From left to right, Wubbina Swalvea, unknown ancestor, Freerk Bellinga Swalve, and Dirk de Wit.

MYSTERY PHOTO SERIES: Likely Swalve ancestor appears several times

I’ve been meaning to do this post for a while now, and by “for a while” I mean a couple years. In the following photos, you will see an ancestor I believe to be on the Swalve side of the family. Initially, I thought she was Helena Catrina Koster, who married Freerk Bellinga Swalve and was mother to Wubbina Swalve and A.J. Koster (Swalve).

Not only is she photographed with Freerk and Wubbina, but the years that she lived line up with the photos. Koster was born in 1852 in Amsterdam and died on January 10, 1912 in Beverwijk. However, cousin Willem Vliestra sent me a photo from an old album that actually noted a portrait as Helena Koster-Swalve, which none of these photos do. (Otherwise, they wouldn’t be mysteries!)

Helena Catrina Koster (Willem Vlietstra)

Helena Catrina Koster (Willem Vlietstra)

Sometimes, I think the woman in the portrait could be the same as the woman you see in the following photos, but then I dismiss it because of her dark eyes. This effectively leaves the mystery of who is in these photos (and repeatedly with Freerk). A general consensus could sway me, but in general, I don’t trust my own judgment on this since I don’t want to re-write history all willy nilly like.

In the first photo, the woman’s head appears just behind a wagon driver with supplies for the Swalve bakery in Beverwijk:

A wagon of supplies outside the Swalve family bakery in Beverwijk in 1887. (Willem Vliestra)

A wagon of supplies outside the Swalve family bakery in Beverwijk in 1887. (Willem Vliestra)

The bakery is where Helena Catrina gave birth to her children.

Here is the unknown ancestor’s portrait:

Unknown ancestor.

Unknown ancestor.

Here she is again, with Wubbina, Wubbina’s husband, Dirk de Wit, and father, Freerk.

From left to right, Wubbina Swalvea, unknown ancestor, Freerk Bellinga Swalve, and Dirk de Wit.

From left to right, Wubbina Swalve, unknown ancestor, Freerk Bellinga Swalve, and Dirk de Wit. This photo was initially very washed out, so I did some editing for better or for worse in Photoshop to try to make it view-able.

And, finally, here she is with Freerk and possible Wubbina:

Freerk Bellinga Swalve with unknown ancestors.

Freerk Bellinga Swalve with unknown ancestors. This photo is one of those that gets darker with age.


Klaas Siersema and Helena ‘Lenie’ de Wit get hitched

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

Original scan of Klaas Siersema and Helena de Wit’s wedding portrait

Klaas Siersema and Helena “Lenie” Frederika de Wit, my great-grandparents, were married on Aug. 28, 1923.

The photo above is a medium to heavily retouched scan of the wedding portrait for Klaas Siersema and Helena “Lenie” Frederika de Wit in 1923. Sadly, it seems as though when a marriage ends people tend to take less care of the proof it ever happened (See the thumbnail version of the original photo to the right  to see what I’m talking about — although, I guess it is also fair to note the photo has survived nearly 90 years and moving from the Netherlands to Canada to the United States).

A friend and genealogy enthusiast I met through the message boards was able to track down their wedding certificate on, but that organization claims the copyright to all its scans so I cannot post it here. Luckily, my friend, Jan Brul, knows both Dutch and English and graciously translated the text (Note: He admits his English is not the best, so please be aware this is a rough translation, even though I’ve cleaned it up where I could.):

“On the twenty-eighth August, nineteen-hundred twenty-three, are for me

Civil servant of the registration of the county ‘s-Hertogenbosch appeared

Klaas Siersema, first Lieutenant of the Infantry, age twenty-seven years, born at Groningen, living at Venlo, major, son of Gerrit Siersema, deceased, and Arentje Vermaas, shopkeeper, age fifty-seven years, living in Brielle

And Helena Frederika de Wit, without profession, age nineteen years, born in Beverwijk, living here, minor, daughter of Dirk de Wit, schoolteacher, age fifty years, and Wubbina Engellina Johanna Petronella Swalve, without profession, age forty-three years, both living here

For the purpose of getting married. The banns were without protest here registered on Saturday the fourth of August last and in Venlo on Saturday the eleventh of August next. The mother of the groom and the parents of the bride, here present, have declared that they agree with this marriage.

The future spouses have for me and in the presence of witnesses declared that they each other will accept as spouses and will do all duties required by marriage. So in the name of the law, I have declared that they are united in matrimony. This marriage is declared in the presence of the witness Leendert Vlasbloem, office worker, age thirty-nine years, living in Rotterdam, Nicholaas Gerardus Petrus van Reenen, office worker, age fifty-two years, living in Utrecht, relatives by marriage in the second and third degree of the first spouse. This record is read for the appeared parties and witnesses. The civil servant of the civil registration.”

