Gloria’s great grandparents.

Mystery photos from an early 1900s album belonging to Helena de Wit

An album that belonged to my great-grandmother Helena de Wit in Beverwijk, Netherlands, in the early 1900s was in the box of photos and documents my grandmother gave me. If you follow this blog, you’ve seen many of those photos retouched over the past year and a half or so. These are the photos that remained untouched, with their subjects unidentified.

I know that without any additional information, the chance that readers here will know any of them is slim. But, please, if anyone recognizes an individual in one of the photos, mention it in the comments.

To see larger images, you can click on one and scroll through.

Photo: Vargas Marin siblings send snapshot to sister Lucy Calvillo in the states in 1939

From top and left to right, Nieves "Nancy" Vargas Marin, Alfonso "Pancho" Vargas Marin, Atenojenes Vargas Marin, and Luis Vargas Marin in Mexico, D.F., in 1934.

From top and left to right, Nieves “Nancy” Vargas Marin, Alfonso “Pancho” Vargas Marin, Atenojenes Vargas Marin, and Luis Vargas Marin in Mexico, D.F., in February, 1939.

I recently sat down with my uncle Art Vargas to talk about the Vargas Marin side of the family (our common ancestors were Mariano Vargas Ramos — born November 1870 in Ameca, Jalisco, Mexico — and Candelaria Marin Hernandez) and he shared with me the postcard above. It turns out, the Vargas Marin side of my family immigrated to the United States from Mexico in the early and mid-1900s in two waves.

The first time around — my best guess this was around 1925-1927, but I have no documentation as of yet — the family made it to the San Francisco Bay Area by way of Texas. It was tough to find work, so after awhile, the brothers decided to move back to Mexico. At that time, the sisters were all already married, so they stayed. Everyone, my uncle said, worked in the canneries.

The brothers returned in a second wave during World War II, when there was more work available. But between the two immigrations, judging from the postcard, Nancy visited them back in Mexico.

Here’s the back side of the postcard with a message to Lucy:

NancyVargasandBrothersBackofPostcard

Portrait: Engbertus Swalve and Wubbina Engellina Haken

Wubbina Engellina Haken and Engelbertus Swalve. (Willem Vlietstra/Contributed)

Wubbina Engellina Haken and Engbertus Freerks Swalve. (Willem Vlietstra/Contributed)

Few photos have amazed me by their mere existence, but this one did. To give you some perspective, that handsome devil on the right lived 200 years ago. Photography hadn’t even been invented when he was born.

If you follow this blog, then you know that Willem Vlietstra, the grandson of my great-great-great uncle’s sister-in-law, has been sending me some old photos from an album that was passed down to him. If you’re new to this blog, well, you’re caught up now, but you should also know that the album has labeled photos, which helps immensely in identifying the ancestors in pictures (not all generations had the foresight to label such things).

Wubbina Engellina Haken, my great-great-great-great grandmother, at left, was born to Jantje Hinderks Fols and Geerd Jans Haken in Boen, Ostfriesland, Germany, in about 1825. Engbertus Freerks Swalve, at right, was born to Daje Engeberts Brouer and Freerk Bellinga Swalve in Landschaftspolder, Ostfriesland, Germany, in February of 1812.

Most of the information I have of Engbertus (and for that matter most of the Swalve side of the family) comes from Roger and Marilyn Coeling Peters, who have their detailed Ancestors and Related Families project online.

What I find most interesting is that Engbertus was a master baker. The way certification is set up now, before becoming a master baker, one must first be certified as a journey baker, a baker, a decorator and a bread baker, according to the Retail Bakers of America. That can give you an idea of how much work one must put in before earning the title, but back in Engbertus’ time, things were a bit different. Roger Peters wrote in an email, “It was a common practice to travel to an new area to serve as an apprentice until they became a ‘master.'”

A big part of why I find this so interesting is that Engbertus’ brother Beene, and two of his sons — Freerk and Heinrich — also worked as bakers in Beverwijk, North Holland, Netherlands. Beene was a bread baker, and Heinrich had his own bakery, which he told Willem about when Willem was a boy. I am certain they all must have been very tight-knit, coming from the same family and all residing in the same city. In fact, disregarding traditional naming conventions, Freerks’ second daughter, Lucretia Anna, was named after Beene’s wife. And she was born in a bakery, as was her sister Wubbina Engellina Johanna Petronella Swalve.

But, ah, before I get too far off track, a little more on Engbertus and Wubbina. They had 11 children over an 18-year period, although not all of them lived into adulthood. Their son Engbertus Freerks Swalve also followed in the elder Engbertus’ footsteps and was a master baker in Bovenhusen, Ostfriesland, by 1892. The elder Engbertus lived until he was 61, passing away on April 30 in 1873 in Böhmerwold, Ostfriesland, Germany. Wubbina lived until she was 64, passing away on Sept. 7 in 1889.

All those dates and places are from the Coeling Peters’ Ancestors and Related Families project online, so don’t forget to check their site out. It even has footnotes and an organized index. Pretty much I’m in love with it.

Editor’s note: I cleaned up the photo a bit in Photoshop to eliminate some dust and discoloring along the top.