Photo contributed by A.M. "Toon" Blokand.

Bio: Klaas Siersema

I recently got a message from my uncle asking what I might know about Klaas Siersema, my great-grandfather. Well, the truth is I know a lot, I’ve been remiss in writing down all in one place, and I would love to know more. So, here goes. If anyone has additional information about Klaas Siersema, please let me know in the comments!

Thanks for the kick in the pants, Uncle Mike!

Klaas Siersema.

Klaas Siersema.

Klaas Nicholas Siersema was born on September 15, 1895, in Groningen, Netherlands, to Arentje Vermaas and Gerrit Siersema.

Klaas was the youngest of three siblings. He had two older sisters, Helena Elisabeth “Leentje” Siersema and Elisabeth Helena “Bets” Siersema. Leentje eventually died of starvation during World War II and Bets was rumored to be a medium who could speak to the dead much like her grandfather.

Arentje left Gerrit, who was supposed to be a terrible drunk, taking their children with her when they were still young. She later worked in a shop, but it was likely she went to stay with relatives and did not wholly support herself and her children. It’s possible she stayed with Jacoba Antoinetta van Eijsden in Brielle (I like this theory because in 1909 when Jacoba died, she left half her house and courtyard to Arentje). Jacoba also left Klaas 50 gilders, according to the record Cousin Anje found online.

Mystery Photo No. 3. (Courtesy Philip Siersema)

Family Photo. (Courtesy Philip Siersema)

Klaas would go on to become a career military man. He had joined the Royal Netherlands military by the age of 20, and I believe he was a Vaandrig (officer cadet) when photographed with fellow soldiers in Kampen in 1915.

He was promoted to Tweede-Luitenant (second lieutenant) on September 25, 1917, by the Ministry of War–although this was during WWI, the Netherlands was neutral in the war.

After what was in part a long-distance courtship, Klaas married Helena Frederika de Wit at the Netherlands Reformed Church in Hertogenbosch, where her father was a highly respected member of the congregation. According to their calling cards, Klaas and Helena both lived in Hertogenbosch prior to their nuptials. At 27 years old, Klaas was listed on their wedding certificate as a First Lieutenant of the Infantry. They wed on August 28th, 1923, and he was eight years her senior.

Wedding portrait of Klaas Siersema and Helena "Lenie" Frederika de Wit.

Wedding portrait of Klaas Siersema and Helena “Lenie” Frederika de Wit.

Their first son, Johan Nico “Hans” Siersema, was born in Venlo a little more than a year later on October 9, 1924.

Antony Dirk “Tonny” Siersema, their second son, was born on November 15, 1927.

The death of Tonny on August 1, 1929 precipitated Klaas and Helena’s eventual divorce in that it brought the family doctor deeper into their lives. Helena would go on to have a committed relationship with the doctor for about 50 years.

Klaas remarried to Maria Wilhelmina van Erp, whom he remained married to until his death.

Klaas and Wilhelmina van Erp's wedding portrait.

Klaas and Wilhelmina van Erp’s wedding portrait.

Together, they supported Je Maintiendrai, one of the most prominent underground newspapers in the Netherlands during WWII.

By March, 1938, Klaas had achieved the rank of Kapitein (captain) of 2e Compagnie II Bataljon in the 6e Regiment Infanterie, according to a newspaper clipping. He was photographed with fellow military personnel on July 15 with three stars pinned on either side of his collar.

In 1942, Klaas was captured by the Nazis as a prisoner of war. He was held at Oflag XIII-B, a prisoner of war camp for officers that was at the time in Hammelburg, Germany. There or sometime after, I believe he drew this sketch. He also wrote letters to his wife.

Following his release, his son Hans also escaped from a POW camp. According to one family story, when Hans returned home, Klaas saw the car pull up outside and immediately went into his backyard to hide in the bushes. He thought the Nazis had returned for him, but it was only his son returning home.

Klaas is said to have done important work at the Militair Revalidatie Centrum Aardenburg, where as Director of the institute he helped pioneer new methods of treatment for shell-shock soldiers. According to my step-grandmother, those suffering from what we now call PTSD could live on the grounds with their families, which was unheard of at the time. The hospital does cutting edge medical work to this day. Klaas was succeeded in his position at the MRC by Lcol. Th.A.J. van Erp, according to A.M. “Toon” Blokand.

In 1952, Klaas was named an Officer of the Order of Orange-Nassau, which honors selective individuals for their contributions to society through either civilian or military efforts.


Klaas died of a heart attack while reading “Mein Kampf” at the age of 60 in Doorn on October 14, 1955. I’m not sure if that phrase means he was literally reading it, but that’s how I’ve heard it referenced. My mom still has the book with  his bookmark in it.

Click on the photos below to enlarge them.

Click here to see the images Klaas kept in his pocket photo book.