The actual ceremony took place in the Netherlands Reformed Church in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, where Lenie’s father Dirk was an active and high-standing member.

I find the witnesses particularly interesting. Leendert was married to Klaas’ sister, Leentje, and they had a daughter named Ada who was close with my grandfather (Klaas and Lenie’s son) growing up, but I have no idea what happened to her. It makes sense that he would be a witness. But as for Nicholaas, I have never heard or seen his name, so I am even more curious to know how he comes into the picture.

Here is what their wedding invitations looked like (the paper is thick and watermarked):

Klaas Siersema and Helena de Wit’s wedding invitation

Bio: Dirk de Wit (1872)

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Dirk de Wit was born in Buren, Netherlands, the second of November, 1872, according to a record on, to Hendrika Goudsblom, a servant, and Dirk de Wit (1833), a municipal constable.

He was their second child by that name, as was tradition if the first child of a given name died very young. He never met siblings Johannes Gerardus de Wit [1867-1868] or Dirk de Wit [1870-1871], but he did have a sister who survived into adulthood, Dirkje de Wit [about 1858-1939]. Dirkje was a product of their father and his first wife, Alijda Zoelen.

Dirk was a passionate man who courted his wife, Wubbina Swalve, for at least four years before they married in her hometown of Beverwijk, North Holland, on Aug. 15, 1902.

Dirk became a father in 1903, when Wubbina, again in Beverwijk, gave birth to a daughter whom they named Helena Frederika.

A Protestant, Dirk was very devoted to his faith. Although he worked as a teacher and was listed as such on most official documentation throughout his life, he also held many prominent and important positions with the Dutch Reformed Church.

As for his profession, Dirk taught at the Nutschool for at least 20 years, according to a Google translation of the newspaper account of his funeral service. I believe this was in s-Hertogenbosch, where he died and where obituary accounts note a strong contingent from the Nutschool in attendance.

In the Dutch Reformed Church, he was a member of the council, secretary treasurer of the Board of Deacons and administer prelate, according to an obituary clipping, which also noted that he was the founding president of the choir, Excelsior, and president of “Our Covenant.”

He also did philanthropic work and was appointed to the Board of Directors for the Armenraad (or Arms Council in English), which was an organization that helped the needy.

He died on the 18th of June, 1926, in s-Hertogenbosch. He was 53 years old.

Aside from obituary and funeral coverage, most information for this bio came from digital records on

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 and postcards Freerk sent to Helena. Until I find their death records, though, I cannot confirm. And so the mysteries continue!

1926: Dirk de Wit (he was kind of a big deal) passes away

"Een zeer geacht en verdienstelijk stadgenoot is ons gisteren door den dood ont allen. In den ouderdom van 53 jaren overleed de heer Dirk de Wit, onderwijzer aan de schoo ,,Tot Nut van t'Aigemeen". De overledene, die een der voorbereidende klassen tot zijn werkkring had, diende het onderwijs op voorbeeldige wijze en niets was hem te veel om te doen in het belang van zijne leerlingen, die om de warme sympathie, wlke deze van hunnen leermeester ondervonden, hem dan ook een groote hoogachting toedroegen; evenzoo de ouders der leerlingen. De heer de Wit was ook geen onbekende in de openbare samenleving en in vele commissies van voorbereiding had hij meermalen zitting. Vooral de Nederduitsch Hervormde Gemeente verliest in hem een hoogst ijverig en godsdienstig lid, want aan deze Gemeente bekleedde hij voorname functies. De overledene was lid van den Kerkeraad der Nederduitsch Hervormde Gemeente, secretaris penningmeester van het college van diakenen en administreerend Kerkvoogd van die gemeente. Verder was de overledene vanaf de oprichting voorzitter van het kerkkoor ,,Excelsior" en zedurende langen tijd voorzitter van ,,Ons Verbond", voor welke laastste functie hij kort geleden om gezondheidsredenen had bedankt. Ook op charitatief gebied was de heer de Wit zeer verdienstelijk werkzaam en pas kort geleden werd hij benoemd tot lid van het Dag. Bestuur van den Armenraad alheir. Een ernstige ziekte bleek kort geleden zijn krachtig gestel te hebben aangestast en al was zijn kwaal ongeneeslijk, niemand had echter gedacht dat de dood zoo spoedig een einde zou maken aan het leven van dezen algemeen geachten werker, die zich vele wrienden had verworven. Hij ruste in vrede."

Dirk de Wit, husband to Wubbina Engellina Johanna Petronella Swalve and father of Helena de Wit, died in 1926 of an “incurable malady.” He was just 53 years old.

