Portraits of Consuelo Vargas Marin

Consuelo Vargas Marin

Consuelo Vargas Marin’s wedding portrait. (Photo courtesy of Cousin Carmen Vargas)

Consuelo “Chelo” Vargas Marin was married twice and lived and loved fully all her life. I remember going to her home in the Mission District in San Francisco for a party — I think it was for Thanksgiving — when I was a teenager. She was in her 90s at the time and her sisters Nancy and Lucy were helping host. They were all dolled up with their wigs, and I think it was Lucy who was wearing a leopard print shirt with tight black leggings. Some of their conversation was in Spanish as one of them carried a platter of tamales to the table, but I also remember them talking in English about going dancing and their “boyfriends.”

Consuelo was born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, on March 11, 1912. She immigrated to the United States with some of her sisters in 1925 and they worked in the canneries in San Francisco. She and her sisters would frequently walked in the Mission District.

She was listed as single in the 1930 census, so she would have married Clemente Cruz (photo above) sometime after that; although, I don’t have an exact date. Her second marriage was to James Jones. I’ll try to add more information here when I find it, but I’m lacking dates and locations at the moment. If anyone has additional details or memories to share in the comments, I would love to know more.

It was noted in her obituary that, “She was always known for her good cooking skills in the kitchen; no one ever left her home hungry. Although Chelo never had any children of her own, she has been a mother figure for many in her large family. She stepped in when tragedy struck, providing a loving home to children whose mother had been lost.”

She died January 21, 2005.

Consuelo "Chelo" Vargas Marin

Consuelo “Chelo” Vargas Marin. (Photo courtesy Cousin Carmen Vargas.)

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1910 photo of Wubbina Engellina Johanna Petronella Swalve

Wubbina Engellina Johanna Petronella Swalve

Wubbina Engellina Johanna Petronella Swalve in Beverwijk, Noord-Holland, Netherlands, in 1910.

This is probably my favorite photo of Wubbina Engellina Johanna Petronella Swalve. Some others I have look like they are from while she’s pregnant or after giving birth, or after her husband died and she was confined to a wheelchair. In this one, she’s dressed all fancy with her big hat and umbrella.

Since it was my favorite, I edited back in the detail in the photo editing app Snapseed. Previously, it was too washed out from age to really see. It’s grainy, but at least you can see it now.

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 — Pall Mall — and Scotch.

He attended Gooisch Higher Citizens School in Bussum from 1937 to 1943, when he graduated, according to a Dutch newspaper (De Gooi- en Eemlander : nieuws- en advertentieblad June 5 1943).

During that time, he was a strong competitive breaststroke swimmer, coming in second in a local race in 1941 that was reported by a newspaper. In one tale of family lore, he missed a chance at being in the Olympics because it was cancelled for the war.

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.

At some point during the war, Hans found himself as the only remaining living member of three resistance cells, according to a story Hans told my Uncle Nick. According to the story, each cell had about 20 members and then a person from one cell would have contact with the next so they could coordinate. As the only living member, he was made to go identify the dead bodies of resistance fighters lined up on sand dunes. He managed to identify a couple, but then said he couldn’t do it anymore.

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, Hans was 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 the car pulled up to Klaas Siersema’s house to deliver him to his family, Klaas was worried it was the Nazis coming to take him, so he went and hid in a tobacco patch he had grown in the back yard.

When my mom asked Hans 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.

According to a story Hans told emotional and late into the night to Cousin Michael, “Later in the war he said he was in France with his best friend. They were waiting on a British sub to come carry them to the British Isles. They went to a bar and got into a fight. That landed them in a french jail. They we then given to the Nazis by the French and he spent the rest of the war in a prison camp.”

“When the British we coming to liberate the camp, he told me the Nazis decide to kill the prisoners and he stood beside his best friend and fellow freedom fighter as a Nazi shot his friend in the head.”

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 enrolled in 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.

Between July and September of 1949, he and Tineke eloped in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, England.

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 and I will continually update this post as more information become clear to me. 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.

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.

WWI: Photo of Klaas Siersema and fellow soldiers in Kampen in 1915

This is a retouched photo of my great-grandfather, Klaas Siersema (at far left), and some of his fellow soldiers in the Royal Netherlands military in Kampen, Overijssel, during WWI. This was very early in his career, and he would have been about 20 years old. I believe that, at this time, he was a Vaandrig (officer cadet), judging by his promotion to Tweede-Luitenant (second lieutenant) a couple years later.

WWI: Ministry of War promotes Klaas Siersema to Tweede-Luitenant

In this document dated Sept. 25, 1917, my great-grandfather Klaas Siersema, who served in the Royal Netherlands military, is promoted to the rank of Tweede-Luitenant by the Minister van Oorlog. In English, Minister van Oorlog translates to Ministry of War and Tweede-Luitenant is Second Lieutenant, according to Google Translate.

Unfortunately, the document’s actual size is a bit larger than the face of my scanner, so this is just a photograph of the of it, which means it’s a little less crisp and readable. But, you can still see one of the most interesting things, which is that “Bij het Regiment” is crossed out and “den Sergeant” was written below. I am super curious what this means and if it had something to do with it being WWI, and possibly promotions being handled differently? If anyone has a thought on that, I’d love to hear it.

MYSTERY PHOTO SERIES: De Wit family photo circa 1910 holds a clue, more questions

From left to right, Dirk de Wit (1873), unknown ancestor No. 1,unknown ancestor No. 2, Freerk Bellinga Swalve, unknown child, Helena Fredrika de Wit, Wubbina Engellina Johanna Petronella Swalve, and unknown woman in Beverwijk, 1910.

Update: Ancestor No. 3 has since been identified as Freerk Bellinga Swalve.

As with many mysteries, just as soon as I found a clue that might help me solve one, two new questions popped up.

If you remember the subject in the photo from the post “Image taken in Rotterdam in the 1800s by A. Boeseken,” you may notice the uncanny resemblance between her and Unknown Ancestor No. 1 in the image above. Since we know that the Rotterdam photo was taken between 1867-1877 and that this photo is taken in 1910, I was excited to look at my family tree to see who the woman might be. Based on birth and death records, a huge amount of people were immediately dismissed through process of elimination. While my records that far back are a little spotty (mostly with birth dates, but no death dates yet), there was one person who fit the criteria: Anneke van de Graaf.

Anneke van de Graaf entered my family tree through marriage to Hermanus de Wit, who was the brother of my direct ancestor and great-great-great-grandfather Dirk de Wit (1833). So, essentially, she would have been the aunt of the Dirk de Wit standing next to her, if the person in the photo is indeed her. She was born in Beesd, Netherlands, in 1838 and died in Beesd in 1913.

That said, I have no way to verify it yet — and let’s not forget that the image above also raised two additional questions with Unknown Ancestors Nos. 2 and 3. Who are they? For a moment there, I was excited, thinking that perhaps they were the elder Dirk de Wit and his wife, but that is an impossibility since they died seven years earlier. Unknown Ancestors Nos. 2 and 3 could, then, very well be Wubbina’s parents, Freerk Bellina Swalve and Helena Catrina Koster, who did live in Beverwijk judging by the record of their wedding on Genlias.nl and postcards Freerk sent to Helena. Until I find their death records, though, I cannot confirm. And so the mysteries continue!