Here is type-writing certification for Helena de Wit and the letter stating her marks from the exam.
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.
These are another couple finds from the box my uncle Philip Siersema lent me to scan — actual calling cards from the 1920s! They belonged to Klaas Siersema and Helena de Wit. Apparently, they were stored in a little envelope, so they’re still in pretty good condition. Kind of a cool little piece of history.
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).
While Klaas Siersema and Helena “Lenie” de Wit were very much in love when they wed, all things, as they say, must come to an end. A little less than six years after they were married, Klaas filed for divorce in Ginneken en Bavel, North Brabant, where they lived at the time. Helena did not protest.
The request was filed on the 30th of January, 1930 — about a year and a couple weeks following the anniversary of the death of their second son, Tonny. That’s according to a FamilySearch.org scan that a friend, Jan Brul, who I met on the Ancestry.com message boards, kindly located.
Leading up to their divorce, Klaas was away a bit as a career military man, and Helena was at home, building a relationship with the family doctor, Gerard Broeders, according to family lore. Rumor was, they became close through Tonny’s illness and death.
I believe that, at the time, divorce was rare (although it was even rarer when Klaas’ mother Arentje Vermaas divorced his father), which may have been why the divorce was registered on a marriage form. Interestingly, none of Klaas’ and Helena’s descendants in the following two generations had lasting first marriages.
In the aftermath, Helena left Klaas and their son, Johan, to be with Gerard, whom she remained in a relationship with indefinitely. She never married again.
Klaas eventually remarried to a woman named Maria Wilhelmina van Erp, who raised Johan, but I don’t know exactly when that was.
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 Ancestry.com message boards was able to track down their wedding certificate on FamilySearch.org, 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):
Dirk de Wit was born in Buren, Netherlands, the second of November, 1872, according to a record on FamilySearch.org, 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 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 Genlias.nl.
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!
My great-grandmother, Helena de Wit, traveled quite a bit from what I can gather from scant correspondence and photographs. This is her passport.
This is the first (and likely the only) “Who Wore it Better?” post you will ever see on this blog, so — remember — your vote counts! On the left, we have my great-grandmother Helena “Lenie” de Wit, and, on the right, we have my great-grandfather Klaas Siersema.
Lenie never served in the military, but she had many friends, including her husband, Klaas, and longtime partner, Gerard Berends, who did. Plus, she’s just so darn cute.
Then, we have Klaas, who was a career military man. He worked his way up from lieutenant to colonel before retiring. Clearly, his look is more stoic (that might have something to do with the fact that he is quite literarlly in the field in this photo, which I believe was taken during WWII).