To the right is the obituary for Dirk, who was my great-great-grandfather. It’s a clipping that Helena saved from an unknown newspaper, and, interestingly, it is written quite differently from how obituaries are written nowadays. Obituaries are so standard now that I never really gave much thought to how they used to be written. Since the clip is written in Dutch, I pasted a slightly paraphrased version of the Google translation below:

“A highly regarded and meritorious townsman is gone from us and received by death. At the age of 53 years, Mr. Dirk de Wit, teacher of Tot Nut van het Algemeen, has died. The deceased served education in an exemplary way — nothing was too much to do in the interest of his students — and he was held in high esteem by students and their parents.

Mr. de Wit was no stranger to the public and society, serving on many committees — especially the Dutch Reformed Church, which loses in him a most zealous and religious member. In this church, he held prominent positions. He was a member of the church council, secretary treasurer of the Board of Deacons and administer prelate of the church.

Furthermore, the deceased was the founding president of the church choir, Excelsior, and the long-time president of Our Covenant, which he resigned from recently due to health reasons. Also in the charitable realm, Mr. de Wit was very active and recently was appointed a member of the Board of Directors for the Arms Council [a charitable organization that helped poor people with relief, medical care, etc.].

A serious illness recently attacked his strong constitution, and though it was an incurable malady, nobody expected that death would so soon put an end to the life of this hard worker, who had acquired many friends.

May he rest in peace.”

Helena also kept a clipping of the article following his burial, with the headline “Impressive Funeral”:

 Indrukwekkende Begrafenis Hedenmorgen werd op de Protestantsche begraafplaats alhier begraven de heer Dirk de Wit. Toen het stoffelijk overschot bedekt met een schat van bloemen op den doodenakker gebracht werd, stonden aan de poort geschaard de leerlingen en oud-leerlingen der Nutschool en waren mede aanwezig de kerkeraad en diakenen der Nederduitsch Hervormde gemeente, de heeren onderwijzers der Nutschool, het kerkkoor Excelsior, een deputatie van ,,Ons Verbond", alsmede zeer vele belangstellenden. Nadat de kist in de groeve was neergedaald, nam Ds. W. Meindersma, voorzitter van den Kerkeraad get eerst 't woord. Hij dankte den overledene voor alles wat hij voor 't college geweest is, van welk hij was een belangstellend en medevoelend lid dat men niet missen kan. Ook namens 't college van diakenen, waarvan hij boekhouder was, dankte hij hem. Spr. zeide niet meer te willen spreken over wat geweest is, doch hij stelde de wraag: wat zal hij thans zijn? Memoreerend Longfellow's woord: "Ernst is 't leven, weert de leugen, Die in 't graf zijn eindpaal vindt, -- ,,Stof zijt gij, die tot stoffe wederkeere". Geldt voor 's mensche ziele niet" zeide spr. dat de overledene door zijn geloof en door zijn vertrouwen gesterkt de belooning bij God zal hebben ontvangen. Wij bengen hier enkel 't reiskleed, maar de ziel is wel bewaard nij God. Laten we luisteren naar de stem, die uit dit graf klinkt. Hij heeft gewerkt zoolang 't dag was, in den hemel streeft hij verder. Spr. nam afscheid met den wensch dat als allen straks dit graf verlaten zullen hebben, het woord van den overledene toch in hun hart zal blijven doorklinken. Vervolgens sprak namens 't schoolbestuur, wegens verhindering van den voorzitter der schoolcommissie, de heer J. Eisma, die er op wees hoe het bestuur steeds al de ajren door met genoegen had kennis genomen van de resultaten van het onderwijs door den overledene gegeven. Voorts dankte spr. hem voor alles wat hij voor de Nederduitsch hervormde gemeente gedaan heeft. Nooit was hem eenige moeite te veel om de belangen te behartigen en moeilijk zal 't zijn  een plaatsvervanger te vinden omdat er weinig menschen zijn, die zoo onbaatzuchtig hun plichten weten te venvullen. Namens de collega's onderwijzers sprak de heer R. Zuidema, directeur der Nutschool die vooral naar voren bracht de groote werkkracht die de overledene aan den dag legde. De 20 jaren lang heeft hij binja nooit op de school ontbroken, omdat hij geen kleine ongesteldheden kende. Zelfs toen in t begin van dit jaar zijn ziekte zijne krachten sloopte bleef hij komen zoolang dit mogelijk was. Daardoor is bij geworden een voorbeeld van de grootste plichtsbetrachting. Door zijn leerlingen werd hij bemind om zijn groote opgewektheid, waardoor hij hun vertrouwen wist te wekken. Voor ieder was hij een trouw collega en een best vried en zijn werk zal blijven leven tot in lengte van dagen. De heer H. can de Last, directeur van het kerkkoor "Excelsior" schetste de werkzaam -- heid van den overleden voorzitter, die alle pogingen in 't werk stelde 't peil van 't koor soo hoog mogelijk op te voeren. Spr. uitte de hoop, dat zijn geest onder de levende blijven zal, opdat zoo steeds de rechtvaardigheid over allen blijven zal. Namens "Ons Verbond" sprak nog de heer F Meulbroek. Hierna zong "Excelsior" het meerstemmige "Boven de Sterren" van Frans Abt. Nadat een der familieleden voor de belangstelling tijdens zijn ziekte aan den dag gelegd en de laatste eer den overledene bewezen, had gedankt werd door Ds. Meindersma met 't zeggen van een psalm de plechtigheid gesoten en gingen allen diep onder den indruk huiswaarts.      This clip talks about some of the same things the obituary did, but also about the fanfare of his funeral. A copy and paste version of the Google Translate with frequent tweaking and paraphrasing (because, let’s face it, Google Translate doesn’t work awesomely with nearly 90-year-old wording) is below:

