Notes and Vignettes


One enjoyable feature of doing genealogy research is discovering related stories about people, places, and communities. I have learned much during the past four decades by studying the Hiemstra name. I provide a few of these stories here for those who enjoy learning more about a name and its history. If you have a story to tell or have some improvement suggestions, I would welcome them. Rog Hiemstra


The “Hiemstra” Name. Translation of Hiemstra: “Stra” means living at; “Hiem” is a Frisian word, meaning yard. So the name means a man who lives on his own yard. Regarding names, before 1811 the upper classes and only a few others had surnames. The usual way of saying one's name was to take the given (first) name of the father, add an "s" at the end to indicate the son or daughter of, or add an apostrophe if the father's given name ended in “s,” and use that as the second name for the child with a new given name. So a child of Albert Thomas' might become Jantzen Alberts. In 1811, (when the Netherlands was a part of the French empire under Napoleon) a law was passed that all people must take a surname, so people picked logical names. Dijkstra, for example, (a very popular name) would mean living at a dike. Hiemstra then was a logical selection, often for farmers, for living at one's own yard. Much initial help in discovering my Dutch lineage was under the tutelage of Kees deBoer, a relative through Brechtje Cornelis, great-grandmother of Willem through the Hiemstra line. Kees, a retired Dutch Reformed minister, has completed a tremendous amount of genealogy research over a number of years. He lives near Enschede where I lived and worked April through June of 1992; Kees spent much time helping me and sharing his genealogy information with me. I am indebted to his support and kindness.


Dutch Reformed Church. As many of the Hiemstra ancestors were or continue to be involved with the Dutch Reformed religion, I have included some related information. In the 19th century there was a separation in the Dutch Reformed church, because some aspects of the church had become too liberal for many people. A new conservative church arose, the Gereformeerde church (gereformeerde means “reformed” in English). In 1887 Sjouke Hoekes Hiemstra, one of our ancestors was a deacon in the Church Council of the newly erected "Gereformeerde" church in Oostermeer. Today in many towns and villages in the Netherlands, however, these two Churches have become one church again in a new federation form.


Willem Kornelis Hiemstra (b. October 11, 1839, d. April 20, 1905). Willem was my great grandfather. His first wife was Antje Pieters deVries with whom he fathered five children. After her death he married Tjitske (Jessie) deJong (my great grandmother) and fathered 15 children. After his first marriage, Willem moved to Opende. He resided there and worked on a farm. His father-in-law, Pieter deVries, was the owner of the farm. Eventually he rented a farmhouse and some land from Pieter. After Pieter's wife, Geertje died in 1874, Pieter decided to sell, because in 1875 Willem and Antje bought the farmhouse and around 10 hectares of land. Two hectares of the farm was heath, so when Willem and others dug peat there to sell, it became filled in with water. By 1928 there was enough water that it became known as Willem's pool. During a trip to Holland that my folks and I took in 1987, we were able to stand on the shore of Willem’s pool (3-4 acres in size) which by then was a city park. It is in Opende several 100 feet from the house in which Willem and his family had lived.


Two of the children from Willem’s marriage to Jessie, Harm (my grandfather) and Susie, moved to the U.S. in the spring of 1905 because of declining economic fortunes for Willem. The last child of that marriage, John, was conceived in Holland but was born in the U.S. shortly after Jessie's arrival. Willem died on April 20, 1905, in Garsthuizen so it is not known if he died before Jessie debarked for the United States as we don't know the exact date that she and the nine youngest children left, but one story told was that he died as they were initially traveling to their ship; however, Jessie decided to continue the journey anyway. 


