Finding Jessie

In recent travels to her ancestral homeland of Friesland, a client learned from relation that Jessie, her grandfather’s sister, may have emigrated to Grand Rapids, Michigan.  I was contacted to discover what happened to her: whether she lived in Grand Rapids, migrated elsewhere, married, had children, or died young.

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Deciphering female relatives can be quite the daunting task as they tend to marry and change their names.  If you don’t know where to look, or whom they married, it’s easy to become lost in a sea of possibility.

Jessie’s brother had come to America in 1906 making his way to South Dakota where he married and raised a family.  It would make logical sense that Jessie would go where she had relation, but the family didn’t believe she had.

I had nothing to go on other than a birth record in Friesland and the names of both parents.  I knew the first thing to do was to place her in Grand Rapids and I could do this through an examination of the city directories wherein are published the names of all city dwellers for each year.  If Jessie had come to Grand Rapids she would be listed unless her stay was so temporary it didn’t warrant a listing.
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Tjitske (Jessie) Postma
There was a Jessie listed in the 1910 city directory serving as a maid and living at 618 Wealthy Avenue.  The next logical step was to determine who Jessie was working for.  Cross-referencing the 618 Wealthy address with the street listing of the same directory I determined that the home was owned by a Mr. Harm Hamstra.  

Harm Hamstra owned a lucrative Grand-Rapids based Dutch import business.  He was the man to go to for everything “Dutch”: wooden shoes, food products, decorations, etc.  His booming business venture required travel to and from the Netherlands where he purchased goods and this meant returning to his home in Friesland.  In fact, Mr. Hamstra was from the same seaside village as Jessie.  A positive connection.

It may be that Mr. Hamstra was in need of a house servant and recruited Jessie for the task during one of his ventures back to Friesland.

I examined the 1910 Federal Census where I found another servant girl by name of Cora Monsma living with the Hamstra family.  Cora left the family to pursue a teaching position in Muskegon, Michigan leaving the vacancy Jessie filled.  It was a perfect fit even though conjectural.

Jessie mysteriously disappeared from Grand Rapids after 1910.  She is missing from post-1910 city directories.  This is an indication that she moved away, married and changed her name, or… worse case scenario, she died.

The Hamstra family worshiped at the Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids.  Assuming they would take their servant with them to church it made sense to search the CRC archives for a marriage record.  No banner ads (marriage announcements) had been published.

Neither did I find a death certificate for Jessie.  

Then I stumbled upon a listing in the Michigan Death Certificate 1921-1952 database.  There was listed a Jessie Veltman with both parent names given.  Jessie died on the 16th of February, 1929 at the age of 41 from cancer of the stomach.  Her Dutch name of Tjitske had been anglicized to Jessie.  But most important was her new surname, “Veltman”.  There was the key I had been looking for.  She had married into the Veltman family.

From the death certificate I gleaned the following information: her name, what she died from, her birth date, her father and mother’s names, her last residence at 1200 Hall in Grand Rapids, the date of her death, where she was buried, and whom she married, a Sipke Veltman.

From that information I was able to bring Jessie forward past 1910.  I discovered border documents for the Veltman family coming back from Canada through Montana.  Come to discover that Jessie left Grand Rapids in the company of other Dutch headed for Edmonton, Canada.  Jessie’s husband, Sam, had dreams of trying his hand at farming.  He headed further north where he was granted a homestead by the Canadian government with the stipulation that he farm the land, place buildings on it, raise a crop and care for the land for a set period of time.  

The first homestead Sam was given was swampland.  He exchanged it, with penalty, for another.  That land too turned out to be less than fertile.  Sam gave it up without fulfilling his obligation and moved into Edmonton where the other Dutch had headed.  He established a short-lived grocery there before being seduced back to Grand Rapids to build a mercantile there.  

Sam and Jessie had six children to include a pair of stillborn twins they lost in Edmonton.  

Bringing the 1200 Hall address forward I found that Sam Veltman started a grocery at that location.  It was right in the midst of a Dutch community so he had plenty of business.  The grocery was on the ground floor while the family lived in one half of the top floor, renting out the other half.  Today that building is owned by the Hall Street Bakery where pictures of the former grocery adorn the walls.

Jessie died in that house leaving behind four small children.  Sam remarried for someone to tend his children and all four children continued to live in Grand Rapids where descendants still live today.  I was able to track down living family who had possession of an old picture album (cover in screen background) filled with photos of people they didn’t know.  They were as delighted as my client to learn that this album had belonged to Jessie.  It contained pictures of her family back home.  

The Veltman descendants graciously allowed me to scan all the pictures for my client, for her relation back in Friesland, and for future posterity.  It was a pleasure serving the family and getting to know the descendants of Jessie Postma Veltman.  May she rest in peace.

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