A client who wishes to remain anonymous contacted our firm with an interesting problem. On a recent overseas trip to her family homeland in Friesland (Netherlands) she was surprised to learn that her Grandfather had a sister who allegedly came to America. But the family knew nothing about her or what had become of her other than the simple suspicion that she had immigrated to Grand Rapids. Had she died enroute? Did she settle in Michigan or locate elsewhere? Marry or have children? Knowing that we specialized in Dutch Genealogy the client reached out to us to find her Great Aunt Jessie.
Finding womenfolk can be quite difficult when not armed with a bit more information than our client possessed. However, we took on the case and promised our absolute best. Objective: to Find what Became of Great Aunt Jessie.
We located Jessie living in Grand Rapids under her maiden name working as a nanny for the household of a wealthy Dutch importer where she remained for about a year before disappearing. She was found in no other city directories and had been replaced in her duties as a nanny.
Knowing the approximate year of her immigration we examined immigration records to and from the Netherlands in search of Jessie. We located her and found a man she apparently traveled with. Was this a family friend? It was virtually unheard of for a single female to come to America in the accompaniment of a man. So it was obvious that they knew each other, since they came from the same village, but were not romantically bound…at least not immediately.
His name was Sam. He settled in a predominant Frisian area of Grand Rapids and was likely courting Jessie over the entire year she was working for the merchant. He too was found in the City Directories, but then something strange happened. He too disappeared. And about the same time. Where did he go? Did they go together? We searched through the Christian Reformed Archives for published marriage banns or records, but nothing was found. Sam and Jessie did not marry in Grand Rapids. So where did they both go?
We worked hard in our attempt to pick up their trail and through a stroke of luck we found it. A Dutch news blurb mentioned a group of Dutch who chose to head into the Alberta Province of Canada where the Canadian Government was giving away homestead land. Sam was one of those who opted for free land. Jessie too was one of the 14 people en route. Shortly after arriving in Canada the couple was married by an accompanying Minister. Sam tried his hand at farming as he was required to improve his homestead for a defined period being given both land and seed, but the land he was given was worthless and Sam found it very difficult to grow anything thereon. So he surrendered the land under penalty and exchanged it for a second plot.
This too turned out to be less than desirable. So Sam abandoned this venture as well then moved to the small Dutch community in Edmonton (his friends) where he was noted as a merchant. Sam and Jessie had 4 children, 2 of whom died and are buried there. A couple years later Sam was pulled back to Grand Rapids through the advice of a merchant friend he had known when first there. We traced the family from Edmonton, across the border in Montana, and back to where they had started their journey. This time Sam was a merchant.
Sam grew a profitable Dutch grocery where he catered to his Dutch kin. Jessie apparently was very sick. She had stomach cancer and passed a short time after arriving back in Grand Rapids in the family apartment above the grocery. Sam remarried when the kids were young and no-one remembered poor Jessie. Family back in Friesland did not know or forgot what fate had befell Jessie or they too would have remembered. We found her marked grave. Sam too is buried there as well as his second wife.
The location where Jessie worked when first arriving in Grand Rapids is now the Wealthy Street Bakery. The location of Sam’s Grocery and the place where Jessie died is the Hall Street Bakery, owned by the same owners as the Wealthy Street Bakery.