“Impressive Funeral
Mr. Dirk de Wit was buried here this morning at the Protestant cemetery.When the body, covered with a wealth of flowers, was brought to the cemetery, groups of students and former students of the Nutschool system gathered at the gates. Also in attendance were the elders and deacons of the Dutch Reformed Church, teachers of Nutschool, the church choir Excelsior, a deputation of Our Covenant, and very many other interested parties.

After the coffin was lowered into the ground, Ds. W. Meindersma, president of the church council, spoke first. He thanked the deceased for everything he’d lectured as an interested and compassionate member that could not be missed more. Also on behalf of the college of deacons, of which he was an accountant, he thanked him.

Scr. said he did not to want to talk about what has been, but he posed the question: What will he be now?

Memoreerend Longfellow spoke about the deceased’s faith and how he has a new journey now that will take him to his final post, where he might be closer to God. He also said how those left behind should remember the teachings Dirk shared with them.

Scr. took leave with the wish that once everyone left the proceedings, they would still have the word of the deceased in their hearts and that it will continue to resound.

Mr. J. Eisma then spoke on behalf of the school board and pointed out how the board had always been pleased over the years by the deceased and had taken note of the results of the education given by him.

Furthermore, he thanked the deceased for everything he has done for the Dutch Reformed Church, saying it would be difficult to find a replacement because there are few people who so selflessly undertake and fulfill their duties.

On behalf of teachers and colleagues, Mr. R. Zuidema, director of Nutschool, spoke of Dirk’s hard work:

‘The 20 years he has almost never failed at the school, because he knew no minor ailments. Even when in the beginning of this year disease wrecked his strength, he kept coming as long as it was possible. Thus his has become an example of the greatest duty. By his students, he was loved for his great cheerfulness, which he knew to awaken their faith. For each, he was a loyal colleague and a best friend and his work will live until the end of time.’

Mr. H. van den Last, director of the church choir, Excelsior, outlined the work of the deceased president, noting that all attempts in his work suggested the highest levels possible to implement.

Scr. expressed the hope that his spirit will remain among the living, so that always justice will remain.

Mr. F. Meulbroek spoke on behalf of Our Covenant. Afterwards, Excelsior sang a harmonized “Above the Stars” in French.

A relative spoke last and a psalm was read. All were deeply impressed.”

Here’s a link to a performance of “Boven de Sterren” [Above the Stars] on

And here’s another newspaper article and death notice for Dirk de Wit that I found after the initial publishing of this  post: Continue reading

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

Bio: Helena de Wit

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Helena “Lenie” de Wit was born Oct. 24, 1903, in Beverwijk, North Holland, to Dirk de Wit and Wubbina Engellina Johanna Petronella Swalve.

When she was 19, Helena was married Col. Klaas Siersema in the Netherlands Reformed Church in Hertogenbosch and later gave birth to two children, Johan Siersema and Tonny Siersema.

She divorced Klaas after the death of Tonny, which happened when he was two, and spent much of the rest of her life in a committed relationship with Dr. G. Broeders, who was also a military man; although, they never married.

Helena earned certificates in both stenography and typing in 1932, and regularly wrote and sent packages to prisoners during WWII. During the war, when Johan, a member of the Dutch Resistence, was captured, she paid off a guard and went to visit him, having to stand on the other side of a fence. She came from a wealthy family and often traveled in Holland.

Later, she was known as Oma Utrecht by her grandchildren, since that was where she lived later in life.

She died in 1984. She was 81.

Personally, I never met Helena, because she died shortly after I was born, so if you did know her and are inclined to leave a comment sharing a story or memory about her, I would be grateful.