Tjitske had come from Marum to Opende on September 30, 1882, when she was 18 to be the maid-servant as Willem's hands were no doubt full after Antje's death. They eventually became lovers and were married after Tjitske became pregnant. When Willem married 19 year old Jessie he already had teenage children. Apparently there may have been family conflicts involving adjustments to a new mother so Willem, Jessie, and their own children lived in Opende until at least May 29, 1900, because he was officially listed as a farmer there at that time. Jessie's father, Jacob, lived with them from April 6, 1889 until his death in 1895. All the living teenage children from the first marriage had already moved from the house by that time Willem, Jessie, and their children left so it is not clear how much tension may have existed. They moved to Kantans then and Willem is listed as a laborer. They then moved for Garsthuizen on May 14, 1901. Earlier information I had on Willem suggested that he and his first wife had been operating a small farm but they made a decision to sell the farm, move to a new site, and start a new life. He loaded his children and goods onto a barge and started down a canal for Stedum, a larger town. Somewhere during the journey, he made a wrong turn (easy to do with the interlocking canal system) and wound up in Kantens. Some suggested that he started working as a koopman, a small merchant. Later in his life it was reported that he raised and sold rape, a crop of the mustard family used primarily for rapeseed oil, but we don't know for sure if this was true. When his daughter Imke was married in 1904 he was listed then as a workman, which is similar to being a laborer or a hired man


Harm Hiemstra (b. January 29, 1884, d. December 19, 1957). Harm is my grandfather. He and Sena did live for one year in Grand Rapids after they were married and then moved to a little bed-bug infested log cabin on Riverview Drive in Kalamazoo as their first home there. Thus, he and Sena lived most of their adult lives on farms in Kalamazoo or Wayland. He lived a full and colorful life, dying of a heart attack just six weeks before his 74th birthday. He is remembered as a short, wiry man who loved to wrestle his children and grandchildren (usually winning), and who could play the accordion beautifully by ear. He was famous as a tobacco chewer, with the proverbial spittoon always behind his favorite chair. He was also famous for that short, narrow fork with which he always ate each meal, even bringing it with him when he visited family members. He loved to laugh and play with his grandchildren whenever possible, often having one or more stay for a few nights with them on the farm.


Sena is remembered by some as having been born in Stedum, but it was probably in Garsthuizen. She emigrated to Grand Rapids in 1904.She is remembered, too, as a warm, bubbly person who loved to cook, who worked very hard, and who battled constantly with spittoons, many children, and many, many grandchildren. She baked delicious pies, had a secret desire all her adult life to drive a car, and loved to listen to music.


Claude Hiemstra (b. February 2, 1915, d. May 7, 1999). Claude, my Dad, had no middle name. He sometimes used (NMN) after his first name to indicate that circumstance. One time after filling out some form, the official document came back Claude Nmn Hiemstra. I wonder how the person creating that document tried to pronounce “Nmn.” Dad, too, was a hard working individual, often rising early each morning to start his milk route (a seven day a week job picking up milk cans from farmers and delivering them to a milk processing creamery). After putting in a full day with that effort, he then frequently arrived home, jumped in his stock truck, and picked up cattle for delivery to a cattle auction venue. He loved bowling, camping, singing, playing the mouth organ, keeping a daily journal (a habit I adopted), and being with his kids and grandkids. He and Frances lived most of their married life near Kalamazoo, Michigan, on a small farmstead with a beautiful grove of trees and a great fishing pond.


My Mom, Frances Anson Hiemstra (b. January 31, 1918, d. October 1, 2013) was also a very hard working individual. She was instrumental in the rearing of six children, enjoyed many grandchildren, great grandchildren, and even great great grandchildren. For many years she worked in school lunch program for the Otsego School System. She enjoyed sewing, bowling, traveling in the camper with Claude, and involvement in the Cooper Congregational church. Loved by so many, she accomplished her goal of dying in her own home at nearly 96 years of age.


Sjouke Kornelis Hiemstra (b. July 9, 1900, in Drachten, the Netherlands).  I added this vignettes in honor of my Dad who was a milk hauler much of his adult life.  Sjouke Kornelis Hiemstra’s occupation also was bringing milk from many farms in a village to a dairy factory. This is called a melkrijder (literally translated as a milk driver).These days they bring milk with a tank truck but in the past they used milk cans (this was exactly the path my Dad took in the Kalamazoo area). A melkrijder brought the cans from farms to a factory first with a horse and later in a truck. I don’t know if Dad initially used a horse but I do know that he started working at age 14 so it is possible. I guess being a milk hauler (melkrijder) was in the blood.



Related links:

Descendants from Thomas (a Hiemstra ancestor) with many photos.

Claude Hiemstra Ancestors - A visual depiction of the Hiemstra ancestors from Claude Hiemstra back to Thomas. 

Harm Hiemstra Descendants with Family Links including photos.