Letter from the Roman Catholic Military Society from 1896

Dutch Reformed Church document from 1896. (Front)

Dutch Reformed Church document from 1896. (Front)

Dutch Reformed Church document from 1896.

Roman Catholic Military Society document from 1896


This is the oldest written document in my possession. It’s in some hard-to-read cursive (and Dutch), so I turned to Cousin Anje to learn a little more about it. Here’s her summary:

It is a letter of the Roman Catholic Military Society, signed 4 August 1896 by the chairman and secretary. It is a letter to a honorable man (whose name is not mentioned), who has been selected as an honorary member of the society in the meeting of 3 June 1896. The letter tells him that he will also receive a “material token of a appreciation.” They express the wish that this present will serve him well and that it will remind him of the Society.  
What the present is and to whom the letter is written remains a secret to me. It is mentioned that he served in a garrison in den Helder (den Helder is a marine city in the dutch province Noord-Holland). 
My best guess is that this document somehow ties to Dirk de Wit, who was an active member of the Dutch Reformed Church.

Talking to the dead: Ancestors who were reputed to be mediums

A stack of notes.

This is what’s currently at the top of my stack of ancestry notes. If you’re like me, you have plenty of notes written by random family members that need to be deciphered.

I’m one of those people who likes to think things through logically and at times I can be downright cynical, but I will also admit that while I would like to think ghost stories aren’t real, I’ve had some very strange, inexplicable experiences in my life.

It would seem I am not alone.

As I was organizing my ancestry documents and photos this weekend, I came across some notes I believe my grandfather Johan Siersema wrote about the Siersema line of my family, which mentioned two reputed mediums.

Klaas Nicholas Siersema, who went by his middle name or “Nico,” was born Feb. 3, 1836 to Ettje Wolthers and Gerrit Siersema (1813), and was christened two days later. He had two sisters, Attje Siersema and Maike Siersema, and a half brother, Nanno Claussen Siersema. He married Elisabeth Clasina van Eijsden (or Eysden) on Sept. 30, 1863 in Groningen.

Klaas was reputed as a medium who would stand above graves and speak to the occupants, according to my grandfather’s note.

Klaas and Elisabeth had two sons, Gerrit Siersema and Johannes Elto Siersema. Gerrit’s daughter Elisabeth Helena Siersema (or “Bets”), who was born July 22, 1894 to Gerrit and Arentje Vermaas, inherited her grandfather’s talent for talking to the dead. Bets may or may not have been mentally handicapped (Cousin Anje found records of employment for her), according to one note, and did not have any children.

Anyways, as always, if you do have any info the share, please post the details in the comments!

Note: I should add that the sources for this post were handwritten notes and results on and the old website.

Photos: Wubbina Engellina Johanna Petronella Swalve

Wubbina Engellina Johanna Petronella Swalve (Willem Vlietstra/Contributed)

Wubbina Engellina Johanna Petronella Swalve (Willem Vlietstra/Contributed)

As promised, here is another photo Willem Vlietstra sent me recently. This one is of my great-great-grandmother Wubbina Engellina Johanna Petronella Swalve (in case you were wondering, yes, the breakdown of the ancestors she was named after is extensive). This is one of the best conditioned photographs of her in my possession, and the oldest I’ve seen of her. In others, there are acid marks, white fading, or distance between her and the camera is a factor, and she is older.

Wubbina was born in 1879 and I wouldn’t guess she is much older than 15 in this photo, so I would date it before 1895.

I also have this one (below), which must have been produced en mass seeing as I have at least three copies of it more than 100 years later. In it, she holds my great-grandmother, Helena de Wit, who was born in 1903. For the longest time, my mother tried to tell me the woman holding the baby was a wet nurse and I was like, “Um, no.” The resemblance between her and my cousins is way too strong (I call them ‘those Swalve eyes’ because they’re so distinctive).

Wubbina Engellina Johanna Petronella Swalve with daughter Helena de Wit. (Photo by A.J. Swalve.)

Wubbina Engellina Johanna Petronella Swalve with daughter Helena de Wit. (Photo by A.J. Swalve.)



LOVE LETTER FROM 1898: Century-old poem from Dirk de Wit to Wubbina Swalve

I recently procured a box of old documents and photos from my grandmothers house. In it, I found this 114-year-old love letter from my great-great grandfather, Dirk de Wit, to his then future wife, Wubbina Engellina Petronella Swalve.

My distant cousin Anje Belmon, who lives in the Netherlands and knows English as well as Dutch, helped translate (she also notes that, in Dutch, the letter rhymes):


When you friendly eyes
May rest upon these pages,
Think about him,
Who wrote these (pages), and who loves you,
More than the light of eyes.

May everything on this globe perish
His love for you will always exist.
But he also hopes for thy love:
Your love gives him joyful pleasure
In restless working and striving.

And if sometimes adversity threatens
Stand firmly! Hold your head up high!
Be aware that at heaven’s proud bow,
Clouds also pass through!

Thine, thou always loving, Dirk